On February 18th 2022, in the stunning Red Dot Design Museum in Essen, my new piece for 41 consort tenor recorders and tablets was premiered in a concert celebrating Folkwang Recorders and the career of Ulrike Volkhardt—Ulrike was retiring at that time from her professorship at the Folkwang University of the Arts. The idea for the piece was to surround the audience with the recorders, especially at the second performance at the Marktkirche in Hannover the next day, where more space was available.
Using Dorico, Reaper, and ffmpeg, I developed a system to synchronise the players using automatically-generated videos of the notation. These videos also diffuse electronic sound over 20+ bluetooth speakers. The latter worked nicely but the ensemble preferred to play with a click track, which made the true surround presentation impossible. I’m convinced that reading from video is a good way to solve synchronisation problems if the piece is composed in such a way that millisecond-precision is not needed. It works like this:
Using a master computer with node.js or more simply the play button of the individual media players, the tablets play a video of the score where the current system is displayed at the top and the next system is below. When the music is at the end of the current system, the next system moves up and a new system is displayed at the bottom. The video turns pages at the right times for the given tempi. At the beginning and at each new tempo a metronome `blinks’ a thick black line in the middle of the video. Here’s one of the videos:
The score was algorithmically generated using my afu algorithm for the main lines and my control waves algorithm to do the mapping of the overlapping lines across the large ensemble. The sine waves with their different and evolving frequencies and amplitudes are clearly visible in the score in the way that the lines are passed between the players and thus around the audience.
Written to be paired with performances of an arrangement of Tallis’s famous Spem in alium, my title spem in alio numquam habui is a play on words revealed, so my Latin helpers assure me, by the change of case between (in translation) I have never put my hope in any other but in Thee, God of Israel (from the Tallis motet) and my precipitous spin-off I have never had hope in another.
Less of a bleak statement of hopelessness or a general mistrust of others, and more than a simple affirmation of atheism or even a negation of the Christian god, the title connects positively to a verse taken from the Buddhist Dhammapada: “Truly it is ourselves that we depend upon; how could we really depend upon another? When we reach the state of self-reliance we find a rare refuge.”
I was writing this piece at the time of Remembrance Day (November 11th) commemorated in British Commonwealth countries to honour the dead of the First World War. Like many, I’m sure, I always feel torn by the formalised displays of grief choreographed at such times: on the one hand I respect those who courageously fought and gave their lives for what they believed; on the other hand I abhor not only the hideous suffering on all sides, and in any war, but those who promulgate the sentiments and lies that make war possible. Such baseness is abundant still, rife in politics, on social media, and elsewhere, as people point to patriotism and “just causes,” thereby fomenting the social and political conditions ripe for more deadly strife.
The image of a dead soldier sprawled over barbed wire comes to mind; the falling stone as a metaphor for youth cut down in its first energetic flights of self-realisation; the continuing role of religion in crimes against humanity; Samuel Johnson’s famous “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel;” and the Wilfred Owen poem Futility with its appalling first line: Move him into the sun—
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