Octet 1979, 2011 (9′)
for string quartet with 4 vintage synthesizers or electronic track
Octet 1979 is the latest and most ambitious piece in my “1979” series, a collection of works for strings plus synthesizers that were manufactured around the year of my birth (guess what year that was). These glorious machines have real personalities and a depth of character that one might easily miss, given the way that they’re often fleetingly heard in the midst of extremely busy dance and pop tracks. That’s not a criticism, at all, especially given that it was through those tracks that I discovered the sounds of these machines in the first place. But I like the idea of turning them into “chamber” instruments. Octet 1979 is therefore a work for four string players (ETHEL) and four specific synthesizers. It’s not “chamber music” in any traditional sense: in order to make it plausible to perform live (more than occasionally), I needed to prerecord the synthesizers. Some of the sounds are tracked (where MIDI or CV made sequencing possible) and some are recorded live, but this isn’t a work about “man vs. machine” or “the nature of being human”. To the extent that it’s “about” anything, it’s about two very different kinds of instruments and the beautiful sounds they can make together, despite having completely different means of pushing air around. I can’t think of a better quartet to tackle this crazy project than ETHEL, and I thank them for the opportunity and for all their hard work on the piece.