ask ada

Singer, violin, viola, cello, harp, piano, percussion, electronics and video

A music theatre work for singer, 6 instruments (violin, viola, cello, harp, piano, percussion), electonics and video. The work revolves around Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron and famously credited as having written the first computer algorithm in 1843. Commissioned by The Greek National Opera it will be premiered there at the Alternative Stage in June 2021.

Credits

  • Composer: Yannis Kyriakides
  • Text: Theodora Delavault
  • Visuals: Darien Brito
  • Singer: Michaela Riener
  • Conductor: Gregory Charette

Introduction by Theodora Delavault

Ada, could be followed by Augusta King, Byron, or Lovelace, important last names but mere appendices to an immortal first name, one of the few. Ada was rendered an icon in the 1970’s when Alan Turing decided to name his pioneering computer program for the US military after her. A Tutankhamen of a kind she was brought back to life the moment her name was recalled and spoken, written and voiced and rendered immortal. And now she is in every Rebel Girl story, Dr Who program, or cartoon web series on female mathematicians and has become the heroine of an age that despises maths, but depends on it.

Who was she? Besides a name. The daughter of romantic poet Byron, yes. Famous for being the victim of his absence and his scandalous ways. The proud bearer of a neat name. A tidy one. Orderly. A short one, like her life was? A palindrome. Female mathematical genius. Multitalented musician, poet and scientist. Defier of the Victorian age and all of its pudic limitations. The inventor of the first algorithm. An enchantress of numbers and fairy and bird lady whose mystical capacities at discerning her world and envisioning the future is mind blowing. Gambler. Adulteress. Opium addict. She died young, like her father, who she never met but insisted on being buried by his side. Ada.

A contemporary opera whose libretto, based not only on the exciting correspondence between Lady Lovelace and the inventor of the Analytical Engine Charles Babbage but on the wide ranging effect and influence of her “intuitions” and “vision” for where his Machine could lead humanity, her interpretations of Menabrea’s paper on the Bernoulli numbers and the significance of the intersection of poetry and mathematics, art and science, the mental and the physical.

Ada was herself a mix between virtuous lady and rebel girl. At a time when she could uphold lovers, accumulate debts gambling on horses with an obsessive passion and almost ignore her three children, she felt guilty and had to hide her purchases of geometrical tools and her work notebook. As Stein says, “she swears unabashedly, gambles and takes a lover, but feels constrained to buy her books and her geometry models anonymously”. This is the crux of the issue surrounding the female laboral redemption experience: She pursued with caution and curiosity and diligent hard work what resonated with her interests and capacities. And at last she was recognised, by her “employer” as well as by the world at large (but that came later). Ada was known for her brilliant mind but it was more than just that, her though processes and ability at processing information had consequences, it led to the way we process reality today. Ada, mother of the internet age that rests in peace in Victorian London, in a grave that bares her name but no sign of her brilliance.

Disraeli, her contemporary, wrote about her story, in his 18th century gossip novella Venetia, without knowing how far what fascinated him would reach, Dickens, her friend, read to her at her deathbed. Her contemporaries the Respected Mathematicians Mary Somerville and xxx believed in her capacities and both inspired and encouraged her progress in the field. A mother’s girl at first sight, in the clean, clear light of day, her discipline drove her towards a life she could be proud of. The darkness was fathers, the absent one, moulding her fears and her pains and her sorrows from within.

Who were these two Adas, musically? Poetically? Philosophically? And how did they fit together to form the mother of algorithm, not the pacha-mamma, not the Earth mother but the techno mamma, whose technological birth was painful, who died in “child birth” in fact and who never lived to see her brainchild. What is she were looking back on herself and her life from today’s perspective, what would she say? Sing? Write? Feel?

That is what this project intends to do. And in the lightest, most opiate, most artistic way. Leaving the heaviness and dullness of science to the scientific fields. As an opera it will speak to the whole man at once, or the whole women too, sorry. As the two parts of Ada, the light and dark, two tones interweave the way a jacquard loom might with at its hear a human creation but in its cloth a lot of the machine about it, the concept of time will be explored, time in mathematics time in poetry, time in beauty and time in creation, Ada’s decomposed womb hadn’t the time to finish what it started - and more than one philosopher has asked himself/herself what if Ada had lived longer? What if she’d been allowed to thrive in her career? Been back by the British government herself in order to pursue her experimentation and develop fully what she had envisioned as being able to exist, what would the world be like today? No she was limited to doing everything in 36 years as Byron was too - but that was enough to bring us here today, reading on our time machines, exchanging timeless thoughts and formulating new theories, and doing this quickly and quietly, painlessly and effortlessly, in the event of the possibility that there is still more to explore and discover and that the world will continue despite the chaos and catastrophe that is once more cataclysmically hitting it.

The two Adas or two sides A and B of Ada are identical and yet different. The way the two a’s in her name are. The same symbol, denoting a different entity, however. One is a capital letter and the other is not, it is smaller and it comes later, living in the shadow of the d in the middle of her name, not quite symmetrical after all. Because it is a first name. Simple sounds Ahhh dahhh, the first babies pronounce. Conscious and subconscious day and night they could interrupt each other continuously in the rhythmic way (with time being unreal it twill nevertheless last one hour and the structure will be the number 36) that is life.

The number 36
The death age of both Ada and her dAda
3 is half of 6
Odd followed by even
36 Bernoulli (explain…)

The two Ada’s are a division of her roles and identities. The one’s accepted by society and those that weren’t that were forced to be occult and especially in Victorian times where there was a huge split in the ordinary citizen between what was visible and invisible (unlike today where everything is transparent evident and laid out on a plate for each other to see and then immediately instagrammed with hardly much to hide for what time could be spent to develop anything of any interest or intensity if one is merely showing all that is at once?) False or real both are lacking often in intensity or acquired interest. Politicians (Byron tried his hand at it via the house of lords before his scandal of incest forced him to retire from public life), artists and scientists are today living in an ever-present continuous fight for attention in the immediate dimension and any real power seems to lurk underneath in the hands of the computers or machines and their algorithms and their mastermind programmers, sometimes the algorithm knows more than its inventor and often the results are unknown, uncalculated and lead to inhuman (because these are no longer man made, but mathematically made?) consequences. So who is in charge?

Whether the outcomes of mathematics and their numbers are godly due to the beautiful patterns and order that exist veiled lightly but remain there ruling our universe and ourselves… Or are they demonic? The devil’s luck! Ada would say. For the outcomes are often unpredictable. Where will Ada’s ability to program lead us, aside form the moon and back, in terms of our humanity?

Chaos theory and mesmerism, phrenology and the multiplication of pseudoscientific, pre-freudian attempts at grasping our human reality still seem fresh and the seeds of her very own Monster of Frankenstein, our internet, were carefully planted back then, two centuries ago, as Ada was born just before the year without a summer began and Mary Shelley wrote her terrifying masterpiece. Her first summer was no summer at all but more of an apocalypse of climatic trouble and dark ideas.