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UNCANNY VALLEY

In this program (a newly-commissioned concert-length piece by composer John Gibson), the piano performance of Oni Buchanan joins and reflects the spoken text of the poem “Uncanny Valley” as performed by its author, poet Jon Woodward. “Uncanny Valley” is a long serial poem in 16 sections, meant to be read out loud, with numerous optional repeats throughout the text. These repetitions act as accumulations of sound, maddening as well as hypnotic, and Gibson’s piece provides a sonic environment in which they can truly blossom. Although the pacing is determined by the two performers, the musical specificity of each section (from Morse code to sine waves to jazz to a brief quote of Schumann) reflects the poem text in ever-different ways. Digital samples triggered by the reader enmesh the piano and spoken text, haunting the music with echoes of itself. Extending outward from the phenomenon of “semantic satiation” (whereby a single word loses all apparent meaning and identity when repeated for even a short duration), this program investigates whether or not the same satiation is possible with phrases, sentences, pairs of verse lines, or musical forms.

In 1970, roboticist Masahiro Mori coined the term “uncanny valley” to describe the emotional and empathic chasm between humans and imperfect human simulacra, a gap created by their imperfection. This program searches out what is most uncanny, and most human, in both language and music.

Piano works to be performed on UNCANNY VALLEY program include:

John Gibson, concert-length commission for piano, reader, and electronic samples
Jon Woodward, "Uncanny Valley" poem text