Oesterle pays tribute to Alan Turing at Modulus


Alan Turing rode his bicycle,

He rode his bicycle to work.

He rode it to Bletchely Park.

Riding, the chain on his bicycle came off.

He rode his bicycle, counting — until the chain came off,

He rode his bicycle, counting.

Counting, he stopped the chain before it came off.

He fixed the chain.

Riding again, counting,

He rode his bicycle to Bletchley Park,


– From the preface to Delilah for solo flute (2014) by Michael Oesterle

Music on Main‘s Modulus Festival kicked off a couple days ago and so far it’s been a fantastic few days. Tonight’s concert (October 28), entitled “machines think love“, pays tribute to a number of composers I love: George Crumb, Arnold Schoenberg, and Canadian composers Rodney Sharman and Michael Oesterle. This evening I’ll be giving the world premiere of Oesterle’s Delilah for solo flute. This piece — along with therefore for solo soprano, also making its debut tonight via the mindblowing voice of soprano Carla Huhtanen — is inspired by Alan Turing: a British mathematician, logician, and philosopher; a tormented homosexual; and father of the modern computer. The above poem recounts how this eccentric genius rode a dilapidated bicycle to work, counting how many times the wheels rotated, anticipating the moment before the chain fell off. He would stop the bicycle, one rotation before this happened, readjust the chain, and carry on. Numbers, patterns, and systems were of incredible importance to Turing — so much so that he would use them to find new ways of understanding humanity and human intelligence. “Delilah” was the name of a “speech system” Turing designed in 1944 to scramble and descramble voice messages. As Oesterle notes, Delilah “was so far ahead of its time that it resembles the way we currently store music in digital format.” Oesterle’s flute piece is a tour-de-force, perfectly balancing the constantly evolving, Turing-like patterns with a playful, elegant charm. Nevertheless, the arresting sense of joy in Oesterle’s Delilah is undermined by the horrific means of Turing’s demise: prosecuted for his homosexuality by the very country he helped save in World War II, he was chemically castrated and committed suicide shortly after. Delilah, for all its ebullience, possesses an undercurrent of heartbreaking injustice.

Machines think love also features the incredible talents pianist Rachel Iwaasa, Rebecca Wenham, Tawnya Popoff, and the Cecilia String Quartet. Concert begins at 7pm, (note early start time), October 28th at Heritage Hall (3102 Main Street), Vancouver.

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