Seer was written for the music biennal  Soundwave ((5)) – Humanities.  Responding to an adventurously expansive call for proposals, Emily and I decided to write a piece that deals with the ever-present human desire to know the future, despite our incredibly poor record at predicting it with any accuracy (I later heard a great Freakonomics episode about this — fascinating.).  Our piece largely focuses on the theme of oracles.  As we explored this topic, we began to realize how prevalent it was to our current existence… will our linear accelerators and organism modeling be the oracle bones of 3000 years from now?  Probably.  We put so much trust in our predictions, but they’re so often wrong; soothsaying exists as this omnipresent security blanket threaded with hubris.  This is kind of a more abstract way of saying: We’re all built up with progress/But sometimes I must confess/We can deal with rockets and dreams/But reality, what does it mean?/Ain’t nothing said (thanks Curtis).

We built an instrument for this piece — an object that was meant to evoke the consultation of an oracle in how it is played.  This was another collaboration with lighting marvelette Toby Lewis.  The instrument is a landscape of acrylic pieces lit from below by an array of LEDs; these cast a steady amount of light onto photocells (ambient light sensors), which are the fruit of the copper wire trees you see in the photo below.  One plays the instrument by casting shadow on the sensors, which send a resistance value to a microcontroller, which sends a serial value to a computer, which is scaled to some musical parameter in Max/MSP.  Here’s the table:

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We showed the instrument at the California Academy of Sciences and at the Arup SoundLab as part of the Penguin Pool event  in SF.  It was performed at the Lab.  The Vimeo link above is a nice live recording of that performance:

Seer is a piece for light table, organ chimes, computer & analog synthesis, guitar, piano and organ chimes.  The piece has been adapted for ambisonics, binaural presentation and a 4-channel loudspeaker array.  It is written in 5 movements:

  • Movement 1 (Bones): The process of consulting oracle bones
  • Movement 2 (Seeking): Instrumental, for light table and organ chimes
  • Movement 3 (Stars): Horoscopes of people on the day that something historically important happened to them
  • Movement 4 (Seeking): Instrumental, for light table and organ chimes
  • Movement 5 (Vapors): The final words of the Oracle at Delphi