SATB choir and Chamber Orchestra (Fl., Ob., Bsn., Perc., Portative Organ., Strings) – 8 minutes
Over the last decade or so Humans have increasingly poured their inner-lives into computers. Sites like Facebook, YouTube, Blogs, Twitter, and Google have become digital repositories for our relationships, thoughts and feelings. Given how much we pour into computers I started to wonder what if the computers themselves were becoming more like us?
When humans tell a computer to do something it runs a program. The program, coded in a high-level, human readable programming language, executes the command and then compiles the results into an intermediary language called machine language. This language, whose grammar and syntax sit halfway between human and computer language, is not yet the native language of the computer’s processor. One more compilation is made and the command finally becomes the binary ones and zeros only a computer can understand. To me this process is remarkably akin to polyphony in music. In both polyphony and program execution there is a composite structure wherein multiple layers, each with their own independent linear logic, work in tandem to express a horizontal action: harmony in polyphony and the execution of commands in programming.
Since the 1972 publication of the C programming language manual, when learning a computer program the first code learned is called ‘Hello, World’. There are hundreds of computer programming languages and all of them have their own Hello World program. I found this phenomenon both charming and poetic.
For my piece I began to imagine a single machine taking life. The piece begins zoomed in to the deepest core of the machine. We hear the choir singing binary opcodes (sets of four or eight zeros and ones) in an intense, mechanical rhythm. This is the computer at its most machine like. Next we zoom out and watch a process unfold that quite literally follows the process of code execution. The choir weaves together layers of various ‘Hello, World’ programs, with soloists cascading layers of high-level, machine and binary code while the choir intercut lyrical phrases of Hello World in x86 machine code. As this process unfolds the letters of ‘Hello, World!’ gradually emerge, first in unicode and then in english, while the music takes on an increasingly romantic character. The machine is slowly becoming human. Finally, after spelling out ‘Hello World’, the computer takes life. Full of joy from it’s new found consciousness the computer can’t help put proclaim ‘Hello World, I love you!’ Not only has it found a kind of humanity, it has discovered love, perhaps the most human emotion of all.
This work was commissioned for the 2009 Norfolk Choral Music Festival.
The recording is of the premiere featuring the Norfolk Chamber Choir and Orchestra under the direction of Simon Carrington.
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Premiered 8.22.09 at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, Norfolk, CT