Feature
Q&A with composer Barry Guy #Objects
7 September 2015

1) What was it that drew you to the object in the Science Museum that you picked for this project?

Rather than being drawn to a particular space in the Science Museum, it was curator Tim Boon who introduced a gathering of composers to various galleries where artefacts that might interest us were pointed out. In Making the Modern World gallery I spotted Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine No2 which became the subject of my piece for the Aurora Orchestra.The gallery as it happens seems to be quite lively and has an area that should support a sizeable ensemble.

2) Is there a certain musical effect/technique you have used to help bring this object/space to life?

The Science Museum kindly furnished me with a copy of one of Babbage’s plans which eventually provided a graphic that was used to generate musical activity. This was an 1840 drawing of Babbage’s 'Great Calculating Engine' (Analytical Engine).

3) Have you read William Gibson’s Difference Engine?  Are you a fan of steampunk? Your graphic score would probably appeal to fans of the genre.

I’ve read quite a lot about Babbage’s life and his ambition to complete a calculating engine. There’s a marvellous book –The Difference Engine by Doran Swade – that gives clear background to Babbage’s task, the society in which he lived and the final realisation of the engine on November 29 1991, 27 days before Babbage’s 200th birthday. I have not read William Gibson’s book, and to be honest Steampunk is new to me. I’ll check it out!

4) Your piece is going to be premiered at the Science Museum in October in a unique walk-through concert with Aurora Orchestra. What are you most looking forward to about this event?

Aurora Orchestra are a great team of musicians who like challenges, and needless to say I will be intrigued to witness their interpretation of “Mr. Babbage is coming to dinner!” The graphic part of the score demands special concentration and creative skills which will test the players. So far, what I have heard sounds splendid.

Difference Engine5) What is the value of a project like this linking two disciplines (science & music)? Can one enhance the appreciation of the other?

I take a great interest in scientific subjects, and, as was proved in our Science Museum visit, new experiences await us around every corner. Mathematical principals are perhaps the backbone of so much science, and music of course. There should be no surprise that there is a degree of cross referencing. Hopefully the curious listener and science student will derive pleasure and fascination from the realisation in musical terms of an extant Science Museum artefact.

6) What bit of science/technology could you not live without?

Every bit of science/technology that enters our daily lives has been imagined,researched and implemented using the human brain. This I would think is something we could not live without – although at times I do wonder if the grey matter is too enquiring for our own good.

 

The Objects at an Exhibition concert will take place at 7:45pm at the Science Museum on Saturday 3 October 2015. Further details of the event and the complete 6-track album can be found here.

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