Emergence (for Flute Quartet, with prerecorded audio and video projection)
for four flutists, prerecorded audio and video projection (2010) ca. 28′
Commissioned by the Latvian Culture Capital Fund for the Riga-based Flute Quartet 4-tune. Premiered at the Ave Sol Concert Hall in Riga, Latvia, on April 7, 2010.
Flutes: Dace Bičkovska, Lolita Oša, Anna Petraškeviča, Daina Treimane
Video Projection: Uģis Brikmanis (Movements 1-3) & Charles Griffin (Movement 4)
Choreography: Sandra Vītola & Māris Pūris
Dancers: Einārs Lazdiņš, Agnese Pūre, Toms Sandors, Sergejs Zeļeskis
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Emergence Program Notes
“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” – Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, 1859
For the past 15 years, my reading of scientific literature has affected my worldview, brought me solace, and sparked my imagination. The job of science, as I see it, has always been twofold: to rationally peer behind the veil of reality and discover what is there, and also to imagine future possibilities. I find it fascinating how fantastical reality can actually be, and that so many connections exist amongst ourselves and with our world once we actually look.
The science of Emergence, which has no direct translation in Latvian, is the study of how complexity emerges from essentially simple component parts.
King Solomon urged us to look to the ants, “consider her ways and be wise; which having no guide, overseer or ruler, provides her meat in the summer and gathers her food in the harvest.” Scientists and businesses now use Ant Colony Optimization algorithms and other Swarm Intelligence methods for problem solving. Bees, birds, fish and locusts follow essentially three simple rules of movement in groups, and it turns out, humans follow the same rules when walking in a crowded urban environment. The first movement is a structured improvisation for the flute quartet where they use swarming rules to create their music.
The human brain, with its modular structure weaved together by roughly 30 billion neurons electrically firing chemicals across synapses in synchronous waves that produce measurable electronic current up to 12 Hz, is the ultimate example of complexity. Understanding our brains is yet another way of understanding our own evolution as a species: at the deepest level is the emotionless reptilian brain stem, controlling our metabolic system and incapable of anything we would call thought; then comes the limbic system, from which comes our primary emotions and which we share with most other mammals, enabling us to form powerful bonds with each other and with them; stacked on top are the two hemispheres of the neocortex, from which we get abstract and analytical thought, language, and of course, art. As Steven Johnson says in his book Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life, “ The more you learn about the brain, the more you understand how exquisitely crafted it is to record the unique contours of your own life in those unthinkably interconnected neurons and their firing patterns.”
For this movement I sampled a recording of a symphony by the Baroque composer William Boyce, which was used in an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) study of how the brain organizes segmented events. The flute quartet part is largely based on rhythms borrowed from gamelan music, where multiple players create a complex interlocking structure based on simpler rhythmic units.
Researchers into artificial intelligence are using the human brain as a model of learning. While estimates vary of exactly when a completely new form of life will be created by us, inorganic but self-aware, I have no doubt that it is inevitable. And that will naturally force us to question the nature of existence and sentience, and given enough time, might even become a new pathway for human evolution. You can decide for yourself the moral or ethical implications. For this movement, I sampled/quoted two orchestral pieces: Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question, in which the trumpet part asks “The Perennial Question of Existence,” and the Hymn section of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, “Veni Creator Spiritus.”
I decided to go a less serious route with the fourth movement, and create a piece that is somewhat spontaneously created by the flute quartet and the audience. I learned how to use Adobe After Effects to create an animated graphic score, where shapes or graphics of four colors, red, blue, green and yellow are each interpreted by a different flutist, and text or symbol cues are given to the audience to shout, sing or speak. After about a minute, an electronic score enters underneath, comprised mostly of prerecorded human speech and sounds.