Answer Machine Tape 1987

18 October, 7:30 pm

2 hours£10 - £22

Performance | Music, Society, Technology, The Arts

Answer Machine Tape 1987

St John’s College Auditorium, St Giles, OX1 3JP

Oxford Contemporary Music presents a kaleidoscope of tender, playful and tragic soundworlds.

Pianist Zubin Kanga performs a programme of pieces exploring technology’s ability to augment musical instruments and composition. The programme features Answer Machine Tape, 1987 along with other pieces exploring futuristic new technologies and new pianistic possibilities. Kanga’s own Steel on Bone uses motion sensor gloves and knitting needles to generate great surges of cavernous sound. Vicentino, Love You (Oliver Leith) is a set of microtonal pieces for keyboard and synthesiser – and Deviants/Deviance (Emily Howard), a tribute to Ada Lovelace, uses brain data and machine learning to explore connections between music and mind.

The artist Peter Hujar died in 1987 of an AIDS-related illness. Messages from the days before his death were preserved on the answering-machine of his close friend and former lover David Wojnarowicz. Answer Machine Tape, 1987 allows us to eavesdrop on the private world of these messages, featuring calls from Hujar, other artists, friends and lovers. The work also explores that period of the New York art scene, queer history and the AIDS crisis. This is the fourth in a series of pieces centring around queer oral histories. It tells a human story of relationships, communicating an intimate portrait of a life and the community built around it.

The work uses a new sensor technology that allows the piano to work like a typewriter to transcribe and comment on the messages. These messages are woven into a musical fabric and many different voices are brought to life, given different soundworlds on the piano, sometimes tragically and sometimes playfully, and always absorbingly. The transcription process works imperfectly, and its failure is a metaphor for the devastating effects of the AIDS crisis on a generation.

Answer Machine Tape, 1987 touches on some of the fundamentals of human relationships. You may leave this show with a renewed resolution to call or message someone you love.

Suitable for teenagers and adults. Under 14s must be accompanied by an adult.

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The work was co-created by three innovative multimedia artists:

Philip Venables, composer. Philip Venables has been described as “an arrestingly original musical personality” by Alex Ross in The New Yorker and as “one of the finest composers around” by the Guardian. His output covers an eclectic range of styles and influences, and themes often concerning social politics, violence, gender and storytelling.

Ted Huffman, dramatist. Ted Huffman made his Royal Opera debut in 2016 directing the world premiere of Philip Venables’s 4.48 Psychosis (winner of the 2016 UK Theatre Award for Achievement in Opera). Huffman was born in New York and studied at Yale University.

Zubin Kanga, pianist. Zubin Kanga is a pianist, composer, improviser and technologist. He is a leading innovator of new approaches to the piano, with recent work focusing on new interactions between piano and film, live electronics, AI, motion sensors, video-game control, 3D animation and virtual reality.


St John's College, OX1 3JP