Instrumentation: fl (dbl af & picc), cl (dbl bcl), asax, hn, tpt, tbn, 2 perc, e.gtr, pno (dbl kyb), vn, va, vc, cb, + video & tape
Pictures of an Electronic Life began somewhat fittingly as a computer glitch. Some years ago, I was finishing off another composition, when my computer suddenly began to emit a whole series of seemingly random pitches. I say random, but the range of pitches was limited in such a way that it sounded like it was in a key (A or F# minor – in no way related to the piece I was writing), and the pulse fairly regular. It was musical, it had coherence and it was actually quite compelling. I was able to make a recording of it.
A couple of minutes later it ended, never ever to occur again. To this day it remains one of the strangest things I've ever witnessed a computer do, apparently of its own volition. I like to think that the computer chose to sing to me.
I knew I wanted to use this recording, and so I kept it until I could find the right vehicle for it: this piece. The computer song, which I've called its 'Aria', features a number of times throughout the piece. The piece, in 6 movements, explores various aspects of our relationships with technology, from the initial act of switching our devices on, to waiting on them to do things, to them crashing and burning; from the plethora of apparent scientific innovations that are going to make our lives longer and healthier, to the concentrated intensity and excitement of gaming, and finally to the overwhelming amount of information right at out fingertips at any and every moment of the day.
In the search for the right approach to this piece, I kept asking myself the same question: 'What is so interesting about technology?' After several months of reading, research and a lot of thought, the answer I arrived at was that what's interesting about technology is Us; how we interact with and respond to it; all the wonder, shock, frustration, elation and myriad of emotional and intellectual impulses we bring to bear in life with our powered-up machines.
Music by Colin Broom.
Video by Colin Broom with assistance from Katherine Waumsley & Colin Edwards