Murmurations on Palestrina

for iPhone octet, computer, real-time video, and spatial audio

Composed: 2016
Duration: 6'

Program Notes

Originally published in Palestrina’s second book of motets in 1581, “Adoramus Te” is a gorgeous, short motet for four equal voices. A glorious example of 16th-century counterpoint, something about the ineffably logical movement of the voices in this motet put me in mind of the movements (properly called “murmurations”) of enormous flocks of starlings, which are never guided by a single bird, but always by the logic of the group as a whole. This work, for eight iPhones, computer, and real-time video, uses Craig Reynolds's venerable “Boids” algorithm to model the flight of four (later doubled to eight) separate flocks of birds/boids, comprising several thousand individuals. Each boid is represented on the video screen by a single dot and in the music by a single voice of a synthesizer. The left-to-right position of each boid determines both its pitch and its spatial position in the array of speakers, while up-to-down position controls the timbre or brightness of that individual voice. Four of the performers use their iPhones to control the centering points, around which the flocks cluster, as well as the overall levels of the flocks. The other four control the dispersion of the flocks, via parameters like “centering instinct,” “neighbor matching,” “speed,” and “willingness to change speed and direction.” The performance employs custom software I programmed in Max, building on previous work with the Boids algorithm by Wesley Smith and Sam Tarakajian.

Technical Notes

1. The work requires eight players, each with an iPhone (model 4 or newer) running the TouchOSC software (available on the App Store at nominal cost). Each player will need to load the appropriate TouchOSC layout, provided with the software, as described in the TouchOSC manual. Groups wishing to perform the work with other hardware (e.g. Android phones) should contact the composer to explore options.

2. A computer is required to run the software. The software is very demanding; in many cases, two computers may be necessary to obtain reasonable frame rates for the video.

3. A dedicated, fast WiFi network is strongly recommended.

4. Murmurations may be performed in stereo, but larger channel counts are strongly recommended. The premiere used an 8-channel array of speakers, lined across the stage.

5. An audio interface with sufficient output channel count is required.

6. A video projector is required. The video is very important to a successful performance of the work: the projector should ideally provide 720p resolution or higher, and a large projection screen is strongly recommended.

6. The necessary software is available from me. The piece runs in Max 7.1 or newer. Contact me for more information.

Score and Recording

Click the PDF icon below for a viewable score in PDF format. For parts and other performance materials, including the necessary software, please contact me.

Link to PDF of score