It's crunch time here at Festival HQ - print deadlines are looming, and it feels as though there is still an impossible number of details to be finalized. We'll get there, but it's going to be a hectic couple of weeks.
Fitting, then, that the title of this year's final TD Discovery Series Special Project presentation, May 2 at The Tell, is "Coding Chaos." Presented by Spectrum Music, the concert will explore the relationship between composers, live musicians and artificial intelligence - and the role that AI plays currently, and might play in the future, in music-making.
Spectrum Music is no stranger to the Special Projects initiative. This will be their third presentation under the Special Projects umbrella (the last in 2017), which to me is a testament to the consistently creative programming they undertake each year. The personnel has changed somewhat over the years, but the mandate has not: they seek to create and present music which fuses musical genres, through themed concerts, to explore points where art music collides with the real world. Given the ongoing discussion about the use of technology in today's society - and in particular the role of artificial intelligence - "Coding Chaos" feels particularly topical while meeting Spectrum's core mandate.
For "Coding Chaos", emerging Toronto composers Mason Victoria, Chelsea McBride, Jackson Welchner, Suzy Wilde, Nebyu Yohannes and Harrison Argatoff have been invited to create new works to be performed by the outstanding trio of Bruce Cassidy (EVI - Electronic Valve Instrument), Chris Pruden (keyboard) and Larnell Lewis (electric drum kit). The composers have each worked with the AI unit to customize its soundbank, allowing for unlimited possibilities (triggering, for instance, weather sound effects in correlation with the intensity of the music, while another composer may choose to incorporate the lush backdrop of a full orchestra). The performers, meanwhile, will be tasked with playing the notes on the page while simultaneously interacting with the AI unit, treating it as another musician in the ensemble. If it all sounds a bit unpredictable, well, that's probably because it is...but that's also part of the fun.
In fact, the unpredictability of the show is, in part, what the Special Projects panel liked. Since there was no music from the show available at the time of the assessment (it was still being created), evaluation was based on past musical examples, the personnel involved and the concept - all of which were rated highly. Especially appealing was Spectrum's commitment to crossing musical genres, and seeking out diversity in their participants: emerging artists working with veterans, with representation from multiple genders and cultural backgrounds.
In their publicity about the concert, Spectrum asks, "In a digital world where technology constantly blurs the lines between fact and fabrication, will we lose our sense of identity and grasp on reality - or will technology give us room to grow?" With "Coding Chaos", the Spectrum team seems to suggest that working with technology (rather than passively embracing our new AI overlords) may be the way to go. I look forward to hearing the results!
Spectrum Music presents "Coding Chaos" on Thursday, May 2 at The Tell (in 401 Richmond). The concert begins at 8:00 pm; at 7:30 pm a pre-concert chat with software artist and artificial intelligence specialist Ryan Kellin will discuss AI's role in society today, and explore some of the concepts to be presented in the concert. Complete details on our website.
Congratulations to all of this year's Special Projects presenters - Moodset, Thomas Francis, Ernesto Cervini and Spectrum - for putting together another series of outstanding events!