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Silicon Valley Breakdown by David A. Jaffe

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Item Type: Sound Recording Duration: 21 min
Event Type: Music Program Origin: KPFA

David A. Jaffe is an American composer who has written extensively for a wide variety of ensembles, yet is perhaps best known for his work with electronic and computer music, including “Silicon Valley Breakdown,” which is featured in this recording. Jaffe, a skilled multi-instrumentalist who began his career as a member of various bluegrass, folk, and rock bands, received his doctorate in music at Stanford. He is well-known for his contributions to the development of computer music, including algorithmic innovations for modeling plucked and bowed strings.

According to the composer: “’Silicon Valley Breakdown’ is a spatial multi-stylistic work scored for a symphony of imaginary plucked stringed instruments. These range from a tiny ‘piccolo mandolin’ to an immense bass ‘plucked Golden Gate Bridge.’ The orchestra is frequently divided into four smaller ensembles, each with its own tone quality, character, and location in quadraphonic space. All sounds in the piece are entirely synthetic, many based on a string model originated by Alex Strong and Kevin Karplus and further developed by the composer along with Julius Smith. The technique is described in Jaffe’s article ‘Extensions to the Karplus-Strong Plucked String Algorithms,’ published in Computer Music Journal, Summer 1983.”

“The piece deals with the working out of large stylistic contrasts. Both ‘satirical’ and abstract styles appear and mock one another. In particular, elements of ‘bluegrass music,’ a folk music which originated in the southern Appalachian Mountains, are employed.”

“In addition to producing the sounds, the computer was also used to generate ensemble interactions which would not be possible for performers to enact. One such scheme involves ensembles of pseudo-instrumentalists (which will be called ‘voices’ below). Each of these follows its own tempo and rubato trajectory, yet, with the context of this high level of contrapuntal independence, keeps track, from moment to moment, of resulting harmonic combinations. Based on what it ‘hears,’ each voice or ensemble of voices can alter its own or another voice’s pre-planned behavior. In this manner, a kind of super responsive improvisational ensemble, which, nevertheless, remains faithful to a pre-composed plan, is created.”

Musical Selections:  Silicon Valley Breakdown (1982) (19:50 / David A. Jaffe
Genres:  20th Century Classical; Orchestral Music
Subject:  Electronic music; Computer music
People:  Jaffe, David A. (David Aaron), 1955-
 
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