Michael Edwards

I Kill by Proxy

Programme Note

I read somewhere that when we elect a leader we are choosing the person to murder in our name. It's an idea that's easy to reject out of hand, but when you think about it, there's an awful lot of killing still being done today by large military organisations. The days of the wild west and the crusades may be over; the idea of war within a 'civilised' country's own borders may be unlikely; but still, some of those countries--my own included--spill a lot of blood in various parts of the world. Those countries who do the killing are usually relatively wealthy; those who die, poor. It's not difficult to see the connection. As Balzac wrote: "The secret of great wealth with no obvious source is some forgotten crime, forgotten because it was done neatly."

Commissioned by the Center for Art and Media Technology (ZKM) Karlsruhe, Germany, I Kill by Proxy (when I vote, when I shop) is a composition for piano, percussion, and computer lasting between 60 and 75 minutes (in the full version). Mixing fully-composed and improvised musical structures, the considerable duration of this work is mitigated by a division into several sections, the major parts of which are a solo percussion piece, a solo piano piece, and a piano-percussion duo. Transitions between the pieces are improvised, creating a continuous work without breaks. Notwithstanding this design, the individual fully-composed sections can be performed separately, in a different context and programme.

The computer part combines real-time sound processing techniques with playback of pre-mixed sound files. The sources for these sound files are mainly snippets of recordings of the instrumental parts of the piece, ordered and processed by the same algorithms that helped generate those parts.

As with all my compositional work since c. 2000, I Kill by Proxy was composed with my own algorithmic composition software. Object-oriented Common Lisp code was developed mainly at ZKM with the generous support of two Guest Artist stipends in the summers of 2000 and 2001. The software is continuously in development. For I Kill by Proxy, programming was focussed upon new pitch-selection algorithms.

Many thanks, as always, to Bill Schottstaedt of Stanford University for the CLM software with which the majority of the signal processing of sounds was made; and to the Camargo Foundation for a wonderful residency in Cassis, France, where most of the compositional work was done.