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Festival presents Eötvös’ “Deciding Machine” | Music

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A May 2020 article in the Wall Street Journal heralds the dawn of the ‘decision machine’ era, when supercomputers and artificial intelligence are able to sort through the myriad possible consequences of complex and dynamic situations to predict them. most likely results.

But the idea of ​​such a mechanical brain dates back in primitive form to antiquity and began to develop into something contemporary society might recognize as a computer in the 1830s, when English nobleman Ada Lovelace King – the only child legitimate of Lord Byron and the Countess of Lovelace – wrote what some consider to be the first computer program.

Today’s math pioneer and feminist icon is honored in Australian-American composer Melody Eötvös’ 12-minute orchestral work “The Deciding Machine”. Commissioned two years ago by the Grand Teton Music Festival for its 2020 season canceled by COVID, the work will finally have its world premiere on Thursday, with subsequent performances on Friday and Saturday, at the Walk Festival Hall in Teton Village.

Born in 1984 in New South Wales, Australia, to a Hungarian father and naturalized American after meeting a “Midwestern boy” who became her husband, Eötvös has interests and influences as broad as her global heritage.

“I’ve always loved traveling,” she said earlier this month from Australia via Zoom. “I have a very long list of places I’ve always wanted to go.

Maybe instead of going to all of these places, she found escape and adventure through the arts and cultures of some of these destinations, and wrote music based on her reading and her research on Scandinavian tales, Greek legends, Australian myth. than nineteenth century literature, philosophy, mathematics, biology, physics and other sciences.

“When you are influenced by different cultures or by an ancient story,” she says, “you have to try to enter the sound world of what is around that object. … This is an extremely important thing for me to do. At 50, I might be really good at it and it won’t take a few years for me to listen to it all.

The same goes for writing about science and math. For “The Deciding Machine,” commissioned to mark the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States, it just needed roughly the first bar. Excited by the idea of ​​writing for such an important milestone, she embarked on reading historical female figures, especially some who have been overlooked, and eventually came across Ada Lovelace, who she said. said, occupied a “socially interesting” contributions of a century to computing.

“The deciding machine,” Eötvös said, begins with high, repeated notes, like a code or a foreign language. It starts, stops, modulates, overlaps and eventually resolves into a recognizable time signature, albeit still tense and in conflict with the meter.

“I liked the way it sounded,” she said. “So I would write, I would change, I would write, then I would find an answer number and I would go back to work with that original idea. There was infinite variation, constantly varying the number. It repeats itself but not identically. And most importantly, I wanted it to sound like a machine, constantly propelling it forward.

From a simple idea, in other words, a universe of complexity evolves which the organic and human mind of Eötvös then transforms into art and expression and emotion and ideas.

“I wanted to write from start to finish, to make it flow,” she said. “I don’t write separate sections and then fill in the middle. … I used the string section to pretty much write down the structure of the entire piece and orchestrated it from there. It was an interesting way of working… which stems from a lesson I learned from [Australian composer-conductor] Richard Mills: You want to keep it at four or five textures max, so you can play it on the piano, like a piano reduction or four hands. Music is written so that you can do it. 


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