Jenny Q Chai‘s adventurous “Piano Steampunk – Scientific Romances” program uses music as a story-telling device, merging electronics and artificial intelligence to create a rarified world of scientific romances as spoken through music. Each piece in the program can be heard as another chapter or scene from a scientific romance, with Debussy’s enormous sunken cathedral opening the performance almost as the topic of an imaginary chapter in Jules Verne’s famous steampunk novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Marco Stroppa — the primary inventor of the artificial intelligence program Antescofo, which will be used in Kapuscinski’s Juicy — has merged music with science for decades, augmenting his own extensive musical studies with a doctoral degree in Cognitive Science at MIT. Stroppa uses musical elements termed as Musical Information Organisms (or OIM, from the Italian Organismo di Informazione Musicale) to compose music as a living society of minds connected beyond time and space. In this program, the listener will hear his strange lullaby Ninnananna, an intimate cavatina inspired by Beethoven’s Cavatina in his Op. 130 late string quartet, and a story about an Italian boy juggler who was the victim of a police terror. Then the listener time-travels back to the 18th century with Daquin’s Le coucou, and one can almost see a mechanical bird on top of the piano.

Next we travel to the U.S. for a whirlwind tour of widely varied pieces: Cole Ingraham’s brand new piece for piano and electronics, John Cage’s pieces which incorporate singing and speaking, Frederic Rzewski’s use of the pianist as the narrator of the story in his Kreutzer Sonata, Victoria Jordanova’s rapturous piece Prayer, Cindy Cox’s new piece for piano and sampled piano interior sounds, Jaroslaw Kapuscinski’s lush piano/video work Juicy, and finally, Richard Sussman’s new commission for piano and electronics. Each piece is like a speculative fiction: the anachronistic piano, now merged with singing, shouting, electronics, videos, and even artificial intelligence, becomes a powerful futuristic cyborg.

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Works to be performed on the “Piano Steampunk – Scientific Romances” program include:

Debussy, La cathédrale engloutie (The Sunken Cathedral)
Marco Stroppa, selections from Miniature Estrose
Louis-Claude Daquin, Le coucou
Cole Ingraham, Between Realities
John Cage, The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs
Cage, Nowth Upon Nacht
Frederic Rzewski, Kreutzer Sonata
Victoria Jordanova, Prayer
Cindy Cox, Etudes
Jaroslaw Kapuscinski, Juicy
Richard Sussman, Spirit Guide