Machine Language

for violin, viola (or electric violin), cello and percussion  
1999  ⤥  19′

In the study of genetic algorithms, computer scientists create virtual species with virtual genetic codes and allow for spontaneous mutations within some kind of Darwinian “survival of the fittest” context. These species reproduce and evolve, doing in minutes what has taken many millions of years for “real” creatures to do, often resulting in an unexpected beast who survives alone, victorious. In one particular case, the test for survival was a wrestling match; generation after generation, virtual wrestlers would tangle, mutate, and (if they survived) reproduce, their bodies evolving into highly optimized wrestling machines. One notably successful (and amusing) species that emerged was an enormously tall, wide and skinny creature that simply fell flat on top of its opponent, smothering it. 

Coming in at just under 20 minutes and moving with geological–as opposed to computational–swiftness, Machine Language is in part an imagination of the sounds of the languages these virtual species might speak, or perhaps of the music they might make. There is, I think, a sense of undirected evolution in the piece, but rather than gradual evolution, we have “punctuated equilibra”–discrete moments of change followed by lifetimes of relative stasis. And, rather than admiring a celebrating victor, we finish with harmonious (for lack of a better word) cooperation.

Originally written for 6-string electric violin (along with violin, cello, and percussion), that part can also be performed on viola.

As performed by Anna Lim, Dan Trueman (on electric violin), Arash Amini, and Danny Tunick:

Score and Performance Materials


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