Sebenza eMine

A subterranean study for a radio broadcast


Sebenza e-mine is a project about the South African mines, focusing especially on the underground acoustic landscape. The architecture of the mines, the verticality they develop underground and the specialised human activity generate a very complex and interesting sound scenario that our dramaturgical composition will try to analyse, reproduce and elaborate.


Because of the South African political situation, the Gauteng gold mines have always been the most symbolic and representative foci of the exploitation of black people before and during the escalation of the apartheid period.


Elevators descending, passing through different environments (related to different kinds of work), machinery analysing the earth and refining the material, dynamite exploding during the night to blast open new spaces for exploration, occasional explosions of underground water due to dangerously imprecise rock perforation (causing violent and loud invasions of water and the apocalyptic collapse of internal structures and external buildings), all produce sounds which are superimposed on the workers' rhythmic drilling, the sounds of black people working and singing in order to keep their spirits up and keep going in this inhuman and crushing atmosphere. The miners tend to group themselves according to tribal origin, so as to be able to sing their own traditional music.


Through the use of reconstruction, our own observations and documentation from the early 20th century and all the way up to the present day, we hope to create a dramaturgical structure that evokes the reality of life in the mines by means of a fictional situation of dramatic tension underground, expressed in an abstract theatre of sound.


We invite our radio audience to follow our exploration of a dark subterranean labyrinth inhabited by a variety of male voices that emerge from the infernal noise within the earth. They are the voices of miners, poor people whom indigence has forced to live an inhuman life, but also visionary people with rich memories and enlightened hopes and plans.


Sebenza eMine is a work from 2009 Commissioned by the Deutschlandradio Kultur and the Goethe Institute, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Radio Play for spoken voices, vocal ensemble and recorded sounds (2010)
Apoken voices: Ephraim Mashego, John Thandato, Alberto Vilankulu, Mafeke Hlalele,
Choral arrangements and conduction: Zulu Isicathamiya Choir Ntuba Thulisa Brothers, Robert Ndima 
Commission: Deutschland Radio Kultur
Production: Goethe on Main Center, Johannesburg
Recording, editing: Gavan Eckhart, Elektronisches Studio Technische Universität, Berlin
Audio design, editing and mixing: Folkmar Hein 
Production: Marcus Gammel
First brodcasting: 7-2010, Deutschland Radio Kultur
Duration: 60'


Philip Miller, South African composer living in Johannesburg, has always been studying and analyzing the different South African traditions and musical repertories, coexisting and evolving in the dynamic cultural situation of his city, using in his compositions fragments, re-elaborations and quotations coming from different traditional music styles. He has worked directly with many soloists coming from Zulu, Nama, Sotho and Xhosa cultures.


Lucia Ronchetti, Italian composer living between Rome and Berlin, has been working since many years in the direction of the musical theater, realizing different compositions that imply theatrical aspects, staged projects and chamber opera. Especially thanks to the many productions with the Stuttgart ensemble Neue Vocalsolisten, she has developed a specific and detailed compositional treatments for the voices, increasing a vast range of timbrical variations between the spoke and sung text.

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