Kennedy is a composer based at Western Michigan University. It is intriguing to read in her bio that she lists herself as a collaborator as well as a composer. There is, I suppose, always a danger that those who compose in an academic setting might be tempted to stay within the protective walls of the ivory tower, composing and performing and listening with and for colleagues – a self referential bubble. So it is refreshing to see that she is one of those prepared to push the boundaries a little wider.
In ‘After Dawn’, she collaborates with colleagues from the chemistry department. All of the music parameters were derived from data taken from a coffee bean. Kennedy, with her fellow musician MJ Epperson, took the highest data numbers from the Proteins, Lipids and Caffeine of a coffee bean sample and created an infinite algorithm within MIDI. [Cafe culture at its finest!] This generated a musical backdrop for Kennedy’s viola part.
It begins with a bubbling synth part which settles down to provide a gentle pulsing counterpoint to a pensive viola melody. It avoids the pitfalls commonly associated with this type of music – no aimless noodling and meandering here. There is a sense of structure and purpose in the generated patterns. Is this perhaps because the MIDI algorithms derive from a natural organic source – the coffee bean? Just after the five minute mark, the synth takes to the foreground with a busier pattern reminding me of the early work of Terry Riley. Taylor tells us in the programme notes that there is a mix of notated and improvised passages in the viola part and I would say that she has the balance about right. The notated sections give a sense of structural coherence and with the improvised passages comes a sense of freedom. Towards the end, the synth part gradually withdraws, leaving us with a beautiful duet for two viola parts. It may take a few listens to appreciate all that is going on here – but definitely worth it.