the queen is the supreme power in the realm

Ensemble, live electronics, video.

Yannis Kyriakides with HC Gilje (video)

Commissioned by MusikFabrik, ZKM, Koln Triennale.

The title of the work is a reference to Slater’s Telegraphic Code (1870). This was a codebook of words indexed with numbers which were used in a basic form of encryption in order to send telegrams in secret. Telegraphic codebooks form the main reference point in this work. (Most of the text of the piece comes from the ABC Telegraphic code, 5th Edition (1901). These flourished at the height of the industrial revolution, the height of the British Empire, at the turning point of the old world order. They were mostly a means for industry to send shorter, cheaper telegrams by substituting single words or numbers for commonly used phrases. Economy of language opening up the possibility of a faster means of communication.

The musical material of the queen is the supreme power in the realm derives from various forms of coding of language into sound. These are used to create flexible structures for open scoring. Although the piece has a very clearly defined sequence of events, in its definition of the material, ithe microstructure is open and dependant on both decisions made by the musicians on the night, and on their sound effecting how the computer algorithms navigate through the meta-structure of their sound is eventually processed. Language is coded into music and used as a score for other possible musics.

The composition consists of the definition of six zones, which are defined by their placement on the stage, and also on the type of function they have in the overall sound thread of the work.

It is a quasi-hierarchical system, reflecting the title: the queen is the supreme power in the realm, that also has a passing reference both to the Victorian empire, but also to bee-culture, how insects form complex colonial structures. The rules consists of the type of material that they play, what to listen for and how to react to the other zones that are going on at the same time. The improvisational aspect of the piece is controlled by these definitions, but puts greatest priority on how the musicians respond to what is going on around them. In this sense the image of communication, sending and receiving messages, comes to the fore in the piece, as well as the sense of a fragile order, which might disintegrate at any moment.

The Seven Zones

There are seven zones defined by the position on stage and by the type of function and musical material that are performed in them.

  • Drones – Tutti sections of continous tones interacting with the sound environment in different ways.
  • Feeders – or ‘Pulse Feeders’ . Play imperceptibly into microphones where their sound is cut up into pulse fragments.
  • Translators – Using headphones they hear text material and render it into music.
  • Encoders – Encoding phrases into music, using a personal vocabulary.
  • Percussion – Alphabetic percussion and a Morse Snare (triggering samples) transmit list of phrases.
  • Piano – Plays from a score of encoded phrases into a modal system.
  • Electronics – Electronic voices of telegraphic code text.

Some of these are open to be filled by whatever instrument at whatever time (except piano, percussion and electronics). In some performances this can be fixed, so that only certain instruments can play in certain zones, depending on the size of the ensemble.

For the first performance by MusikFabrik, the instruments were defined as follows:

  • Encoders: Tuba, Cello, Trombone, Contrabass
  • Feeders: Violin, Flute, Trumpet, Oboe
  • Translators: Horn, Bassoon, Viola, Clarinet, Piano, Percussion
2 6 8 6 4. nageklost. natives very quiet.
2 6 8 6 5. nagekneed. natives very unsettled.
2 6 8 6 6. nagelag. natives becoming very troublesome.
2 6 8 6 7. nagelartig. natives rebelling.
2 6 8 6 8. nagelbein. natives rebelling and very excited.
2 6 8 6 9. nagelfell. natives becoming beyond control.
2 6 8 7 0. nagelhout. natives settling down quietly.
2 6 8 7 1. nagelkram. natives have now settled down.

performance history

  • Premiere at Koln Triennale 2007, MusikFabrik. Subsequent performances at Huddersfield Festival 2007, Moers Jazz Festival 2008, Ultraschall Festival, Berlin, 2012.