Feed

Instrumentation: two sopranos (high and low) and chamber orchestra (fl.ob.cl.bsn–a sax.b sax–hn.tpt.tbn–synth–drum set–string quintet)

Duration: ca. 13:00

Premiere: June 2, 2017 :: Albany Symphony Orchestra Dogs of Desire and David Alan Miller :: EMPAC :: Troy, NY

Program Note:

Feed was commissioned by the Albany (NY) Symphony Orchestra, David Alan Miller, director.

The idea for Feed came to me after reading a book called The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. The Shallows is an examination of the intellectual and cultural impact of the Internet, ranging from broad cultural critique to scientific analysis of its effects on our daily interactions and cognitive abilities. Carr makes use of many anecdotes and quotations to illustrate his ideas, and I found several of them to be quite apt. In his Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot delves into the chaos and fragmented experience of the modern world, and his line “distracted from distraction by distraction” became the catalyst for my creative process in this piece. As an artist, my life is centered around creating. For me, the Internet, despite its incredible power as a tool for collaboration, connection, and creation, is first and foremost an infinite source of distraction. It is an information feeding trough, and, as such, through its extraordinary potential to crowd out the thoughts in my head, it is often antithetical to my life as a creator and to my attempt to live in the moment.

I think of Feed like a very short opera with one character played by two people. The high soprano is the main character, while the low soprano sings and speaks the thoughts inside her head.

  1. “Distracted from distraction by distraction.” –T.S. Eliot from Four Quartets

The text for this movement was taken entirely from my Facebook News Feed. I have removed all personal identifiers from the text for two reasons: to protect the identity of my online friends, but also, more importantly, to amplify that our interactions through this medium often become anonymous and superficial. I increasingly find it rare for my life on social media to feel real. There is a numbness that develops as I scroll, supposedly viewing or sharing some aspect of my life with thousands of people, some of whom are good friends and others that are merely virtual acquaintances. Furthermore, I have realized that my News Feed has become an eternal source of distraction. I rarely find myself bored anymore, forfeiting the opportunity to be in the moment—to be present, to observe, to listen, to daydream—at every turn—on the bus, at meals, in waiting rooms—for quick hits of screen-induced dopamine. The feeling can be numbing and depressing as I feel increasingly disconnected from things that are real; of course, it can also be jarring, disturbing, and completely overwhelming.

  1. “To be everywhere is to be nowhere.” –Seneca, 1st-century Roman philosopher, from Letters from a Stoic

The Internet offers me a window into a plethora of times, places, and spaces, and yet I am not actually in any of those places. Although Seneca was referring to life in a very different time and place, I find his idea to be perhaps truer than it has ever been: “to be everywhere is to be nowhere.”

  1. Time

Despite the strange disconnect between life online and reality, there many ways in which what happens in the online world is very real or can have very real consequences. This disconnect also changes my own perception of time—I think about how the many times that I have allowed hours to pass while mindlessly exploring cyberspace and only occasionally checking in with the present.

  1. Fall: Rewind: Still.

I find it paradoxical that the Internet has transformed my life in such profound and positive ways—I can connect with people, ideas, cultures, music, and art from around the world; I have instant access to an unprecedented amount of information; and, as a species, we can share and disseminate important, interesting, even live-saving, information, research, and technology instantly—and yet my interaction with this technology often leaves me feeling empty. The feeling is disorienting, even maddening, and I often wonder what I forfeit for this “progress.” One of my most pressing daily challenges has become finding silence and peace amidst this noise—to listen and to be still. The piece ends with the only intentionally coherent text in the piece, a setting of a short poem I wrote in response to one particularly poignant line in T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets: “The still point of the turning world.”

time moves slowly and quickly.
an eddy at river’s edge
nestled under shade of white alder

cloud strata swirling above open fields
as wind turns leaves upside down

stars move away as light moves toward
through this forward facing telescope of time

and here. here. the still point of the turning world.