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Telegraphic (Yannis Kyriakides)

Codes and encryption as a paradigm for music are something that I have been interested in since I was inspired by the number station phenomenon to compose a conSPIracy cantata in 1999. I am fascinated by the spectrum of how music could function on one level the way language might work, or even how words could be encoded into music for the sake of economical or clandestine communication. Does music encode or decode? The question as to whether music is a language or not is also interesting and I came to a conclusion that it can be, if we want meaning, but that meaning is vague and wrapped in emotional cling film.

A few years ago I became interested in telegraphic codebooks. This forms the main reference point in some works I was writing at the time, The Queen is the Supreme Power in the Realm and Simplex. These codebooks flourished at the height of the Industrial Revolution, and were mostly a means for sending shorter, cheaper telegrams by substituting single words or numbers for commonly used phrases. Economy of language opened up the possibility of a faster means of communication.

This piece is based on the physical apparatus of telegraphy. It could be an “in memoriam” to telegraphy, which officially came to an end in 2006 at the time I was writing the piece. The six instruments play constantly fluctuating drones through close microphones routed into a mixing desk, where their amplification is gated by telegraph keys, one for each instrument/channel. The keys are inserted at the channel insert and they gate the sound of the channels when depressed. In crude terms it’s like switching the instruments on and off as they are playing. This creates interesting melodic lines from the harmonic flux they are derived from.

The piece was originally written for the combined forces of Champ d’Action and Percussion Group Den Haag and performed at the Singel in Antwerp in 2007.

Yannis Kyriakides