'BIAS' is a piece written for vocal performance and typewriter. It was created as a Sound and Music commission, under their Portfolio scheme, and was performed by the choir MUSARC at Christ Church, Spitalfields, on December 20th 2014. Jonas Gustafsson played the typewriter.
'BIAS' began with a short story or allegory which I wrote whilst trying to express ideas about information.
'BIAS' short story booklet.
The story goes that there are three travellers moving across a wilderness after some kind of natural disaster. These travellers have been charged with preserving all of the knowledge accumulated by human beings, and they are dragging this behind them in the form of 5 million sheets of paper on three carts. They are freezing cold and hungry. They reach a point where they can go no further and a conversation takes place. They must make a decision about whether they preserve themselves or the information. Do they sacrifice themselves and leave the papers to anyone who might discover them in the future? Or do they burn the papers for warmth and the potential to cook food?
The three characters: Fat, Lean and Gagged, are symbolic of categories of information.
Fat represent supported information, or propaganda. This information has an economy behind it because it is important to somebody or, indeed, everybody. This type of information is the general knowledge of the day. The Fat section of the choir represent this character. They are confident and together, supportive of one another. Strong. Often, their lines are not repeated or ad-libbed upon. They make a statement and, to them, the statement stands.
The Lean section represent, out of date, dying or dead information. Such as, "the Earth is flat". These are old, uncertain or hard-to-believe opinions, which were maybe once well supported, but are no longer. This includes ideas of magic, religion and the supernatural. Ideas that cannot be proved in any straightforward manner, but require an act of faith. The Lean section of the choir are still supportive of each other, if only because they are united in their feeling inferior or unimportant, and somewhat fearful of the Fat section.
The Gagged section represent information which is actively suppressed or censored. The opposite of the Fat section, this information is perhaps damaging to somebody or something. Like propaganda, this type of information may be true and valid or it may be fabricated in order to do damage. We could say that the Fat and Gagged section are a North and South Pole, a positive and a negative. The Gagged section are just as opinionated as the Fat section, but they are perhaps not experiencing such solidarity and are more free to ad-lib and act spontaneously.
Remember, each section is just a voice for these information types, and our typist, Jonas, represents the creator of information.
The audience are provided with a printed version of the first half of the story, and then the choir complete it with the libretto. The story concludes with all three sections agreeing to learn the information and then burn it for survival, a sort of compromise between human motivations: a desire for self-preservation, a desire for acquiring and applying knowledge; and a solid belief in, as Damien Hirst put it, "the physical impossibility of death in the mind of someone living".
The score emerged from an attempt at creating a postmodern Nature concert. By listening to specific "musical" sounds from my environment (mostly sirens and children's toys), I improvised a melody by singing the words which had been written as a conclusion to the original story.