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Theme and Variables: Scallops and Bollocks for Tea (2013)

for violin, tape | 3:00

by Melissa Dunphy

CSIRAC, one of the earliest computers, was developed and built during the late 1940's by the Australian Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Sydney, Australia. One of the engineers working on the project, Geoff Hill, was also a musician, and in 1951 (possibly as early as 1950), he programmed CSIRAC to play some well-known tunes, making it the first computer in the world to play music. This was no small feat; because of the nature of CSIRAC's serial architecture, programming music into the computer was an extremely arduous process, and the code had to be introduced to the machine via punched paper tapes. Timing was especially difficult to master.

Among the first melodies played by CSIRAC was the Colonel Bogey March, composed by Lieutenant F. J. Ricketts in 1914. In the late 1930's, a British press officer Toby O'Brien augmented the march with the words "Hitler has only got one ball," and this was quickly adopted by wartime troops and the public. Since then, it has been a staple in the repertoire of everyone from Noël Coward to generations of English-speaking school children, and it appeared most famously in Malcolm Arnold's score for the 1957 film The Bridge Over the River Kwai.

CSIRAC rendition of the Colonel Bogey March was never recorded, but in 2005 it was meticulously reconstructed and documented from the original paper tapes by composer and musician Paul Doornbusch. The sample used as the theme at the beginning of this piece is one of those reconstructed melodies, taken from CSIRAC's archived tapes, and used with Mr. Doornbusch's permission.

Though only around five minutes in length, Scallops and Bollocks for Tea from Australian Melissa Dunphy was the most fascinating piece on the program. It combines musical history, virtuosic writing for the violin soloist (Alex Granger), and aspects of video game lore. On the surface, it is a set of variations on the familiar tune of the Colonel Bogey March for tape and violin. But there is so much more going on. [...] In those five minutes, Dunphy managed to cross-reference the pioneering days of computer-generated music, a popular tune from World Wars 1 and 2, along with Malcolm Arnold’s score for The Bridge on the River Kwai, and the playfully innocent birth of video game music technology. Performed superbly by Granger, it was simultaneously old and new. And according to Dunphy, there is a new movement evolving in which composers are using the old innards of Nintendo systems to compose new music. They call it chiptunes. [San Francisco Classical Voice]

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THEME AND VARIABLES was composed using sounds created by the Ricoh 2A03, the 8-bit microprocessor and programmable sound generator in the Nintendo Entertainment System video game console.

All sounds were provided by two VST synthesizers:


Performances

  • 28 Jan, 2018: Alex Granger (Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra) at First Presbyterian Church, Santa Monica, CA
  • 27 Jan, 2018: Alex Granger (Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra) at Los Angeles Theater Center, Los Angeles, CA
  • 09 May, 2013: Curtis Stewart (Anti-Social Music) at Douglass Street Music Collective, Brooklyn, NY