New York Polyphony Innovates with Aleph Earth
An Audiovisual Work Merging Vocal Chamber Music with Artificial Intelligence
“Rich and vibrant in texture, it again draws on this ensemble’s deep palette of vocal colours” – Gramophone Magazine
GRAMMY-nominated vocal quartet New York Polyphony announces the release of Aleph Earth, a groundbreaking audiovisual work developed in collaboration with the University of Oregon’s Artificial Intelligence Creative Practice Research Group (AICP) . A poignant statement on the global climate crisis, the project uses as a soundtrack New York Polyphony’s world premiere recording of Spanish Renaissance composer Francisco de Peñalosa’s Lamentationes Jeremiae Feria V from their critically acclaimed September 2019 album on BIS Records, Lamentationes. Aleph Earth premiered at the 2020 Currents New Media Festival in August and September, and is available for presenters to book as a virtual concert or educational event.
In creating the 12-minute visual presentation, AICP drew inspiration from Lamentationes Feria V’s compositional complexity, as well as the subject matter of the text. “It’s a setting of the poetic reflections of the Prophet Jeremiah on the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC,” explains New York Polyphony’s bass and University of Oregon music professor Craig Phillips. “It opens with Jeremiah weeping at the abandonment of God, but becomes more of a protest against the injustice of extreme suffering. There is no promise of deliverance, but the very act of lamentation is one of resilience.”
“This visual project reflects on how the Lamentations speak to our contemporary times,” says AICP director Colin Ives. “The sense of ruin and loss evoke our current climate crises, and we found the idea of Jeremiah’s lament providing a way forward in the face of hopelessness compelling.” His team, which includes multimedia artists Zachary Boyt and Thomas Newlands, developed a machine learning approach to generating imagery that reacted and responded to the musical contours of the composition. “The AI model we used was able to analyze a sequence of videos and abstract patterns it found within it,” Ives explains. “Once the model was trained, it could generate images based on those patterns.” A method of visualizing the complex interplay of the voices of the quartet was then developed, allowing his team to “seed” the AI model so that the images generated were in direct response to the singing of New York Polyphony. The dynamic visualizations depict various climate catastrophes – such as sea ice melting and forest fires – and paired with the passionate sweep of Penalosa’s vocal scoring, the effect is powerful. At a time when Oregon is battling 35 active wildfires across the state and 10% of its population has been affected by evacuation orders, Phillips and Ives, both professors at the University of Oregon, believe Aleph Earth is exceptionally relevant.
Aleph Earth marks the first collaboration between New York Polyphony and the Artificial Intelligence Creative Practice Research Group. Based on its early reception, Ives and Phillips are hopeful that the project will create future opportunities to break down the barriers between art and technology.
A finalist for the 2020 Gramophone Award in Early Music, New York Polyphony’s Lamentationes topped the iTunes and Billboard charts upon its release and was named one of WQXR’s “Best New Classical Recordings of 2019.” BBC Music Magazine called the album “A truly affecting and serene uniformity of tone and tuning” and Early Music America wrote, “The repertoire showcases the ensemble performing at its peak. Its approach is persuasive and utterly commanding… a fantastic new album.” Classics Today gave the album a 10 out of 10, writing “And speaking of sheer loveliness, I have to say again how extraordinarily gorgeous is the sound of these voices….. Perfect ensemble singing, ideally recorded.”