for 14 players + live, interactive electronics
In the final scene of the 1974 thriller The Conversation, Harry Caul, the protagonist guru of surveillance played by Gene Hackman, nervously sits alone in his apartment after witnessing a murder. Having tried to save the victims he was hired to spy on, Harry’s attempt to relax is interrupted by a phone call. He first hears a recording of the same improvising he’d just played on his saxophone moments earlier, followed by a voice. “We know that you know, Mr. Caul. For your own sake, don’t get involved any further. We’ll be listening to you.”
Despite his status as the best in the surveillance business, Harry Caul is now the one being spied on. He tears up his apartment in search of a listening device. This dissymmetry among the surveyors and the surveyed illuminates the power structures “at stake” in the act of listening itself—the possibility of multiple parties “listening in on” one another—and is at the heart of the theoretical work by philosopher and musicologist Peter Szendy, especially as outlined in his Sur écoute. Esthétique de l’espionnage (2007).
We’ll Be Listening To You (2013) evolves as the fourth in a series of pieces written after my recent study with Szendy, which takes as its basis one of Szendy’s meticulously analyzed scenes from a spy film. During the piece, a computer assistant takes a “snapshot” analysis of the live ensemble, which is translated from frequency data into rhythmic data. These pulses are heard as the resonant model synthesis of crickets, their pitches analyzed from the ensemble, and additionally they are pulsing at rates that correspond to the ratios of individual partials in the analysis. Frequency then relates to rhythm in cohesive way, and is inspired by a similar technique adopted by composer Yan Maresz.