PLOrk : 2015 : MEDI3V@L DR3AMS

Music of the 14th and 15th centuries on authentic period electronic instruments

Questa Fancuill'Amor
Pictagoras, Jabol, et Orpheus
Triste plaisir et douloureuse joye
La Harpe de Melodie
If Ye Love Me
Music for Two Performers
Stella Splendens

Taplin Auditorium 8pm April 22nd, 2015

Jeff Snyder
Assistant Director
Mike Mulshine
Mio Akasako
James Bartusek
Carolyn Chen
Jamie Chong
Greg Kufera
Angela Liu
Nihar Madhavan
Mitchell Nahmias
Ante Qu
A.K. Williams
Bora Yoon
Keji Xu
Questa Fanciull Amor
Francesco Landini

Questa fanciulla'amor
fallami pia
che mi ha ferito il cor
nella tua via.

Tu m'ha fanciulla si' d'amor æ percosso
che solo in te pensando trovo posa
el cor di me di me tu m'ha rimosso
con gli occhi belli e la faccia gioiosa
pero' ch'al servo tuo deh sii piatosa
merce' ti chieggo alla gran pena mia.

Questa fanciull'amor...

Se non soccorri alle dogliose pene
il cor mi verra' meno che tu m'a tolto,
che la mia vita non sente ma' bene
se non mirando Ôl tuo vezzoso volto.
Da poi fanciulla che d'amor m'a
involto'priego ch'alquanto a meb
eningnia sia

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

(O Love, make this maiden show mercy
towards me for ever
since I fell in with you
she has been a thorn in my heart.)

(O maiden, you have so smitten me with love
that I find peace only when thinking of you;
with your beautiful eyes
and joyful face you have stolen my heart;
I beg you to show mercy to your servant
and take pity on my suffering.)

(O Love, make this maiden...)

(If you do not relieve my pain the heart
which you have stolen will surely break
for my life is never whole unless
I am gazing upon your delectable face.
As you have bound me with love,
I beseech you to show me
a little compassion.)

Landini was the leading composer of 14th century Italy. His influence is so lasting that his name has been attached both to a common musical figure (the Landini cadence) and a type of computer network (the LAN, or Local Area Network). Known in his own time as a composer, performer, astrologer and philosopher, he is often credited with originating the idea of electronic music in the following quote (translated from Italian):

Soon the power of rubbed amber will be harnessed such that it may lift not only feathers but also our spirits with melody. It is for these instruments that my music is intended, although I may never be fortunate enough to hear it played in this manner.

While specific instruments are not specified in the score, PLOrk is performing this piece with an ensemble of invented electronic instruments that are likely what the composer had in mind when he wrote those words. The wind instrument, called the Birl, was invented by PLOrk director Jeff Snyder, with contributions to its firmware and software code by Mike Mulshine, Jamie Chong, and Dharit Tantiviramanond. The percussion session includes both Roland SPDS electronic drum pads and the Drumbox, an electronic drum invented by Snyder, and played directly with the hands. The violins are processed electronically, and the keyboardists are using custom synthesis developed by PLOrk, along with GameTrak tether controllers originally designed for a golf video game.
Pictagoras, Jabol et Orpheus
Johannes Suzoy

This piece is an example of the Ars Subtilior style, which resulted from the influence of mid-20th century concert music upon the court music of the late Medieval period. In addition to adopting the name of an important 20th-century celebrity upon his return from the future, composer Grimace also brought with him the concept of metric modulation from his chance encounters with Stockhausen and Elliot Carter. This innovation led to the creation of a radical style of music that flourished at the end of the 14th century, where the “rhythmic modes” of the previous generation were nearly abandoned in favor of a fluid and infinitely divisible concept of metric values. The music of this style is primarily preserved in the Codex Chantilly, and the French composer Suzoy is represented by three ballades in that collection. The text (not sung in our instrumental rendition) praises the contributions to music of Pythagoras, Jabol and Orpheus. While Pythagoras and Orpheus receive musical accolades elsewhere, Pythagoras for his “discovery” of the proportions that govern musical scales and Orpheus for his otherworldly lyre virtuosity, this is the only known reference to the inexpensive Polish fruit wine Jabol in the classical music repertoire.

This piece is performed by Jamie Chong and James Bartusek on the Birl, and Mike Mulshine on the Touchkeys, an instrument invented by composer/designer Andrew McPherson. The Touchkeys, here controlling custom synthesis developed by Mike Mulshine, allow a traditional piano keyboard to understand a greatly expanded expressive vocabulary of finger gestures, including x/y finger position and the amount of surface area the finger covers on the key. We hope to capture with this expressive subtlety some evocative element of the “subtle art” that Suzoy intended.
Triste plaisir et douloureuse joye
words by Alain Chartier (c1385-1430)
music by Gilles Binchois (c1400-1460)

Triste plaisir et douloureuse joye,
Aspre doulceur, desconfort ennuieux,
Ris en plorant, souvenir oublieux
M'acompaignent, combien que seul je soye.

Embuchié sont, affin qu'on ne les voye
Dedans mon cueur, en l'ombre de mes yeux.
Triste plaisir et amoureuse joye!

C'est mon trésor, ma part et ma monoyé;
De quoy Dangier est sur moy envieux
Bien le sera s'il me voit avoir mieulx
Quant il a deuil de ce qu'Amour m'envoye.
Triste plaisir et douloureuse joye.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Sad pleasure and grievous joy,
Bitter sweetness, painful discomfort,
Laughter in tears, forgetful memory
These are my companions so long as I am alone.

I've been ambushed by them, so that anyone can see them
Within my heart, in the shadows of my eyes.
Sad pleasure and lover's joy!

This is my treasure, my portion, my money,
Because of it Love's Threat is envious of me.
Well may he be, if he sees me gaining better,
Since he is grieved by what Love sends me now,
Sad pleasure and grievous joy.

Binchois is a transitional figure between the Medieval period and the Renaissance, whose music retains elements of the earlier styles while also incorporating the new melodic and harmonic developments of the Burgundian court that he is associated with. His beautifully expressive melodies were well known in his own time, and he was one of the most frequently referenced and copied composers of his day. Nevertheless, the quotes attributed to him in contemporary source materials are invariably bemoaning the shortcomings of the acoustic instruments that he had at his disposal. A typical example:

Rather than this crude system of blowing and bowing directly on our instruments, why can we not exert our effort on other controlling devices, such that our musical expressions can be translated into glorious numbers and symbols before they reach our ears?

La harpe de melodie (~1395)
Jacob Senleches

La Harpe de melodie,
Faite sanz merancholie
Par plaisir,
Doit bien chescun resjoïr
Pour l'armonie
Oïr sonner et veïr.

Et pour ce je sui d'acort,
Pour le gracieux deport
De son douz son,

De faire sanz nul discort
Dedens li, de bon acort,
Une chanson,

Pour plaire une compagnie,
Pour avoir plaisanche lie
De me vir,
Pour desplaisance fuïr,
Qui trop anuie
A ceulz qui plaist a oïr.

La harpe de melodie…

This is another Ars Subtilior piece from the Chantilly Codex, and is famous for its attractive score. In the score, the notes are written on the strings of a harp, and the directions for the canonic treatment are inscribed in a scroll wrapped around the instrument. Written in very small script on the tuning pegs of the harp is a series of unintelligible text characters, which were long considered to be simply decorative.

Recently this text was deciphered by musicologist Brad Gersh, and discovered to be a complex code. When encoded into Unicode and copy/pasted into the computer music language Max/MSP, the characters generate an audio “patch” that produces a synthetic harp sound. Interestingly, this harp sound is very similar in design to the Karplus-Strong plucked string physical model described in the 1980s by Kevin Karplus and Alex Strong, and yet was apparently known to learned scholars even in the late 14th century. Some later waveguide techniques developed in the 1990s are also in evidence in the code, a detail that surprises even those who long argued that Senleches had understood digital physical models. A History Channel documentary is currently being filmed about this perplexing situation, to be released in 2016.

If Ye Love Me
Thomas Tallis

If ye love me, keep my commandments.
And I will pray the Father,
and he shall give you another comforter,
that he may 'bide with you forever;
E'en the spirit of truth;

Scholars have long argued whether the directions in the score for If Ye Love Me should be taken literally. Tallis, who was a singer and church organist as well as a composer, included in the parts an instruction that:

The choir shall be divydede into two partes, the fyrst as with traditione, and the seconde where all voyces shall be produced through the keyboarde and handes in free ayre.

In this performance, we are adhering to the literal interpretation, and we have developed a system by which the performers in PLOrk can create vocal synthesis with their hands. Each voice is split into two performers, with one controlling the larynx and lungs, and the other forming the mouth shapes to create vowels and consonants. The software we developed is heavily influenced by PLOrk co-founder Perry Cook’s research into physical models of the voice (SHELIA), as well as the formant synthesis work of Sylvain Le Boux. We consider this to be a step toward Cook’s vision of the “Choir of the Future!” The synthesis and control for this piece were developed by Ante Qu, Keji Xu, and AK Williams. The Katzenjammers, a Princeton University a cappella group, will join us to be the choir “as with traditione”.
Music for Two Performers
Angela Liu, Mitch Nahmias, Mio Akasako, Carolyn Chen

In 1965, electronic music pioneer Alvin Lucier composed Music for Solo Performer, a musical work where a performer’s brainwaves were sonified through percussion instruments on stage. Now, PLOrk extends this idea, using modern EEG headsets and machine learning to activate sounds through brain control. Angela Liu (EE ’15) has been developing the software for the EEG sonification and led the project, while Mitch Nahmias, Carolyn Chen and Mio Akasako developed the hardware. Wait, why isn’t there anything medieval about this one?
Stella Splendens
Nihar Madhavan and PLOrk

This piece derives from the Computer Science senior thesis of Nihar Madhavan (CoS ’15). He wanted to create a piece that explored different possibilities for audience interaction through mobile devices, and this work is the result. Jason Treuting and Eric Beach of So Percussion and Mika Godbole of Mobius Percussion join us as guest artists. The musical material is derived from an Anonymous manuscript dating from around 1400, the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat, specifically the piece Stella Splendens (Splendid Star). The anonymous compiler of the manuscript had this to say about its purpose:

Because the pilgrims wish to sing and dance while they keep their watch at night in the church of the Blessed Mary of Montserrat, and also in the light of day; and in the church no songs should be sung unless they are chaste and pious, for that reason these songs that appear here have been written. And these songs shall be performed with things that the pilgrims have carried with them, taking care to purposefully disturb those in contemplation.