Ars Electronica 1994
Festival-Program 1994
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Festival 1979-2007


Oily Sam

' Soldier String Quartet Soldier String Quartet / 'Ken Valitsky Ken Valitsky

Oily Sam was commissioned by the Soldier String Quartet in the autumn of 1993. The piece was written for string quartet and interactive computer software, and utilizes reactions of the players to sounds emanating from the computer. Sections of the composition employ improvisation in what are idiomatically American musical genres. Jazz and rock elements are employed, both in contrast to and agreement with the music generated by the computer. In addition, quotations taken from a variety of sources, i.e. Mozart, Elliot Carter and others, are used as generative material. These quotations are rhythmically and texturally altered throughout the piece. They are also used as germatic cells given to the performers in order to create larger improvisatory sections.

Throughout the composition, different vocal quotations (samples) are utilized in order to underline the basic premise of Oily Sam. Politics and politicians are laughable yet intrinsically dangerous. Samples of Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and Rocky and Bullwinkle illustrate the basic absurdity of politics.

Through juxtaposition of political quotes with comments from cartoon characters, the complete buffoonery of politicians, their statements, and their long-term accomplishments are exposed. Although politics is ridiculed throughout the piece, the listener is reminded at the end of the absolute evil that is possible with the acquisition of power and everything it entails.

Musically, Oily Sam is a continuation of a style I have been developing over the last five years. Elements of a variety of mainly American musical genres such as heavy metal, be-bop, rap, hip-hop and blues are used as formative material. Also, world music such as Northern Indian Classical music and different styles of Sub-Saharan African music are employed to show the basic relationships shared by all music. Structurally, Oily Sam's form was determined through the use of the Golden Section. The number 618 was used, not as composers such as Bartok and Debussy have used it to determine section length through number of measures, but rather as a real-time controller of proportion. Oily Sam, on a macro-architectonic level is divided into two sections. Each section is in itself subdivided a number of times. This process continues within each subdivision until, finally, the smallest musical moment has been determined. In this manner each section and subsection relates structurally to the overall proportions of the entire piece (see diagram).

Technologically, the equipment used to create this piece, other than the string quartet, was a Macintosh IIci computer which controlled Sample Cell, an Ensoniq EPS 16 plus, a Yamaha TX802, an Oberheim Matrix 1000, an E-Mu Pro/Cussion and a Kawai MR. Not one sound, including the samples, was left unaltered. Either through processing, looping with a variety of crossfades or through other means of digital manipulation, each sound has had something added to it.

Oily Sam is simultaneously a pessimistic/ optimistic view of politics and the consequences of misuse of power. Pessimistic in that it is a reminder that nearly all of mankind's suffering has been a result of politicians and their policies. Optimistic in that we can still laugh at them.