Paul J. Sylvester

Spring 2016

In the history of live musical performance, the question of rhythm has often been overlooked. People playing together in various ensembles have always been able to keep in time with one another due to their own abilities to play fluidly and interact with each other’s body languages and musical gestures to see approximately when the beat is. At the rise of the Digital/Electronic Age in music, this becomes harder and harder to do with an automated performer. A computer, as a performer and as a musical instrument, does not have the ability to listen to the other musicians in the ensemble, and therefore plays within an exactly measured time, dictated by a digital metronome. How then can a computer successfully play a piece of music in time with a group of human performers? One option would be to create a click track using the digital metronome, and have the click be sent out to the entire ensemble, making them stay in time with the fixed time that a computer thinks in. Another way to do this, is have a human being operate the computer as an instrument, and have the person trigger certain events to occur in time with the rest of the ensemble. In two of my own compositions, I test these two possibilities for integrating a computer into the ensemble of humans. For “Alice in Wonderland (1915),” a 45 minute film score to W.W. Young’s 1915 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, I wrote a rhythmically complex piece of music, with the traditional time tellers in notated music (time signatures and tempo markings) being constantly in flux. The piece never settles in one time signature or tempo for an extended amount of time, therefore the performers already have to be “on their toes” about where the beat is and where the piece is taking them. Adding the click of a digital metronome keeps them more solidly in a specifically measured time, within which the film plays out. In “sportage,” a 12 minute orchestral piece, the computer’s part is fully scored out on the page, and the operator of the laptop is told when to trigger the events by the conductor. The timekeeper in this piece is a human being, who cannot physically measure specific amounts of time with the precision that a computer can, and therefore, the piece cannot be played the same way every time, which is unpredictable and irrational in the eyes of the computer. Overall, these experiments are based on one pressing matter what is the role of the computer in the world of “classical” music in 2016? Within the past 20 or so years, there have been several attempts to integrate the computer, or at least electronics, into the standard orchestra, but many of them are unseen by the vast community. How then, can we as a generation of musicians and composers born and bred in the Digital Age, integrate the computer into the music and make it as standard as any other section of the orchestra? The goal of my project is to give a number of possible ways a composer can go about doing this.