Zwitscher-Maschine is a piece for piano quartet, soprano and twitter feed.
The piece is built around 120 tweets which are played out in music over a little more than three quarters of an hour (roughly 20 seconds per tweet). The short texts are collected from news feeds, blogs, digital archives, websites, and Twitter itself – a kind of portrait of the internet. The texts are directly tweeted (precisely synchronised with the music) to the audience on their smartphones during the performance – providing on the one hand an extremely personal form of subtitles, on the other provoking a new relation between the worlds of digital communication and analogue performance.
The quartet occupies the centre of the performance space with the audience seated around them. The soprano covers a trajectory of positions taking her on a journey through and around the audience – a mobile element in relation to the fixed positions of the quartet and public.
The Narrative of the Catalogue
The musical material of the piece is primarily built on transformations of spoken versions of the collected texts (see score below). Transcriptions of the speech melodies form the basis for the instrumental music. Since many of the text fragments stem from podcasts or videos on YouTube or Vimeo, it has been possible to use the original voice of the author as a point of departure in a large number of cases. In those cases in which the text exists only as text, computer voices (selected to match the character of the author as closely as possible) have been used to read the text aloud, or the voice is my own.
The twitteropera is in part ‘about’ a large collection of disparate voices but also an investigation into the ways in which technology flattens out those differences, for good and for bad. The unified presentation of tweets or the way in which RSS feeds strip away layout and typography to deliver streamlined content has provided something of a model for this composition: The various voices are filtered through the ‘classical’ piano quartet formation. The soprano is not cast in the role of an ‘individual character’ but rather an ‘abstract’ voice – a voice giving voice to many, perhaps at times something like the voice of an oracle.
There are no extended techniques or re-imaginings of the ways in which the instruments are used. No explicit attention brought to the pressure and friction of the bow on the strings. The instruments are (once again) delivering a kind content. Or perhaps rather, playing through a large collection of transcriptions, a collection of modern ‘folk’ melodies. A catalogue of speech melodies in the age of the internet: sometimes expanded upon, sometimes raw material. The entirety telling a story of its own.
One of the central ideas of the Twitteropera is that the ‘libretto’ is tweeted to the audience in real-time along with the music. During performance it is possible to follow the texts live in time to the music via the twitteropera Twitter feed: @zwttropera.
For those that don’t have a Twitter account the texts can also be followed on this website (on a smartphone) on the following page: rdgr.me/t . The experience of following the texts here rather than via Twitter differs in some respects: Here the they exist in a space without the interjection of other tweets that occur in a regular Twitter timeline. Here it is up to the listener to follow the shifts from one section to the next manually. On the other hand some might prefer a form of presentation less prone to distractions.
For the first two performances a printed version of the text was also made available.
☞ See also: notes/tag:twitteropera