In a traditional symphonic orchestra, the first and second violin are two different instruments played by two different people, and there’s a clear hierarchy between them.
In electronically enhanced music, music that automates group effort through software, the second violin — as well as the third, fourth, and nth violin — is a replica of the first violin, after the first has been transformed by some sort of algorithm. Thea Farhadian, the accomplished violinist, has posted a variety of such improvisations for violin and electronics, the most recent of which dates from last year and features processing by Tom Bickley, who implemented it in the popular Max/MSP software environment.
When the piece begins (MP3), we heard Farhadian’s sonorous violin playing a thin line that has a Gypsy feel and a slow, considered pace. Shortly after the start, a repetition enters in, doubling the sound.
The second violin is quieter than the first, but also recognizably similar. At first it sounds like a simple echo. And then the second line veers away — the moment is jarring, the sonic equivalent of watching someone’s shadow suddenly decide to do its own thing.
And then Bickley’s processing really kicks in. There is rattling and flickering, there is whirring and buzzing, and there are squeaky exaggerations that repeat what Farhadian plays as if showing it reflected in a funhouse mirror.
What makes the increasingly brusque variations work is that they’re rooted in the familiar, unmodified violin. Which is to say, in the end, the relation between first and second violin here isn’t particularly less hierarchical than in a symphony orchestra.
More on Farhadian at theafarhadian.com.