Michael Edwards


Programme Note

jitterbug is, in performance, a four-movement four-channel work for computer, with or without improvising musicians. It is also available without improvised contributions as a stereo album. It was created with my slippery chicken algorithmic composition software and premiered at Museum Siam, Bangkok, on November 29th 2015 as part of the As((ear))n exhibition of curated sounds from throughout South-East Asia.

The four movements---each taking one of the proportions 6:3:5:4, in that order---have a total duration of 40:30. Movements 1 & 2 and 3 & 4 overlap, making for two equal halves separated by silence. The titles of the movements are:

1(6): stuffed animals and licorice (13:30)

2(3): my father's hazards (6:45)

3(5): zero to ten (11:15)

4(4): shiny metal mixing bowl (9:00)

The title jitterbug comes from the name of the main rhythmic generative algorithm used in the piece. The movement titles come from Matt Sumell's 2015 novel Making Nice. I was reading this at the time my father was dying of cancer in the first half of 2015. In the novel, the protagonist's mother is dying of cancer. When taken out of context the titles themselves are particularly strong and colourful, though not particularly clear. In the context of the larger text, they take on different but generally very clear meanings, some rather prosaic, like various aspects of the process of dying:

Many different sounds were used in the mix. Some were longer sound files, treated acousmatically, such as rain in Montreal, interviews I recorded with my father before he died, or the evening call to prayer in Yogyakarta, Indonesia; some were vocal statements or sung animal-like sounds; others were many and various short sounds, used as samples and driven by different outputs of the jitterbug algorithm: prepared and normal piano samples, and many gong and bell samples made from my own instruments sourced in Bangkok. The animal sounds were cut, edited, and polished from recordings sourced online at the Macaulay Library of Cornell University. I used recordings of Jaguar sex by Gustav Peters; elephant seals by Thomas Sander; and red deer by Bob McGuire.