for string quartet and electronics
Paris, Centre Pompidou June 7th 2017
As a kid we had a television set with an antenna that rotated (you could rotate it from inside of your house). When the major channels would go off-air you could rotate it and pick up strange other channels from smaller cities around - from across the border, Buffalo and so on - and you would see strange things, that were kind of hard to see (there was a lot of static) and it was very intriguing to watch that kind of things. That was really the core, the crystal at the centre of this movie: my experience with that thinking “what if the images that you pulled up were really quite extreme, disturbing, possibly illegal, and what would you think then, would you keep seeking out those channels or would you call the police or what would you do, how would you respond to them?”
David Cronenberg on his movie Videodrome (commentary track of the Criterion Collection BlueRay)
The Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion was a television signal hijacking (probably the most famous and certainly the longest signal hijacking ever) that occurred in Chicago, Illinois, United States on the evening of November 22, 1987. The signal pirates, whose identities were never found, succeeded in getting their broadcast intruded onto WTTW (a local Public Broadcasting Service television station).
The pirate broadcast, which lasted 90 endless seconds, featured an individual disguised as Max Headroom (a sci-fi computer-generated television character quite popular in the 80s, coming from dystopian near-future dominated by television and large corporations).
Around 11:15 p.m. an episode of the British TV-Series Doctor Who was suddenly interrupted by television static, after which an unidentified man wearing a Max Headroom mask and sunglasses appeared. The man started to moan, scream and laugh, uttering various random phrases (the audio was distorted and crackling), including New Coke's advertising slogan "Catch the Wave" while holding a Pepsi can (Max Headroom was a Coca-Cola spokesperson at the time). He then tossed the can out of sight, presented his middle finger wearing a rubber extension, sang an excerpt of “I’m losing you” (a 1966 Motown hit recorded by the Temptations), hummed the theme song of Clutch Cargo (a clumsily-animated television series of the 60s), moaned painfully complaining about his piles, farted, put on and off a giant glove (similar to the one worn by Michael Jackson at the time). He then partially exposed his buttocks, howling: "They're coming to get me!”, while an unidentified female accomplice wearing a French maid outfit started to spank him with a flyswatter. The transmission then blacked out for a few seconds before resuming the Doctor Who episode in progress.
“The 1987 Max Headroom Broadcast Incident” features a string quartet “enhanced” with transducers and preparations.
The digital processing of the instruments is largely inspired by the same modulation techniques that were - and still are - commonly used for radio and television transmission.
The piece, an hommage to obsolete or soon-to-be deprecated technologies and to the media-dominated, dark future that the “cyberpunk” sci-fi of 80s foretold, is dedicated to the memory of Fausto Romitelli.
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