Autoimmune Disorder

for violin and percussion

+ live-electronics & live-video

 

The human immune system is a complex network of cells and cell components that normally work to defend the body and eliminate infections. If a person has an autoimmune disorder, the immune system mistakenly attacks the cells, tissues, and organs of the person's own body. This type of abnormal behaviour is compared in this piece with the way human beings treat the environment nowadays. Mistakenly or not, our planet is being assaulted by its own inhabitants.
 
“Symptom 1” represents a short intro and gives the two players the freedom of improvising and playing with their instruments. Plastic bags wrapped around the instruments counteract the idea of freedom and suggest the impact these have on the environment. Between 500 billion and a trillion plastic grocery bags are consumed worldwide each year, and because most of them are not recycled, they produce massive waste.
 
“Symptom 2” is composed using a technique called "data visualization", which involves translating raw data and statistics into artistic expressions. A list of all the countries in the world, sorted by their carbon dioxide emissions in 2006, was used algorithmically and converted into notes. The score was then written respecting the exact order of pitches, but with a personal choice of rhythms and form. This could be better defined as “data audiolization”. The same list was also used to generate the live-video: the flags of all countries are placed in a three-dimensional space, with different sizes and positions, in strict accordance to their CO2 emissions.
 
“Symptom 3” deals with different ways of land and air pollution. These are clearly illustrated by the six videos projected on the inner walls of a cube. Although the camera moves freely inside the cube, it cannot get out, symbolizing the walls that people build around themselves while isolating from nature.
 
“Symptom 4” describes the effects that toxic waste has on humans. The video is a live capture of the violin player, with black and white tones and distorted images, suggesting illness and contamination. The computer accompaniment was composed in the Bohlen-Pierce scale, which divides the perfect twelfth into 13 equal steps, as opposed to the octave into 12. This gives every step 146,3 cents instead of the 100 used in twelve-tone equal temperament. That is why the scale and its chords sound strange to our ear, almost like something deformed.
 
“Symptom 5” reminds of a classical sonata form, in which the two themes are “overbuilding” and “forest-cutting”. The marimba plays in equal temperament, while the computer-marimba is tuned in the Bohlen-Pierce scale. This last part is constructed with the help of elements from the other parts, almost like in a recycling process. Although it’s still called a symptom and not a cure, the part finishes in a positive note, expressing the idea that things are already being done against the destruction of nature.

 

Violin: Olga Berar

Percussion: Stefan Weinzierl


 

The text for Autoimmune Disorder, in comparison to the other piece, provides much more information about the technical and compositional methods employed in the piece and their connection to the main subject: pollution and the degradation of our planet. This is why I will directly examine the narrative aspects that arise during the five parts.

 

Here, as opposed to Hide and Seek, the two players act as musical narrators, controlling the timeline of the live-generated video. The piece has an overall dynamical structure that can be compared to Freytag’s model of literary plot: the first part is the introduction where the main theme is presented, in the second and third part there is raising action, both musically and visually, the climax at the end of the third, then the fourth part represents falling action by doubting the end of the conflict, and the fifth part presents a final confrontation between human and nature, with a resolution coming at the very end. However, as stated in the quoted text, there is no ending to this story, because we all live it every day and even if some battles are won against the destruction of our own planet, things still appear to be going the wrong way.

 

In Symptom 1 the musicians tell the story of the plastic-bag-issue, which is a symbol for pollution and its repercussions upon ourselves. There is no video, for a better focus on the plastic bags that impede the normal playing of the violin and the cymbal con arco. The choice of improvisation implies that we, people, are free to do whatever we want, up to the point where our actions have drastic consequences.

 

The use of data visualization and audio mapping in Symptom 2 permits the transformation of raw statistic data into an audio-visual narrative. The fact that the public needs a clarification from the text to realize the correlation between statistics and the presented material does not reduce the narrativity of the audio-visual experience. Even if not explained, people can draw some conclusions based mostly on the images, but also from the context of the whole piece. Whereas every musical pitch was predetermined by the data source, using a simple algorithm, the other parameters of sound (duration, intensity and timbre) were composed freely and arranged in a logical form. This is also valid for the video: though the size and position of the flags were obtained mathematically, the movement of camera through the three-dimensional space was established freely, according to the musical events. The sound of the vibraphone, together with the processed one of the violin, give an eerie feeling to the imagery projected on the screen.

 

Symptom 3 narrates more clearly about events and characters, because it shows real recordings of different methods invented by men to take advantage of the environment. Even if there is only one person appearing in the video (the tree cutter), the presence of man behind different machineries is intuited. The harshness of the various pollution sources is matched by the musical timbre: while the percussionist plays timpani and drum kit, the violin sound is distorted by audio effects like flanger and comb filter. Also, in the median section of the part, the violin player engages in a musical canon with pre-recorded samples, which eventually turns into a quartet of violins that enhances the visual madness. For the video I used different clips found on the Internet in a way that resembles the act of recycling: they were lying on different web pages, forgotten, rarely viewed and with a poor image quality for today’s standards, so I extracted some parts and projected them under a new light on the sides of my 3D cube.

 

The black and white live-capture of the violin player in Symptom 4 is split in four symmetric parts, which hover across the screen independently. The spectators cannot comprehend this in the beginning, because the four visual planes rotate in three dimensions and the video is distorted. The violin plays only pizzicato until, towards the middle of the part, the four pieces of video fly to the centre of the screen and unite in an image that shows the violin player, right when a melancholic melody begins. The glockenspiel, doubled by a virtual clone, counteracts the romantic flow of the violin with a static repetition of the same note. Particularly interesting for creating the sense of contamination, as noted in the text, are the synthesizer chords in Bohlen-Pierce scale, which accompany the pizzicato-section of the violin.

 

Symptom 5 recapitulates some musical ideas from the previous parts: the Bartok-scale from the third part, the Bohlen-Pierce from the fourth and the concept of an instrument playing with a virtual counterpart from the third and fourth parts. Both acoustic and electronic marimbas gradually build a repetitive musical cell, portraying a similarly gradual construction of buildings in the video. These structures are made of newspapers, preceding the second theme that is played as a cadenza by the violin: overcutting the forests. When the two instruments start playing together, the visual themes also overlap and the falling trees can be seen projected on the buildings’ walls. At the end of the part, nature finds its way among the man-made structures and fills the screen with green trees, as the two instruments race each other to finish the piece.

 

Although the piece is very explicit at some points and seems to be a moralizing story, its intention is to reflect upon several undeniable facts in an artistic way. In other words, the organization of information in a subjective form represents the narration of my personal thoughts regarding the approached issues.

 

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