On Violence - short description

On Violence is a composition for piano, live electronics, sensors and computer display. The pianist reads from a score displayed on the laptop screen, which combines conventional notation with real-time scoring. The performer also wears headphones to receive audio triggers and cues that constitute the aural element of the score. I implemented this score using SuperCollider and my AlgorithmicScore class. The pianist interacts with the score through two midi pedals that are used to ‘turn pages’, display graphic notation, give written directions to the performer and activate score animations. During the duration of the performance, the score gradually alters from conventional notation to more experimental notations. The real-time scoring elements of On Violence use a combination of chance, generative and spectral methods to generate visual and aural material that changes and adapts for each performance. The pianist therefore is asked to follow a score that has both fixed and unfixed indications, some of them involving spontaneous reaction and improvisation. The score information is generated in real-time by the computer and is very difficult, if not impossible, to perform accurately since the pianist does not know the exact content of the music they will be performing. However, the pianist is still asked to perform the score to the best of their ability. This type of performance strategy is deliberate and attempts to establish an interpassive relationship between the performer and the laptop displaying the score — the pianist becomes frantically active by the ‘impossible’ demands from the technological object which remains passive.

On Violence appropriates existing music from various sources: Dieterich Buxtehude’s Praeludium in G Minor, BuxWV 163, Einsturzende Neubauten’s Autobahn, Richard Wagner’s Parsifal, Das Rheingold and Tristan und Isolde, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Piano Con­certo No. 21 in C - 1st mov (K.467) and the Top 12 Sin­gles Chart on the day of performance. It also plunders sounds including political speeches, screams, guitar feedback and metal banging. Buxtehude’s Praeludium serves as a blueprint for the composition — the other derived material is placed within its form, and is treated and processed through its shapes and contours as well as its melodic, harmonic and contrapuntal content. The live electronics part is triggered by the audio analysis of the music performed by the pianist (a microphone is placed close to the piano for real-time analysis) and by the Midi pedals. Through a combination of machine-listening technology and by tracking the incoming data from the Midi pedals the computer is able to follow the score, triggering different sounds and types of processing according to the structure of the composition. There are various predominant sounds in the live electronics part at the beginning of the composition: metallic bangs, vocal sounds (screams and fragments of political speeches, some of which are heavily processed), high frequency distorted sounds and a sound reminiscent to the noise produced by a motor. The metal bangs are triggered through the onset detection of the piano signal and are stretched or shortened in real-time depending on the speed at which the pianist plays. The samples of vocal sounds and the high frequency distorted sounds are selected randomly and triggered at specific moments following the pianist’s playing and are also stretched or shortened in real-time depending on the tracked tempo. Some of the vocal sounds are processed by two different types of synthesis algorithms: one of them convolves two different types of weakly nonlinear oscillators which use the sample as its external force and the other convolves one weakly nonlinear oscillator with the result of a linear predictive coding (LPC) error. The high frequency sounds are spectrally gated samples of guitar feedback that are passed through a distortion guitar pedal. The sound reminiscent of a motor is turned on and off through the Midi pedals and consists of a low frequency pulse wave that is distorted through an overdrive guitar pedal. The pianist controls the frequency of the pulse wave with two 3G Force sensors (accelerometers) attached to their hands, which track arm movement (as the pianist lifts their arms, the frequency increases and as they lowers them, the frequency decreases).

During the first section of the composition, the pianist alternates between incessantly banging chords at a periodic rhythm and controlling the ‘motor’ sound by lifting and lowering their arms. The chords that they play are derived from the spectral analysis (using my PartialTracker class) of Neubauten’s song ‘Autobahn’ and modified both in harmonic material and register by the Buxtehude. The pitched material of the vocal and distorted high frequency sounds as well as the ‘motor’ sound are also modified in pitch through the Buxtehude score. As the pianist’s score starts to incorporate more real-time scoring elements the content of the live electronics part also gradually starts to transform. Samples of plundered recordings of Wagner’s Parsifal and Tristan und Isolde start to emerge, however modified in their playing rate by the mapped shapes of Buxtehude’s counterpoint. The Wagner samples become more prominent as the pianist is asked to improvise and react immediately to the algorithmic score, culminating in an electronics solo that is produced by a synthesis algorithm emulating an organ sound and playing notes derived from a fragment of a recording of Buxtahude that corresponds to that precise section in the blueprint. After the electronics solo the performer responds by playing the next phrase of the original Buxtehude on the piano. The following section, where the pianist is asked to improvise freely together with an electronic part that consists of a re-synthesized version of the prelude to the third act of Parsifal. The synthesis algorithm used in the electronics in this section uses a dynamic bank of resonators filtering noise and modified in frequency and amplitude by the extracted fundamental of the instruments in a plundered recording of the Wagner, resulting in a sound that approximates a bowed string instrument. This synthesis algorithm is then used to emulate a string orchestra by programming it to perform the parts of the different instruments of the string orchestra (violins, violas, cellos, double basses) and by multiplying its results by the amount of instruments per section and adding a slight random deviation in pitch and timing for each result to imitate the sound of various instruments playing in unison. The resulting version of the Wagner prelude however is altered in pitch content to match the previous section and for that reason the notes of the original are modified through the Buxtehude harmonic material. The last section of this composition is derived from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Piano Con­certo No. 21 in C - 1st mov and samples from the Top 12 Sin­gles Chart on the day of performance. The piano part is simply the reversed piano part of the Mozart concerto that is also filtered through the Buxtehude counterpoint. The electronics serve as the "virtual orchestra" which follows the pianist and plays the pitch material with segmented fragments from the top 12 singles. Each fragment of the songs is analysed for its pitch and matched to the orchestral score by the computer. The songs are selected according to their position in the charts so that they correspond to the instrumental part according to the hierarchy of the orchestra.

This composition is inspired by Slavoj Žižek’s book Violence, in which he categorizes violence into two main types: subjective and objective violence. Subjective violence is clearly identifiable by an agent, for example acts of terror or crime, and it is perceived as a clear interruption of the normal state of things. On the other hand, objective violence is violence that is inherent in the social fabric and is hard to see and experience for the advantaged classes or countries. What Žižek argues is that objective violence is inherent within social “balance” and it is objective violence which triggers acts of subjective violence. Furthermore, Žižek identifies two types of objective violence: symbolic and systematic violence. Systematic violence is manifested through our economic and political systems which, in order to give the idea of a normal smooth running of things, exert systematic violence on large groups of people. Symbolic violence is related to and included within systematic violence but is specifically expressed through language (and other symbolic systems like music). Žižek goes further to argue that the forms of symbolic violence are actually based on and manifested by the symbolic systems themselves. On Violence attempts to explore the aesthetics of violence and reflect on the different manifestations of violence categorized by Žižek. It does so, not only through the type of sounds and plundered music it uses (which are suggestive of different types of violence) and the way they are processed, but also through the way in which the performance itself is set up. The pianist is asked to be violent by the sheer force and aggressiveness they have to exert over the instrument and further violence is exerted upon them by the amount of information that is thrown at them by technology and by the pressure of having to perform difficult (if not impossible) tasks. Even though at the beginning of the composition, it seems that the pianist is the one exerting subjective violence onto the piano and controlling technology — by triggering sounds through pedals and controlling sound through the sensors — we later realize that technology is controlling the pianist by flooding them with impossible demands. At the end of the composition, while the performer is apparently free (they are asked to improvise freely and play whatever they want) we get the impression that the pianist is not the one in control and actually is the victim of objective violence imposed systematically upon them, not only by the system of performance and technology but also by the symbolic violence implicit in the music itself.