“Distinction” for Mezzo Soprano, Artificial Genetic Organisms, Tubular Bells, Timpani & Vibraphone.
Distinction is a 15 minute composition written as a reminder of how true greatness can only come from encouraging diversity. If we fail to develop a sustainable relationship with our oceans and natural world, or fail to remain open to the modern realities of the global population, stagnation will be the end result. This is a key lesson of Darwinism in biology and culture, and one which, according to composer Alexis Kirke, “Plymouth University has clearly learned.” Alexis was inspired to create the composition “Distinction” by this and two other elements. One was discovering a scientific paper on the user of sound to survey bio-diversity in natural environments. The other was his own past research into Artificial Life techniques — Alexis is able to program a computer to evolve “artificial creatures” live during a performance.

“Distinction” will transform St Andrew’s Minster Church in Plymouth, UK into an audio experience of marine diversity. The 15 minute overture for solo mezze soprano, timpani and tubular bells will be accompanied by sounds of marine organisms which evolve live around the church using computer ‘artificial life’ algorithms programmed by Asad Malik, a graduate of Plymouth University’s Masters in Computer Music. Tracing cycles of birth, death and evolution, the work is inspired by the scientific use of acoustics to survey marine biodiversity. New forms of marine life will be heard surrounding the audience, combining sounds reminiscent of Dusky Damsel Fish, Snapping Shrimp, Blue Striped Grunt and others, with occasional underwater earthquakes. Sounds will emanate from speakers around the church, to be joined by the live performers, immersing the audience in a dynamic underwater environment.

“Asad and I didn’t only want to write a fixed piece of music, but we want the audience to experience the evolution of the sounds live, in a unique way,” says Alexis. “This premiere will be entirely distinct, with any future performances sounding different because the dynamic evolution of the organisms will go differently.” Alexis also explained how Malik’s environment of the artificial organisms in Distinction will in fact be affected by the human performers — the organisms’ evolutions will be re-shaped by the sounds of their environment: the singing, the tubular bells and the drums.

The libretto of distinction is inspired by two elements: the molecules which make up DNA and the proto-conservationist poem ‘Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. At times the singer will chant names of chemicals which make up the bonds of life “AGCT, Adenine, Guanine, Purine” and at other times sing words from the Coleridge’s poem of warning about the beauty of marine life, and taking the natural world for granted. The composition is made up of three main musical themes. “The Announcement of Life” is the loud opening chant made up of words from molecular chemistry. The “Drive to Evolve” is a fast and powerful theme, sung wordlessly. The “Unaware Blessing” is a love song for the many beautiful creatures in our oceans, taking as its start words of Coleridge’s.