Michael Oesterle’s Delilah

 

I’ve known Michael Oesterle way longer than I’ve known his music: we were students together at the University of British Columbia back in the 90s. I knew him primarily as a violin player in the orchestra (and once, he even played mandolin for a performance of Respighi’s Roman Festivals). It would be many years later when I got to know Michael the composer, primarily through my work with the Aventa EnsembleUrban Canticle, territio verbalis, and tell tales (the latter two pieces written especially for Aventa) are all beautiful, colourful, and deftly wrought ensemble pieces. But it wasn’t until I heard Stand Still — his solo violin piece that he wrote in 2011 for Aisslinn Nosky — when I realized that here was a composer who understood the complexities and subtleties of writing for an unaccompanied instrument; who could reference the instrument’s incredibly rich history of both hedonistic folk music and 18th century polyphony, all the while cunningly maintaining his own unique voice. I cautiously approached him to ask if he’d consider writing a piece for solo flute… and after much scheming and generous support from the Canada Council for the Arts, Delilah was born in September of 2014.

Delilah was inspired, like many of Oesterle’s works, by the British mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, computer scientist, mathematical biologist, marathon runner, and persecuted homosexual Alan Turing (1912-1954). In 2012, Turing’s 1944 reports on his “speech system” Delilah, were finally pulled from the British National Archives and opened to the public. This functional machine, designed to scramble and descramble voice messages, was so far ahead of its time that it resembles the way we currently store music in digital format. The musical construction of Delilah for solo flute was motivated by Turing’s unorthodox search for humanity or human intelligence within patterns and systems. It searches for answers to an unasked question, allowing this systematic approach to create subtle emotional shifts. Like Turing, it presents its puzzle playfully: in its persistence it becomes serious and then, as it begins to wallow in the process itself, lightens its mood again: a simple arc in a pattern of system, method, and discovery, its greatest motivation the joy of moving forward (from Oesterle’s programme notes).

A couple weeks ago I headed over to Jordan Noble‘s abode in North Vancouver and we spent the good part of the morning laying down a proper studio recording of Delilah. Thanks to Jordan’s editing skills and a bit of reverb you’d never know that this piece was recorded… in his bedroom. Delilah is joyful, mesmerizing, virtuosic, and bittersweet — and it’s a delight to be able to share it.

 

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