Reservoir 13 (Music for the Novel by Jon McGregor)

EP · DL · 2018

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The official soundtrack to the COSTA Novel of the Year 2017, Reservoir 13 (Music for the Novel by Jon McGregor) was written to accompany the author’s book tour throughout 2017-18 and features fellow Derbyshire instrumentalists Haiku Salut.

Reservoir 13 is a novel that starts with a 13-year old girl going missing. The story then follows life in the village for 13 years after the incident. Published by 4th Estate in 2017, it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and spawned a prequel BBC Radio 4 series The Reservoir Tapes, also soundtracked by Birkin.

"An intimate and immersive sound-work. It is gentle and lovely."

The Manchester Review

"Strings swell slowly, and that gives the music more of an edge. Paradoxically, an unstoppable force, screaming at the top of its lungs, can be felt inside the quiet, caressing motion of the bow. A muted scream. The book’s meditation on loss requires a deep sensitivity, and Birkin ushers the strings to appropriate, and respectful, places, the piano gently bleeding from its emotional wounds."

Fluid Radio

Prior to the novel’s completion, Jon mentioned to Richard that he would be interested in exploring Derbyshire folk songs as inspiration. Richard found one called Tip O’Derwent. Like the novel, it’s about someone who goes missing in the wilds around the Upper Derwent Valley. Richard reveals:

“I found a recording of it, and it had this really eerie melody that instantly made me think of the missing girl from Jon’s novel. I adapted this as her theme, and wrote all the other pieces around it. It’s in every piece of music, but muted…missing, like the girl. You can’t hear it, but it’s influencing and inspiring everything else that happens.”

Derbyshire trio Haiku Salut feature on the record, adding a delicate timbre to Birkin’s chamber arrangements. Richard explains:

“I wanted the instruments to be quite ambient…not recorded to a click…and inhabiting their own little universe. I gave each member a short melody to play, and we played
through the pieces in our own little worlds…sometime influencing each other, sometimes
not. It was a beautiful experience hearing the music come alive in such a gentle and
natural way.”

The resulting music, adorned with Birkin’s string arrangements, stands on its own as a
beautiful listening experience, as well as giving readers of the book a companion to and
reminder of McGregor’s powerful storytelling.

Innovation with Music and Mobile Phones

Richard and Creative Technologist Tom Armitage created an innovative way for Jon to take the music on tour without a live band or any audio equipment.

At the start of each performance, Jon would tell his audience to keep their phones on, turn the volume up, and visit his tour webpage. On this webpage, audio would automatically download to audience’s phones, and play when triggered by Jon’s remote on his own phone. Each of the audience’s devices would play a separate instrument from each piece, constructing a moving, communal surround-sound experience.


Written, arranged and produced by Richard J. Birkin, feat. Haiku Salut
Recorded and mixed by Richard J. Birkin @ Twenty Row
Acoustic Guitar recorded by Richard Collins @ Snug Recording Company, Derby
Strings engineered by Robin Newman @ Dubrek Studios, Derby
Mastered by Joe Caithness @ Joe Caithness Mastering, Nottingham
Creative Technologist: Tom Armitage

Commissioned by Jon McGregor.
Supported by Arts Council England.
Proudly made in Derbyshire.

Richard J. Birkin - piano, guitar, vibraphone
Sophie Barkerwood - vibraphone
Gemma Barkerwood - piano, synth
Louise Croft - music box, bowed vibraphone
Clare Bhabra - violin
Richard Muncey - viola
Deirdre Bencsik - cello

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