KeyGen: Post Factum Performance Notes (7 Nov 2008)
This piece bears a certain relation to Morton Feldman’s “opera” Neither.
This piece—itself a sort of conversation—came out of two conversations. The first, with Steve Gibson, had to do with the salient feature of “virtuality” being the substitution of ‘multiplication’ for ‘exchange.’ That is, when I am sitting at my computer performing a live concert in San Diego, my being present in San Diego does not mean that I am absent in Victoria; instead, my presence is multiplied along the lines of what Katherine Hayles has described as pattern and randomness. In KeyGen, I am asking if the reverse might also be true. That is, does absence itself also multiply—in a culture that is today fully virtual—such that a person, piece, or event mightbe doubly absent? This question permeates many aspects of KeyGen, perhaps being most pointedly asked—performatively—by the vocalist in the piece.
The second conversation occurred via email with Dániel Biro in 2005, after I requested his critical feedback regarding a performance of my composition Floral Print by the Aventa Ensemble. In this exchange, Dániel expressed the belief that the musical dog might yet be able to wag its tail, and that we composers might understand that possibility as salient to our compositional goals, rather than contenting ourselves with the reverse. Having long reflected on this critique—Floral Print was in play with an explosion of signs that greatly exceeded its control, and indeed might be said to have controlled it—I decided in KeyGen to probe the difference between the ‘tail wagging the dog’ and the reverse; KeyGen might be thought as a wag dogging the tail, so to speak. To this end, a dramatic narrative emerges in KeyGen that is registered precisely through the increase—over the course of the piece’s performance—in the impossibility of registering the work; the score, the performance, and the particular context of the performance are all integral to KeyGen, but are also each incommensurable with one another. I was thinking of the form of the piece, then, as the emergent impossibility of its formal containment, a process of emergence that is nonetheless marked by distinct formal moments (the entrance of the vocalist and the shifts in acoustic space are just two examples).
Finally, then, the title: KeyGen is meant to refer to a specific type of key generator, namely that type which ‘cracks’ a computer program’s security code by changing the parameters of the security code itself, while simultaneously generating an access code that will fulfill the requirements of the new security. In this sense, a KeyGen is opposed to the skeleton key: whereas the latter is a single object designed to function by corresponding to the requirements of as many locks as possible without perfectly fitting any, the KeyGen is an object that simulataneously creates new locks and the keys that fit them perfectly. Each time the KeyGen is activated, it doesn’t simply unlock a preexistent door but actually creates a new door that is always-already unlocked. The question of access is made obsolete because the distance between inside and outside, the threshold, no longer exists—which is not to say that one is no closer to getting anywhere. In the context of the piece, then, ‘KeyGen’ precludes in advance the question of analysis in favour of the construction of prolix narratives, which is to say that subsequent examinations of the work do not uncover latent structural apparatuses, but rather construct them as latent, while in the same stroke deconstructing them by making them manifest. KeyGen refuses the modern question of what the piece means as well as the semiotic question of how the piece means, registering both questions as performances of Nietzsche’s completed nihilism (which is to say, as meaningless). Or, put differently, KeyGen is emphatically a performance of its own (unintelligible) text, which paraphrases Christian Bök’s injunction to “always remember that fractal music, played backwards, sounds the same.”
I am truly grateful to the absolutely outstanding performers who helped with the project: Stephen Lewis, Max Murray, Lauren Klein, John Russell, and Kiiri Michelsen.