2001 Symbiosis of Memory

Symbiosis of Memory (2001)

Premiered at International Computer Music Conference, Havana Cuba, 2001.

Michael Dessen: Trombone
Ivan Manzanilla: Percussion
Shahrokh Yadegari: Lila

The computer part for this piece is an interactive improvisation system written in the graphical programming language Pd (Pure Data), by Miller Puckette. Most facilities available to the computer improviser are based on old analog paradigms, however, in this model one is able to control most parameters, such as delay periods, feedback positions, looping sections, or playback speeds, very precisely on the computer keyboard. For example, in rhythmical sections, the delay periods can be set to multiples or divisions of rhythmical periods (beats, measures, or phrases). These periods can be changed in real-time, which means in this case the computer improviser will be playing a percussion instrument whose sound is the sounds of the acoustic performers.

The acoustic improvisers are often continually subjected to their own sounds juxtaposed and transposed in time, pitch, or space based on decisions of the computer improviser. Thus they react not only to each other but also to their own memory. The basic idea behind this interactive computer music instrument is the assumption that music and meaning are not isolated entities which could be passed from one to another independent of how they come about or what they imply. Music resonates in out mind, long after we have heard it. In this way the computer instrument uses the music played earlier as sound material.

Shahrokh Yadegari, 2001



I know Michael and Shahrokh for more than three years now, my interaction with them has happened mostly amongst arepas and Persian end of year celebrations. Although, we know each others musical work, this collaboration is the result of those multiple social gatherings. What happens when improvisation brings together a Persian with expertise on computer music, an American trombonist with (well…more than heavy) Latin-American influences and a Mexican percussionist? The result has been more than satisfactory, as we have developed an understanding of each others musical substance and the capabilities of interaction between us (trombone, percussion and the computer). I remember when I met Shahrokh, I remember when the son of Michael was born, I am sure this music will give us more things to remember in the future.

Ivan Manzanilla, 2001

Creating this piece has been a highly collaborative process. Shahrokh initiated it by inviting Ivan and I to work with him. After starting in separate duos with him, we later came together as a trio and, over many rehearsals and discussions, developed a flexible framework for this piece. What you will hear is therefore largely improvised, but also proceeds through a series of sections, each of which has a sort of concept, sound world, or process of its own. On the other hand, both our attitude and the structure itself are loose enough so that if some different yet enticing possibility unexpectedly arises – as it often does – we can choose to explore it.
Shahrokh’s computer program is an “instrument” which has no sound of its own but rather is entirely dependent on what Ivan and myself play. In the wrong hands, this could easily become annoying, having a computer following you around repeating sounds you just played. Also, I myself am not so interested in computer music collaborations which fetishize technology and or complex musical structures at the expense of any attention to questions of personality, interaction, meaning and expressivity. So I would not have continued with this project if I had felt that I was merely serving as a sound source for some kind of high-tech but ultimately uninteresting (to me) experiment. However, because Shahrokh and I share 4 years of friendship, musical collaboration, and countless discussions (and at times disagreements) about all kinds of philosophical and theoretical topics, I had faith that his project would be interesting to me.

It took me a while to understand the possibilities inherent in this computer program (and I’m sure we could find more), but eventually I began to appreciate the way that the patch itself is very much an expression of Shahrokh’s personality and his particular way of being in the world. This is because it is not simply a real time sampler but rather a highly specific series of sound transformation processes which contain a logic based on concepts central to Shahrokh’s view of reality, such as self-similarity, fractal theory, and other ideas which I can’t get too deeply into here. The way he chooses to use the patch in performing with us is equally important as the patch itself, since the instrument itself is not so much an object but a series of processes. Working through many rehearsals I have come to better understand how his application of the program also reflects his concern for organicism and community, and also his kindness more generally (which I sometimes felt a need to disrupt a bit). Finally, the nature of Shahrokh’s computer “instrument” blurs the line between object and process, another philosophical point which Shahrokh can spend hours talking to you about (I mean this in a good sense), and which has overlapped in interesting ways with some of my concerns as an improvisor.

In addition, it has been a real pleasure for me to work with Ivan, who has also been a friend since all three of us arrived here four years ago. The three of us come from quite different backgrounds, and yet I feel like over the past few months we have each contributed something very personal to this piece, challenging one another through our differences yet eventually finding ways to make it all work together. In that sense this piece is, for me, a good example of the exciting possibilities that can come alive through the diverse interests in this music department.

Michael Dessen, 2001