With Pulsations [Bitumen], the Swiss composer-performer Marcel Zaes sets out to redefine the conventional concert performance. He presents a transcontinental music project which is an intriguing fusion of electronic and classical sound.
Pulsations [Bitumen] presents the least featured of all string instruments, the viola, with exceptional players, and extends the violas’ sound with generative digital technologies towards a contemporary live-sampling esthetics. Pulsations [Bitumen] is the result of Zaes’ typical compositional practice, which weaves the violas with pure sine waves and mathematical grids to generate abstract pulsations to create groovy, minimalist soundscapes.
For this work, Zaes introduces a novel graphic notation system that is imperfect and solely capable of displaying a specific kind of rhythmic pattern, to present an account of a recent generation of music makers. It is a generation largely driven by digital technologies, guiding the emergence of music making that relies on software skills rather than on mastery of a musical instrument or traditional music theory. According to Zaes, this generation is particularly influenced by the visual appearance of music software and apps; it is a generation familiar with cubes, clips, and blocks arranged on a visual grid rather than with note heads on staves. Correlating with this grid-based music practice is a shift of priorities. Parameters, such as the pitch of a single note, become more arbitrary, controlled by some kind of sequencer, pattern, loop, or live, as entirely randomized elements. Authority is withdrawn.
The novel notation system developed for Pulsations [Bitumen] accounts precisely for such a ‘digital thinking.’ The title, ‘BITUMEN,’ means asphalt; it emphasizes the interaction between the digital algorithm and the violists: machine-like regularity meets with natural irregularities to form a techno-organic surface.
Ashley Frith (US)
Ashley is a violist, currently focusing on chamber music at Community MusicWorks in Providence. She studied with Lila Brown at The Boston Conservatory.
Zsolt Sőrés (HU)
Zsolt Sörés is a conceptual thinker, an experimental violist dedicated to electronics, improvisation, drone music and extended playing techniques. He also is a lecturer at the Franz Liszt Music Academy Budapest, and a film curator at the Ludwig Museum in Budapest.
Marcel Zaes (CH)
Marcel Zaes has created, over 11 years, nationally and internationally showcased concert works, installations, interdisciplinary pieces and concept works. His artistic interest lies in the perception of space and time. For this purpose, he takes the elemental sine wave, with its rough sound quality, as the object of his artistic inquiry. The sine wave assumes novel shapes, complemented by sounds from traditional instruments.
Special thanks to Brian House for developing BRAID.live. Additional support comes from SwissNex, Swiss Arts Council / Pro Helvetia, and the UBS Culture Foundation.