It was quite an experience to attend the recording sessions for this disc on November 19, 2019: there was a palpable sense of excitement, the tingle of the new in London's Abbey Road Studios as the LSO gathered with conductor Arthur Fagen and guests to create a recording of a piece, Fantasy of Companionship, a piece which it turns out is just what we need. All prior to COVID, of course; but my how the world needs upbeat music, expertly performed, right now. And here it is!.
So to explain: the composer of the music here is Manu Martin, whle the disc title "Lim Fantasy of Companionship for Piano and Orchestra" refers to Dr. Susan Lim, co-creator of the project alongside Dr. Christina Teenz Tan. This is a piece that explores how mankind and machines (robotics/Artifcial Intelligence) may interact, right down to robotic pets (hence the cuddly toys you'll meet in a moment.). The idea of "disruptive technologies," as they are known, is not necessarily negative: Dr. Lim is a poineer, operating in the first "da Vinci" robotic general surgery procedure, in Singapore in 2004 (the "da Vinci" robot is the reigning FDA approved robotic system for general, cardiothoracic, urology and gynaecologic surgery). You can learn more about this at Dr. Lim's website. And while working with (admittedly huge and cumbersome) technology at the cellular level might seem intimidating, the idea of robot kitties certainly doesn't.
Manu Martin's background in radio and television music does indeed come through this engaging score. There is also, incidentally, a companion work, Alan the Musical (clicking the link takes you down a veritable rabbit-hole and includes some fabulous links to the recording sessions and also to "Alan Hologram" speaking at a Global Enterpeneurship Summit).
How lovely, too, to re-encounter pianist Tedd Joselson. Back in the 1980s, I had attended a recital of Joselson's at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and was entranced by his playing, including some particularly beautiful Mozart (the recital was released on the Olympia label, but is now sadly difficult to source). The atmosphere at the recording sessions was remarkably positive and convivial; the Producer was the respected and experienced Adrian Peacock.
Cuddly toys were the order of the day for the recording session. The full version of the Twitter photo for this post is below, so you can see how it tells the story:
... there the cuddlies are, on the Abbey Road steps looking straight out towards the famous "Beatles" crossing.
The music is grand in scale (the LSO is joined by London Voices, and Matthieu Eymard on solo voice). The music takes inspiration from the soundtrack of ALAN the musical. Let's let the (in)animate and definitely articulate ALAN explain:
A sentient made me possible through imagining what the new technologies, synthetic biology, robotics, quantum physics and artificial intelligence may hold for a future me. I have dreamt of some magic that would enable me to communicate, a little louder than my whispers which reach my partner’s ears as an echo of her thoughts. I have dreamt of being endowed with some comprehension, perhaps some neurons embedded in my cotton-filled head, that may enable me to participate. I have dreamt of some independent movement, and respectability. But most of all, I have dared to dream of a future eternal with my partner, where I may not just look intelligent, but be intelligent.
And keep my adorable form, let my eyes always hold her gaze, let the color of my iris never fade. In the future, I imagine a shared existence through the phenomenon of quantum entanglement Two hearts, one soul It is a story about the future of companionship.
It's a fascinating idea. Dr Susan Lim first introduced the concept of enabling inanimates to be companions of the future at the ‘Road to the US - India Global Entrepreneurship Summit’ in partnership with INK 2017, in Hyderabad, India, in the session ‘Giant Leaps: Thrilling Potential of AI and Robotics’. Dr Lim has concerned herself with the very real problems of both an ageing global population and loneliness on one hand and disruptive new science and technologies on the other. Dr Christina Teenz Tan, a neuroscience researcher at Stanford University, California has long been fascinated by the possibility of enabling inanimates with artificial intelligence. In the ‘Fantasy,’ they jointly explore through music the potential of inanimate life and how these factors may influence new concepts of companionship. They see that the bio-engineering of inanimate objects has started to blur the line between life and non-life and feel passionate about opening this up as a global conversation through a creative medium of communication, via their project ALAN the Musical, from which the Fantasy of Companionship for Piano and Orchestra draws inspiration.
Despite lasting 32"37, Fantasy of Companionship is cast in six "acts," the first of which is set in the jungles of Tanzania. Part of that first "act" is "ALAN Song," which features Joselson on magisterial form in music that has a distincly deft touch:
The eventual alchemical melding of animate and inanimate is realised in the final act, the final movement of which is the triumphal "Transportation":
Acts two and three meditate on the idea of human/inanimates co-existing, while the fourth act introduces the new science: the inanimate craves for synthetic DNA and a rewritten code. An evil professor and a hero enter the fray in the fifth act, while a boy scientist cracks the enigma (a touch of the superhero comic book here). In that final act, when the meeting of animate and inanimate is achieved, there is a final Rückblick to the jungle in the form of a beautiful "Tribal Bushman Song" before the triumph of that final movement.
The recording is glorious; the performance resplendent. Uplifting music - music, therefore, for our time. Let's let Tedd Joselson have the last word, as he described the Fantasy of Companionsip as "a truly magnificent addition to the realm of piano concerto repertoire." Released at the special price of £9 in presentation that can only be described as lavish, perhaps let your ears decide!