Last modified 17 July 2015

Shifting/Drifting (2015)
(Violin and Real-time algorithmic transformation)

by Roger Reynolds

Two ways of moving – also of being – that seemed to me inherent in the way my friend Irvine Arditti plays his violin. At times, a sudden and decisive shift  from one position to another is called for, at others, a gradual and subtle re-positioning of the hand (or an attitude) is more appropriate. This work is a response to him as well as to his instrument. From another perspective, this pair of “ways” – shifting or drifting – could be seen as referencing digital and analog processes, ways in which we store or manipulate information: in cascades of explicit quanta, or rather in continuously varying waves.

In 2007, I began what is an ongoing engagement with the writing of small-scale, complementary solos for particular instruments. The idea was to posit complementary worlds in which sonic images could arise, one Assertive, the other Evocative. I have composed seven such pairs now, and the most recent – imAge/violin and imagE/violin – became the source materials for the larger-scale duo, Shifting/Drifting. The latter work is a metaphorical journey, from the violinist’s tentative responses to a distant, sonic fog, through an increasingly dynamic interplay between solo violinist and a computer-musician, who manages – in real time – four algorithmic processes.

So the duet is between two individuals each of whom has a particular “instrument”, physical (the violin) or processual (the computer). As the work evolves over time, there is what might be thought of as succession of contrasting sonic landscapes through which the soloist passes. The first two comprise extended waves of increasingly substantive nature. They are followed by a period of incessant, sometimes edgy iteration, and another featuring proliferations of bright, brief “points”, wave after wave. In the last section the computer part invokes strongly contrasted environments while the soloist navigates a series of five reshufflings of the same set of twenty musical fragments. Each time the set is restated, the segments – they are all literal quotes from previously heard music – become more explicit and detailed. The final set amounts to a series of direct quotations from earlier music, but now in a re-packaged form that emphasizes the urgency and lyrical force that is inherent in the material, but has not previously been realized. This metaphorical journey is about how the places we visit, the things we do, can take on unforeseen meaning. The same is true of friendship.

Shifting/Drifting has a special place in my work because it involved an intense and ongoing collaboration with a friend of more than four decades. The pair of source solos as well as the more elaborate, and partially improvisational content of the resulting duo were developed in close, interactive contact over many months. Finally, in a ten-day period in La Jolla, we finalized the musical content in a collaboration that now expanded to include computer musician, Paul Hembree. It is Hembree who detailed the programming of the algorithmic processes that I specified, and who, in concert, performs my algorithmic concepts in a musical dialog with the violinist.

Special gratitude to Shifting/Drifting’s dedicatee Irvine Arditti, to computer musician Paul Hembree, to the Department of Music at UCSD for the invaluable use of its facilities and expert staff (in particular, Senior Recording Engineer, Josef Kucera, and Production Manager, Jessica Flores) and, of course, to ArtPower for making the UCSD presentation possible.

Shifting/Drifting was premiered on 25 September 2015 on the ArtPower series at the Conrad Prebys Music Center in La Jolla.


– Roger Reynolds