Zubin Kanga’s fearless touch reliably locates the emotive wellspring hidden within the machines.

Pianist Zubin Kanga performs a programme of pieces exploring technology's ability to augment musical instruments and composition. The programme features Answer Machine Tape, 1987 along with other pieces exploring futuristic new technologies and new pianistic possibilities. Kanga’s own Steel on Bone uses motion sensor gloves and knitting needles to generate great surges of cavernous sound. Vicentino, love you (Oliver Leith) is a set of microtonal pieces for keyboard and synthesiser - and DEVIANCE (Emily Howard), a tribute to Ada Lovelace, uses brain data and machine learning to explore connections between music and mind. All four works were commissioned as part of Kanga’s multi-year music and research project, Cyborg Soloists. Vicentino, love you and DEVIANCE appear on Kanga’s latest album, Cyborg Pianist (NMC Recordings).


The artist Peter Hujar died in 1987 of an AIDS-related illness. Messages from the days before his death were preserved on the answering-machine of his close friend and former lover David Wojnarowicz. Answer Machine Tape, 1987 allows us to eavesdrop on the private world of these messages, featuring calls from Hujar, other artists, friends and lovers. The work also explores that period of the New York art scene, queer history and the AIDS crisis. This is the fourth in a series of pieces centring around queer oral histories. It tells a human story of relationships, drawing an intimate portrait of a life and the community built around it.


The work uses a new sensor technology that allows the piano to work like a typewriter to transcribe and comment on the messages. These messages are woven into a musical fabric and many different voices are brought to life, given different soundworlds on the piano, sometimes tragically and sometimes playfully, and always absorbingly. The transcription process works imperfectly, and its failure is a metaphor for the devastating effects of the AIDS crisis on a generation. 


Answer Machine Tape, 1987 touches on some of the fundamentals of human relationships. You may leave this show with a renewed resolution to call or message someone you love.


The work was co-created by three innovative multimedia artists:


Philip Venables, composer. Philip Venables has been described as “an arrestingly original musical personality” by Alex Ross in The New Yorker and as “one of the finest composers around” by the Guardian. His output covers an eclectic range of styles and influences, and themes often concerning social politics, violence, gender and storytelling. Philip's most recent opera Denis & Katya (Opera Philadelphia, Music Theatre Wales, Opéra Orchestre National Montpellier), with Ted Huffman, won the 2019 Fedora Generali Prize for Opera and was dubbed “an intimate, haunting triumph” by the New York Times. His first opera, 4.48 Psychosis (Royal Opera) won multiple awards and was called “a new brand of opera” by the Times. Philip's debut album Below the Belt was released in 2018 and described by BBC Music Magazine as “unmissable”. 


Ted Huffman, dramatist. Ted Huffman made his Royal Opera debut in 2016 directing the world premiere of Philip Venables’s 4.48 Psychosis (winner of the 2016 UK Theatre Award for Achievement in Opera). Huffman was born in New York and studied at Yale University. He was an apprentice on San Francisco Opera’s Merola Opera Programme and at the Watermill Center, and has gone on to work for opera companies around the world. Credits include Svadba (Aix-en-Provence Festival) with Winokur, Eugene Onegin (Theater an der Wien in der Kammeroper), Les Mamelles de Tirésias (La Monnaie, Brussels, Dutch National Opera and Aix-en-Provence and Aldeburgh festivals), Orphée aux enfers (Opéra national de Lorraine), and La Calisto and Galileo, Galilei (Cincinnati Opera).


Zubin Kanga, pianist. Zubin Kanga is a pianist, composer, improviser and technologist. He is a leading innovator of new approaches to the piano, with recent work focusing on new interactions between piano and film, live electronics, AI, motion sensors, video-game control, 3D animation and virtual reality. His work was recently featured in The New York Times and The Wire. Zubin has performed at many international festivals and international venues including the BBC Proms, London Contemporary Music Festival, and Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (UK). He is also the director of Cyborg Soloists, a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship-funded project exploring new music-technology collaborations between artists and industry.


Co-promoted with Oxford Science and Ideas Festival. Supported by St. John’s College, Oxford

Photo credit: Robin Clewley