software / live audio-visual media

Program Notes:

Apocryphal Chrysopoeia (2014) is the result of several changes to my cellular automata-based audio-visual instrument, previously known as Sounding Orbs. The "orbs" have evolved into a variety of geometric primitives, so I've discarded the previous name, which was an homage to Fischinger's Kreise (Circles). The new title is a bit more outrageous, but encapsulates more information about the instrument and the philosophy behind it. The phrase Apocryphal Chrysopoeia basically means "doubtful alchemical transmutation into gold."

I arrived at this somewhat ridiculous title through the intersection of various threads related to the instrument and the dissertation composition growing around it (the dissertation composition is called Ouroboros). The texts I'm drawing upon for the conceptual basis of the dissertation are in the German Gothic tradition (Hoffmann and Kleist), or they deal with the critique of abstraction, in art and science (Feyerabend, Adorno, Edward Shanken, etc.). Specifically, all of the texts touch upon artificial life (or synthetic biology) and automata, with varying degrees of attraction or repulsion to such entities or concepts.

In the Hoffmann (Der Sandmann), the image of a "circle of fire" appears multiple times. Several theorists have postulated that Hoffmann used this image to represent the newly discovered (in his time) method of animating dead tissue with electrical circuits (circles of "fire"). Another circle appears in the Kleist ("On the Marionette Theatre"), this time having to do with a journey of increasing awareness from an animal-like state, through sentience, to omniscience. Kleist is essentially trying to re-draw the circle around the Garden of Eden for humankind.

Another quasi-circle (a double-helix wrapped into a torus) forms the basic arrangement of pitches in my cellular automata instrument, prior to any geometric deformation. Such deformation is absolutely necessary for dramatic variation in performance with the instrument, but the core arrangement makes the algorithm predictable.

Yet another circle is Ouroboros, the mythological snake that eats itself, representing the integral nature of decay and renewal, or at the very least a synthesis of opposites. Ouroboros is also an alchemical sigil related to the legendary philosopher's stone, which can transmute base metals into gold, or grant eternal life. Of course, such magical ideas are irrational - but they seem desirable none-the-less, don't they? My striving for the creation of musical automata is similarly irrational, although rational means are deployed, such as the double-helix model of pitch perception, in my pursuit. It is an exploration of what can be accomplished with an "infection by abstraction."

Performance History:

World Premiere: March 6, 2015

N_SEME: National Student Electronic Music Event

Bowling Green State Univ., OH

Virginia Premiere: March 26, 2015

SEAMUS: Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the U.S. Conference

Virginia Tech., Blacksburg, VA

Louisiana Premiere: May 31, 2015

NIME: New Interfaces for Musical Expression Conference

Louisiana State Univ., Baton Rouge, LA

California Premiere: June 29, 2015

Qualcomm Institute IDEAS: Initiative for Digital Exploration of Arts and Sciences

Qualcomm Institute VROOM, UCSD