Nico Muhly's Sentences for Countertenor and Chamber Orchestra.
Duration: 30 minutes
Sentences is a thirty-minute meditation, in collaboration with Adam Gopnik, on several episodes drawn from the life and work of Alan Turing. Turing lived, in a sense, many different lives, but at the heart of his work was, I think, a very musical set of anxieties. Even the idea of code-breaking is inherently musical; the French for score-reading is déchiffrage: deciphering. His wartime work on the Enigma code translated, later in life, to a more nuanced relationship to code in the form of a primitive but emotionally (and philosophically) complicated artificial intelligence. The piece uses a single voice not to speak necessarily as Turing, but as a guide through these various episodes.
I’ve always felt that the question of sentient computers is wildly emotional: we anthropomorphise the Mars Rover, imagining its solitude on that dusty planet. Any act of communication in which the second person is unseen can be a one-way conversation. An email, sent, can never be returned — did it arrive or did it not? —, or a text message can be delivered but never read. The thrill of a fast response is immediately tempered with the harsh but empty rudeness of an out-of-office reply. Anybody who has made a condolence phone call only to hear the voice of the deceased on the outgoing answering machine message knows the complexities of what could be a simple binary communication.