On the Whole

On the Whole, for vocal trio and large ensemble, is a setting of tweets from a spam Twitter account that existed for a few days in February, 2011. What struck me about this account was that it would tweet snippets of text culled from sources throughout the Internet; it used lines from movies, parts of Canadian parliamentary transcripts, a quote from Henry Clay–all in order to evade the Twitter spam filter. (Interestingly, many of the quips tweeted have spelling errors, which I have preserved.) Some of these lines are very poetic, while others are frankly bizarre. At random intervals, the bot also tweeted to ordinary Twitter accounts, employing lines like “Here is a serious way to earn cash with Facebook!” accompanied by a link to a questionable marketing scheme of some sort.

What I found most striking about the content of the feed was that it developed a personality, creating order out of the seemingly-random nature of the tweets. The account, @BabaraWooleySOB (including the typo), seemed to be a religious Libertarian who knows a lot about movie quotes–a sort of crazy aunt, perhaps, who constantly tries to get the family to join in her dubious business adventures. I assembled a libretto comprised of tweets (in chronological order, though omitting some) from this account, and assigned each voice a fragment of the “personality” of the account—the soprano is assigned the spam lines; the mezzo-soprano, the political and religious lines; and the tenor, the quotes from various sources. The music tries to create a tapestry against which the lines from the spam bot are recited (beginning with plain speech, moving through metered speech and sprechstimme, and finally sung). It is a continuous building-up of musical material through to the end, at which point it devolves into chaos–the singers all reciting text at once, the ensemble playing frantically (though hushed)–perhaps making a statement about the frenetic and infinite nature of the Internet.

Justin Casinghino, conductor
Emily Donato, soprano
Emily D’Angelo, mezzo-soprano
Dave McNeely, tenor
Mattie Naroff, flute
Nikki Pet, clarinet
Jake Thonis, bassoon
Julia Tsuchiya-Mayhew, trumpet
Joe Dubas, trombone
Greg LaRosa, percussion
Manuel Lim, piano
Jiayi Zheng, violin
Sean Byrne, viola
Alec Hon, cello
Yi-Hsuan Chiu, contrabass

instrumentation soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor; flute, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, percussion (marimba, glockenspiel, wood blocks, bongos, crash cymbals), piano, violin, viola, cello, contrabass
premiere August 4, 2012, Seiji Ozawa Hall (Tanglewood), Lenox, MA
written July 2012
duration 10′