Blood And Tango

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23 June 2015

Time: 12:00am - 1:00pm
Venue: Arts 2 Lecture Theatre, Queen Mary University of London, E1 4NS

Blood And Tango is the first of two concerts offered as part of MCM2015, the Fifth Biennial International Conference on Mathematics and Computation in Music (22-25 June 2015) -- .


Blood from a Stone (1985) by Gareth Loy (b.1945) Composed for Max Mathew's electronic violin Laurel Pardue, violin

Le Grand Tango (1982) by Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) Ian Pressland, cello; Elaine Chew, piano

Le Grand Tango (1982) by Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) Susanne Beer, cello; Elaine Chew, piano

Program Notes

Blood from a Stone is a 15-minute piece for electronic violin, with a computer accompaniment derived from the violinist's performance. The piece explores the new relationships between composer, performer, and audience added by interactive real-time computer music systems.

Blood from a Stone began with an electronic violin built by Max Mathews, the father of computer music. In 1982, the composer built an interactive performance system for this instrument, including a then-novel violin pitch-detector. Blood from a Stone was the demonstration piece he wrote for this system in 1985. The software listens to the violin and generates a digital synthesizer accompaniment from the violinist's performance. The synthesizers employ frequency modulation (FM) synthesis to simulate musical instrument tones, a technique invented by John Chowning at Stanford in the 1970's.

Though the phrase of the title may sound pessimistic, it celebrates a triumph: my brother, T.H. Loy, pioneered the field of microarchaeology by discovering that blood residues preserved against all odds on prehistoric stone tools could reveal the DNA of ancient creatures, and even our remote ancestors, back to and far beyond the time of the Neanderthals; quite literally, blood from a stone. This opened an unanticipated window into prehistoric times. Similarly, in the mid 1980's when this composition was written, the touchstone of the computer age silicon was opening powerful new avenues of musical expression, similarly unanticipated. Both revolutions leapt into existence like Athena from the head of Zeus; both were as unlikely as blood from a stone; both have transformed our understanding of the world and ourselves.

The piece is dedicated to J'nos N'gyesy (1938???2013) who premiered it. The title is dedicated to my brother, Thomas Harold Loy.

A note on the technology. The half-life of computer equipment is very short; many generations of computer systems have arisen and fallen away since this piece was written in the 1980's. Originally, the gear filled an equipment rack six feet tall, weighing 450 lbs. If it still existed (which it does not), it would be hopelessly obsolete, even if (miraculously) it still worked. Today, the piece runs on a laptop weighing 4.5 lbs. The software had to be completely redesigned. This has been done in a new programming language, called Player, invented by the composer. Serendipitously, the Player language began to work in real time the same week the invitation arrived to revive Blood from a Stone! So this performance is both the revival of Blood from a Stone, as well as the premiere of the Player programming language. ~ G.L.

2 x Le Grand Tango (1982). Why play a piece twice at the same concert? One might ask. The recent trend towards corpus-based approaches to music research, and especially to music performance research, driven by ever more powerful machines and computer algorithms has obscured the natural beauty and uniqueness of individual performances. As a countermeasure, we juxtapose two performers, each extraordinary in their own right and embodying divergent styles, to highlight the very different approaches a musician, with her or his instrument, can have to interpreting and shaping the same piece of music. In our demonstration, the pianist remains the same, although the expressivity of the piano part will be influenced by the dynamics of the interaction with each cellist. The composer of the featured piece, Astor Piazzolla, is renowned for fusing elements of tango, jazz, and classical music in his compositions. Le Grand Tango is a virtuosic work for cello and piano; underneath the sweeping bandoneon melodies beats the unrelenting 3+3+2 traditional tango pulse. The piece has also been transcribed for viola as well as violin; but comparisons between the original cello version and these transcriptions will have to wait for another day. ~ E.C.

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The event is free and open to the public. First come first served basis.