Sunday, 11 January 2015

Viola D'Amore Meet Electronics

Matthew Whiteside has been composing electro-acoustic music in Glasgow for several years, first of all as part of the Said Ensemble and now Edit Point. His current project, however, maintains his use of modern technology, but also looks back to the baroque period.

In collaboration with Emma Lloyd, more usually known as a violin and viola player, Whiteside is writing a piece for the viola d'amore. This instrument, as Lloyd admits 'is not often used nowadays, and it is hard to find out what music has been composed for it!' First made during the baroque era, Lloyd adds that 'it is a peculiar instrument - it's interesting sounding. It has seven bowed strings and seven sympathetic ones. The non-fretted string instruments that you meet nowadays - violins, cellos and so on - usually have four strings.'

Given Whiteside's enthusiasm for a wide range of music (previous compositions have drawn on glitch electronica as well as contemporary classical styles), his composition is not purely about this obscure instrument.

'The new piece is for viola d'amore and motion sensors – of some sort,' he explains. Aware of the danger that electro-acoustic music can lose any sense of liveness in performance, Whiteside suggests that introducing this baroque curiosity can provide a further dimension to the composition.

'The instrument is already extended by the fact that it has sympathetic strings,' he says. 'The electronics are another thing to

play with. I'm toying with the ideas of cybernetics, and the relationship between the performer and the audience.'

In the early stages of the project, Whiteside and Lloyd have been experimenting with 'incredibly delicate sensors, which are usually used for testing movement in bridges.' Attaching these sensors to the musician, which then respond to her movements, brings a more improvisational, even random, element into the composition.

'In much performance of electronic music, the audience just ends

up looking at the back of a laptop, wondering whether the performer is just checking his emails,' Whiteside continues. By working with a stringed instrument, and applying sensors to Lloyd's fingers, Whiteside's composition uses both the traditional performance activity of the classical concert, and integrates contemporary technology. And while the project will see a CD release, the fullness of the piece will be revealed in the act of performance.

At the same time, the process of composition is an adventure, challenging Whiteside and Lloyd to find a compromise between the demands of a baroque instrument and electro-acoustic complexity: while there are limited scores for the viola d'amore (despite a recent fashion for rediscovering similar idiosyncratic baroque instrumentation), this is a unique fusion of the old and the new.

No comments :

Post a Comment