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Mutability

Yannis Kyriakides, Asko|Schönberg, Darien Brito, Theun Mosk, Innovation:Lab

Wander through the music as if among the trees in a forest. Intimate, vast and awe-inspiring all at once. You will come across twelve solo instruments that reflect different musical characters, as mutable as life itself.


For Mutability, composer Yannis Kyriakides asked twelve other composers to write two to three-minute miniatures. Several will perform the music themselves, alongside musicians from Asko|Schönberg. ‘Each piece tells its own story,’ Kyriakides says, ‘which is not expressed in language but embodied by the musicians.’ 


The music is played live, but is also transformed by a series of algorithms that constantly mutate the pre-recorded visuals and sounds of the soloists. Soloists, visual projections and electronics meet in a hallucinatory space designed by Theun Mosk. The audience is free to move through a concert installation that is constantly changing and filled with ghostly reflections of the original miniatures. The identity of the instruments can be heard at times, but not always. Magical music grows out of the twelve crossing life paths to linger in for a while – the full six hours of the mutation process, or part of it.


The concert installation Mutability consists of four parts that can be visited as a complete piece (with a passe partout), or separately. Each part lasts 1.5 hours and offers a full experience. During the performance, audiences may walk in and out and move freely around the hall. Food and drinks are available in the Muziekgebouw.

dates

<p>23 June: timeslots starting at 15:30, 17:15, 19:00 en 20:45.</p>

Prices

  • default from € 22,50
  • CJP/student/scholar from € 13

language & duration

  • 7 hours 15 minutes

What will remain of music when algorithms take over?

 

Mutability

The latest project by composer Yannis Kyriakides is titled Mutability. The title is borrowed from the 1816 poem of the same name by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822) and captures not just the basis of music in general, but more specifically also the premise of this concert installation. Twelve composers wrote new pieces for twelve soloists especially for Mutability, but the work is completely out of their hands during the performance. The music is played live, but also electronically transformed through algorithms (a series of instructions, like a recipe, for achieving a desired result). The same goes for the footage of the musicians performing the pieces.

 

Together with audio-visual artist and programmer Darien Brito and scenographer Theun Mosk, Kyriakides will turn the Muziekgebouw’s large hall into an equivocal space. There will be several stages for the musicians and several screens on which images are projected. The audience is free to move through and around the space, ‘as if through a forest,’ in Kyriakides’ words. But there is no scenic forest view, nor is the music a symphonic poem expressing nature. Mutability is an abstract, jagged forest full of unexpected music.


Crossing destinies

Kyriakides took the idea of the forest from Italian author Italo Calvino’s The Castle of Crossed Destinies. In the 1973 novel, a group of travellers meet in a castle surrounded by a dense forest, but they have lost their ability to speak. Their only way of communicating is through a tarot deck. Using these images on the cards, and the corresponding symbolism, the characters tell their life stories. The interpretation of the cards gives rise to an iconography of several lives.

 

Kyriakides, with the help of Brito, has turned this idea into algorithms that affect the twelve compositions. The two already explored this methodology in fundaments and variants (2021). Different parameters of the recorded music are analysed and emphasised: harmonic spectrum, for instance, or volume, time or texture.

 

The algorithms are designed in such a way as to work on particular elements of the music. Each algorithm comprises instructions that produce a different-sounding result, thus determining what is heard through the speakers in the hall. Effectively, a new digital tarot card is drawn each time, giving direction to how the music develops. The newly written compositions form the basis of what is played, but these transformations are sometimes so radical as to alter the music beyond recognition.

 

Lieder ohne Worte

Mutability is not a direct musical adaptation of Calvino’s novel, but, analogous to the speechless characters, Kyriakides calls the twelve compositions “Songs without Words”, a reference to Felix Mendelssohn’s collection of piano pieces Lieder ohne Worte. With Mendelssohn, each composition has a title that designates a specific subject, mood, image or event. Without the crystal-clear language of song lyrics, this gives the abstract music an additional poetic significance.

 

The pieces especially composed for Mutability do not necessarily have such a poetic subject matter, though they all have their own unique characteristics, both resulting from the identity of the instrument and the quirks of the composer in question. Andy Moor, for instance, will perform his own music on guitar. Moor plays in the Dutch punk band The Ex, does a lot of improvisational work and forms a rebetika duo with Kyriakides where the two interpret traditional Greek music. This versatility is echoed in his music and playing. Genevieve Murphy’s work is quite different; she takes to the stage as a performance artist in her own music theatre more often than that she writes compositions for others. For Mutability, she will perform her own music on bagpipe.

 

It does not stop at these recognisable elements in the music resulting from the composer and instrument. The algorithms turn the compositions into actual characters with their own lives and character development. Not a sacrosanct poetic image, but twelve fully-fledged novel characters with their own instrumental whims and musical traits. A forest of characters, primary and secondary, intermingling throughout the hall.

 

Frankenstein

A salient detail of Shelley’s poem Mutability is that it was subject to its own transformation, returning in part in Mary Shelley’s most well-known work: Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). Both the title and subtitle refer to the malleability of humankind in relation to technological progress.

 

In this work, Victor Frankenstein develops a way of bringing lifeless matter to life. He decides to create a human-like creature, which turns out to be harder than expected, resulting in something larger, yellower and uglier than an ordinary human being. Frankenstein flees out of fear of what he created. He encounters the monster again later in the story, when it demands a woman of him. Frankenstein agrees to this, but destroys his work halfway through. The monster responds by murdering Frankenstein’s best friends and his wife.

 

Mary Shelley’s reference to Prometheus, one of the titans in Greek mythology, in the often-omitted subtitle is not for nothing. Frankenstein’s scientific research is tantamount to the fire Prometheus steals from the Olympian gods. He brings this fire to the people, and in doing so gives them technology, knowledge and the arts. It is an act for which he is severely punished.

 

More than just musical mutability, this makes Mutability a story about humankind’s relationship with technology, as well as the dangers that come with it. The algorithms in Kyriakides’ concert installation push the music to its limits. What remains of the musical characters when the algorithms gain the upper hand? Is technology an extension of the musicians, or do they lose control? Or is music essentially always an interplay between technological advancements and humankind’s desire to express itself?

 

Mutability straddles the age-old dividing line between humanity and technology. We enrich ourselves through technology and call this civilization. At the same time, countless algorithms control our lives unnoticed: they choose the ads that fit our interests, streaming services decide what we watch and listen to, and they confirm our views and delusions. Kyriakides turns predictability upside down and uses this same kind of technology to arrive at new sounds, rather than feeding listeners more of the same. Though in this case he did not compose a single note himself, in doing so he touches on the essence of music: it is only ever mutable.

 

text Jan Nieuwenhuis

  • <p>Yannis Kyriakides, composer</p>

    © Peter Gannushkin

credits

concept Yannis Kyriakides artistic direction Yannis Kyriakides composition Yannis Kyriakides sound design Yannis Kyriakides music Silvia Borzelli, Trevor Grahl, Claudio Jacomucci, Dmitri Kourliandski, Anna Korsun, Andy Moor, Brigitta Muntendorf, Geneviève Murphy, Mayke Nas, Aurélie Nyirabikali Lierman, Martijn Padding, Jasna Veličković audio visual art Darien Brito creative coding Darien Brito scenography Theun Mosk performance Pepe Garcia, Sebastiaan van Halsema, Claudio Jacomucci, Sebastiaan Kemner, Arthur Kerklaan, David Kweksilber, Andy Moore, Geneviève Murphy, Aurélie Nyirabikali Lierman, Pauline Post, Joseph Puglia, Jasna Veličković creative technology Niels Weber coproduction Asko|Schönberg, Holland Festival, Innovation:Lab

This performance is made possible by