A backing ostinato part I wrote for guitar while jamming with a friend was making my hand cramp up, so we decided to give it to Sibelius 6.0. As I added more instruments to the track and we played along it dawned on me: if I can give Sibelius a part of my jam session, why can’t I let it be its own performer? The moment I quit trying to make the playback sound like something it wasn’t, a world of possibilities opened up. MIDI as an imitation of reality is nauseating, but MIDI as a distinct medium is fascinating, both in the sounds it produces and in its virtuosity. In “Vivo” I push Sibelius, the performer, and MIDI, the instrument, to their limits through complex cross rhythms, prime number tempo markings, and extreme juxtapositions of register and pacing.
Simply hearing “Vivo” doesn’t convey the level of complexity that Sibelius and MIDI are capable of. By visually following the score as Sibelius performs, we gain a clearer sense that it’s more than eye-candy; to watch the score is to watch the performer onstage, instrument in hand, delivering a flawless performance every time.
The Western music performance tradition demands this flawlessness and has led to the impeccably produced and packaged music we hear in movies, radio, and TV, which is, unsurprisingly, mostly sequenced MIDI. MIDI playback retains the traditional performance expectations associated with written scores but presents us with infinitely complex and inhuman capabilities of both sound production and sound re-production. “Vivo” unsettles terms like “live music” and “performer” and asks us to consider the musical ramifications of our current technology and performance practice.