Pierre and Frank - Parts 1 & 2: a Video Music work in two parts

David Hirst



Program Notes: Presented in two distinct parts, this work is dedicated to two of the most original composers of the twentieth century: Pierre Boulez and Frank Zappa. Although their life trajectories were quite different, one an orchestral conductor and the other a rock musician, their paths crossed through their compositional activities. Pierre Boulez founded the French research institute IRCAM in 1977 and conducted several tracks on the Zappa album The Perfect Stranger in 1984. It was performed by IRCAM’s Ensemble InterContemporain, with the title track commissioned by Boulez. Zappa was also very active in his use of the Synclavier in his custom-built studio. The Synclavier was an early digital synthesizer, polyphonic digital sampling system, and music workstation manufactured by New England Digital Corporation of Norwich, Vermont. The original design and development of the Synclavier prototype occurred at Dartmouth College with the collaboration of Jon Appleton, Professor of Digital Electronics, Sydney A. Alonso, and Cameron Jones, a software programmer and student. Thus Boulez and Zappa were both highly active in the use of technology in their music.

The work is organized in two separate parts. The first part is dedicated to Pierre Boulez and is subtitled “Pierre”. The second part is dedicated to Frank Zappa and is subtitled “Frank”. Both parts were created using the composer’s variation generation Max patch called Vari-Gen (see separate presentation talk). The technique, in both cases, was to record a keyboard improvisation, edit it and dissect its constituents, and create variations on the segments using the variation generator software. Then each piece was assembled to create the final composition.

Parts 1 & 2 are quite different from each other in style. Part 1 (Pierre) is a more homogenous electronic style work, which is not really an emulation of a Boulez piece, but is a nod to his use of electronics. Part 2 (Frank) uses drums, bass, and a lead instrument in a form that begins with a solid drum back beat, then morphs into a duet between drums (percussion) and lead instruments, followed by a duet between lead and bass, before a final return to solid drum beat, bass line and lead synths. The bass instrument in Part 2 uses a software emulation of a Synclavier by the Arturia company. This is a nod to Zappa’s use of the Synclavier later in his life. Part 2 is more in the phrenetic, relentless Zappa style. The production style is very retro!


David Hirst’s electroacoustic music compositions have been performed in the United States, Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Korea and nationally across Australia. He studied computer music at La Trobe University, composition with Jonty Harrison at the University of Birmingham, and completed a PhD in electroacoustic music composition and analysis at the University of Melbourne. Hirst has worked lectured at the Tasmanian Conservatorium of Music, La Trobe University, and at the University of Melbourne. He is currently Honorary Principal Fellow at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne. His most recent album, “The Shape of Water” is available on iTunes and Spotify.