Volume 26 Issue 2 - October 2020


Following the Goldberg trail from Gould to Lang Lang; Measha Brueggergosman and Edwin Huizinga on face to face collaboration in strange times; diggings into dance as FFDN keeps live alive; "Classical unicorn?" - Luke Welch reflects on life as a Black classical pianist; Debashis Sinha's adventures in sound art; choral lessons from Skagit Valley; and the 21st annual WholeNote Blue Pages (part 1 of 3) in print and online. Here now. And, yes, still in print, with distribution starting Thursday October 1.

Different planes: Sinha explained that working with machinelearning

tools is a very new field in artistic practice with many

unknowns, not least of which is not being able to predict what will

happen when you work with them. His previous interest in story

and mythology also comes into play in this new work. The more he

learned about these machine-learning tools, the more he realized

that the process parallels discoveries he had already made about

deities such as Shiva or Ganesh. “Since they are on such a different

plane from humans, how can we possibly understand how they

think?” he asks. “If a consciousness operates on eight dimensions,

like a deity of some kind, how can we as humans, who operate in

either three or four dimensions, understand those thought

processes? When we’re confronted with the way these entities think

we have to collapse them in a way that makes sense to us. When you

collapse something that complicated into something very simple,

you lose information or information gets garbled. It lies at the

periphery of our abilities.” Exploring this space or gap between

human and “deity intelligence” forms the basis of Sinha’s

investigation in this new work.

To understand this more fully, I asked Sinha to explain how machine

learning tools actually work, particularly when applied to music. He

gave an example of a particular tool that only understands music as if

it were a Bach fugue. “If you give it a series of notes, it will spit out an

answer to you that is mirrored in its understanding of the world, which

is a Bach fugue.” The result will be different from the original melody

that was put into the system and may or may not be useful. “These

processes are not a magic button,” he emphasizes. The creator still

needs to sift through the results and use what is interesting.

One of his key interests in using these tools is that since they give

results he wouldn’t have come up with on his own, they cause him to

question his musical habits. After all, if he were to reject the results he

receives, why bother using them in the first place? “I can’t just dismiss

them outright, aesthetically,” he said. “I have to question myself, on

many levels, including dramaturgically and conceptually. Sometimes I

have to give in, and when I do a new story emerges, a story I wouldn’t

have possibly come up with.” Another aspect of his research is

to explore the shortcomings of these algorithms and the built-in

assumptions they have about the world. He gave the example of a

“SometimesI have to give in, and when I do

a new story emerges, a story I wouldn’t

have possibly come up with.”

The Rigveda, the oldest known Vedic text is an ancient

Indian collection of Sanskrit hymns: the first of four sacred

canonical texts of Hinduism known as the Vedas.

recent face recognition algorithm that Twitter released that does not

recognize black faces, even though it sees white faces very well. “This

brings up all sorts of questions about who is building those tools and

the questions they are asking as they build them.”

Rules-based: His new piece will incorporate text drawn from the

Rigveda, the first of the four Vedic texts. Since the Rigveda is very

rules-based, Sinha has translated this characteristic into a process

whereby he is creating a lot of rules for himself in the ways he

engages with the tools. The resultant texts will be combined with

rhythmic material and other audio created from the machine learning

processes, as well as field recordings he has collected in India. The

piece will be semi-improvisational, as he is not interested in replicable

live performances, and will be created from the large pool of materials

he will have on hand.

Visually we will see a combination of him interacting with his tools

along with digitally generated visuals and images from field recordings

he has made in Kolkata, India. He’s also building text cards to use

so we will know the words that are being used in the resultant “sea of

20/21 Extraordinary

Music for



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Anima – 10.18.20

feat. Sanya Eng, harp

and Ryan Scott, percussion

Cello Masterworks – 10.29.20

feat. David Hetherington, cello

Love Songs co-presented

with Tapestry Opera – 11.28.20

feat. Wallace Halladay, saxophone

and Xin Wang, soprano

NMC 50th Anniversary

Commissioning Series – 12.06.20

feat. new works by: Kotoka Suzuki,

Eliot Britton, and James O’Callaghan

thewholenote.com October 2020 | 17

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