Blood & Tango

TUESDAY 23 June 2015, 12pm

Arts 2 Lecture Theatre



Blood from a Stone (1985)
Composed for Max Mathew’s electronic violin
Gareth Loy
Laurel Pardue, violin
Le Grand Tango (1982) Astor Piazzolla
Ian Pressland, cello
Elaine Chew, piano
Le Grand Tango (1982) Astor Piazzolla
Susanne Beer, cello
Elaine Chew, piano


Program Notes


Blood from a Stone is a 15-minute piece for electronic violin, with a computer accompaniment derived from the violinist’s performance. The piece explores the new relationships between composer, performer, and audience added by interactive real-time computer music systems.

Blood from a Stone began with an electronic violin built by Max Mathews, the father of computer music. In 1982, the composer built an interactive performance system for this instrument, including a then-novel violin pitch-detector. Blood from a Stone was the demonstration piece he wrote for this system in 1985. The software listens to the violin and generates a digital synthesizer accompaniment from the violinist’s performance. The synthesizers employ frequency modulation (FM) synthesis to simulate musical instrument tones, a technique invented by John Chowning at Stanford in the 1970’s.

Though the phrase of the title may sound pessimistic, it celebrates a triumph: my brother, T.H. Loy, pioneered the field of microarchaeology by discovering that blood residues preserved—against all odds—on prehistoric stone tools could reveal the DNA of ancient creatures, and even our remote ancestors, back to and far beyond the time of the Neanderthals; quite literally, blood from a stone. This opened an unanticipated window into prehistoric times. Similarly, in the mid 1980’s when this composition was written, the touchstone of the computer age—silicon—was opening powerful new avenues of musical expression, similarly unanticipated. Both revolutions leapt into existence like Athena from the head of Zeus; both were as unlikely as “blood from a stone”; both have transformed our understanding of the world and ourselves.

The piece is dedicated to János Négyesy (1938–2013) who premiered it. The title is dedicated to my brother, Thomas Harold Loy.


A note on the technology. The half-life of computer equipment is very short; many generations of computer systems have arisen and fallen away since this piece was written in the 1980’s. Originally, the gear filled an equipment rack six feet tall, weighing 450 lbs. If it still existed (which it does not), it would be hopelessly obsolete, even if (miraculously) it still worked. Today, the piece runs on a laptop weighing 4.5 lbs. The software had to be completely redesigned. This has been done in a new programming language, called Player, invented by the composer. Serendipitously, the Player language began to work in real time the same week the invitation arrived to revive Blood from a Stone! So this performance is both the revival of Blood from a Stone, as well as the premiere of the Player programming language. ~ G.L.


2 x Le Grand Tango (1982). One would not normally put two performances of the same piece in the same program. In fact, repeating a piece is deemed so taboo that, in the 80s and 90s, the Arts Council maintained a repertoire conflict diary to prevent orchestras from duplicating the same piece in a given season. Forget about programming the same repertoire at the same venue, let alone one after the other in the same program. We do the unthinkable by programming two performances of Astor Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango, by Ian Pressland and by Susanne Beer, one after the other, both accompanied by Elaine Chew.

Apart from any anticipated strain program duplication might place on listeners, such an undertaking might also potentially cause duress to the performers, for whom the experience dredges up memories of nerve-racking competitions and auditions. Thus, it is worth pointing out that the goal of juxtaposing the two Piazzolla performances is not to determine which performance is better, but to highlight the many ways in which they differ (see example here).

The big data trend towards corpus-based approaches to music research, while valuable, has obscured the beauty and importance of individual differences in music performances. Furthermore, in the study of recorded music, researchers can easily be lulled into a false sense that the malleable and continually changing can be sufficiently represented as objects frozen in time. Here, listeners will be treated to one instance each of performances by two contrasting performers, each outstanding in their own right. Each performance is constrained by the artists’ unique approaches to music, to this music, their instruments and influences, and their deliberate and serendipitous choices.

The performances will be preceded by a brief description of a few of the main ways in which the two performances might differ. For the pianist, differences in the cellists’ approaches led to two sets of contradictory markings in the piano score, color coded to distinguish instructions for one cellist from that for the other. Prior to the concert, the two cellists played for each other and marked in a cello score how the other played specific parts in ways different from how s/he would do it. The short presentation will be a distillation of the knowledge gleaned from this preparatory stage.

Exposing each cellist to the other’s performance was not without its consequences. The short encounter has immediately refashioned the two interpretations, leading to alterations in longstanding performance decisions encoded in the form of score markings, irrevocably changing future performances in a never-ending cycle of influences and counter-influences. ~ E.C.




Gareth Loy has been a life-long musician and music technologist. He is the author of Musimathics, a two-volume introduction and reference to the mathematics of music published by the MIT Press. A skilled string instrumentalist, singer, and composer, he has a BA in performance of classical guitar and a DMA from Stanford in computer music, where he studied under John Chowning at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics in the late 1970’s. There he developed the compiler for the Systems Concepts Digital Synthesizer (Samson Box). His thesis composition, Nekya, written for the Samson Box, won a Bourges prize. He worked for Jef Raskin (inventor of the Macintosh computer) at Apple Computer in 1979-1980. He co-founded the Computer Audio Research Laboratory at UCSD, then worked for a variety of companies in Silicon Valley. He has sustained a long and successful career at the cutting edge of audio and multimedia computing, and now provides litigation support through his company, Gareth, Inc. He resides with his wife Lisa in Marin County. ~ More at


Laurel Pardue is currently a PhD candidate at the Centre for Digital Music where she is conducting research on interface and instrument design. In her previous life, she served as a US Air Force officer, including a stint as a UN Peacekeeper in Liberia, which enabled her to become the top violinist in that country (by default) and do it wearing a fancy blue beret. She received four degrees from the Massachusetts Institute for Technology: SB in Music, SB in Electrical Engineering, MEng in Electrical Engineering, and MSc in Media Arts & Sciences.  Laurel plays the violin, viola, and Balinese gamelan.With dj Daps and composer Ganucheau, she has played sets of improvised acoustic violin with electronica at a handful of Bay Area electronic music festivals.  Other projects have led to concerts around the globe including BAM, Mass MoCA, the port just outside of Timbuktu, and the Lincoln Center, along with performances with members of the Bang on A Can All-Stars and Kronos Quartet.  Laurel has also recorded for Cantaloupe records playing hurdy-gurdy and violin as a member of Arnold Dreyblatt’s Orchestra of Excited Strings.


Ian Pressland studied cello with Florence Hooton and Donald McCall. While at Trinity College of Music he won the Sonata Prize, the Louise Bande and Sir John Barbirolli prizes for cello. Ian was a member of the BBC Concert Orchestra and later became Assistant Director of Pro Corda.  He is now a Director of ‘Arts and Finance’, his own music promotion company, and served for a number of years as Director of the London Chamber Orchestra. A member of the Rasumovsky String Quartet, he plays a 1760 Joseph Hill cello, bought with assistance from the Musicians Loan Fund in memory of Jacqueline du Pre.


Susanne Beer was born in Passau/Bavaria and graduated from the Hochschule für Musik in Munich, Germany. She has been invited to play as a recitalist and chamber musician in Wigmore Hall London, the Purcell Room of the Royal Festival Hall, the Konzerthaus in Vienna, the Koenigssaal of the Residenz in Munich and the Mirabellschloss in Salzburg just to name a few. Susanne played regularly at the Wigmore Hall as a member of the ‘Soloists of the London Philharmonic Orchestra’ and performed chamber music with members of the ‘World Orchestra for Peace’ sponsored by Credit Suisse. She was co principal cellist of the London Philharmonic Orchestra for 18 years, as well as leading guest principal of the World Orchestra for Peace, directed by Valery Gergiev, and was invited to guest lead the Halle Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Northern Sinfonia, the Vienna Chamber Orchestra and the Antwerp Orchestra. Susanne has been teaching at several courses and colleges, for example Valladolid University in Spain, the Royal Academy of Music in London and has given courses and master classes at venues like InterSchool Orchestras New York. ~ More at


Elaine Chew is Professor of Digital Media at Queen Mary University of London, where she leads mathematical/computational research on musical expressivity, music cognition, music analysis, composition/improvisation, and ensemble interaction. A winner of the US PECASE/NSF Early Career Awards, and a Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Fellowship at Harvard, she taught for many years at the University of Southern California. She received Licentiate and Fellowship diplomas in piano performance from Trinity College, London, a BAS in Music Performance (distinction) and Mathematical and Computational Sciences (honors) from Stanford University, and SM and PhD degrees in Operations Research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she received the Weisner Award for contribution to the arts and was appointed Affiliated Artist of Music and Theater Arts. Chew is author of over 100 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, and of a monograph Mathematical and Computational Modeling of Tonality: Theory and Practice (2014); she has worked with composer Peter Child, amongst others, to create and premiere new compositions, and has recorded Child’s pieces on Albany and Neuma Records. Notable performances include appearances at the Singapore President’s Charity Concert with the SSO, the Embassy Series in Washington D.C., and at the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony. ~ More at


Mathematics and Computation in Music