Alan Turing (1912-1954) was the brilliant British mathematician who is widely recognized as the father of the modern computer at the University of Manchester, having demonstrated its theoretical possibility in what is known as the Turing machine. He also became famous after his death when his role during World War II in deciphering the German “Enigma” code that was key to the British war effort in the Atlantic finally became publicly known.
The composer's work Enigma is an unstaged but dramatic rendition of two key periods in Turing’s personal life, the first from his early years when he became infatuated with the brilliant Christopher Morcom who died young, and the second from his final years when he was convicted of gross indecency (as was Oscar Wilde more than a half century earlier) because of a homosexual liaison and eventually appears to have committed suicide. In between these two sections is a piano and multi-channel soundscape piece From The Unseen World based on the digitally processed “Christopher arpeggio” which turns it into an ethereal swirl of harmonics, the title being a phrase of Turing’s to refer to the spirit dimension – and by extension to Christopher. The pitches that are not part of the arpeggio are heard in a bell-like chord that symbolizes the real world.The composer assembled the libretto from Turing’s life and words, including a section of Tennyson’s In Memoriam, and the piece begins with a poem written by a 15-year old Manchester student, Hallie Fletcher, in 2010 in response to Turing’s life. Video recorded dancer: Hans Seidemann; audio recorded baritone: Michael Mori. Audio spatialization with the TiMax2 SoundHub, produced by Outboard Inc (UK).
Enigma was premiered during the Mantis Festival at the University of Manchester (where Turing worked at the end of his life) by William George and Barry Truax at a Turing tribute concert during the Turing Centenary Year on October 28, 2012.
An earlier staged version of the two Turing scenes (for 3 singers and dancer) was commissioned by Vancouver New Music with the assistance of the Canada Council, and premiered in Vancouver in November, 2010.From The Unseen World is available on the Cambridge Street Records CD, The Elements and Beyond.
From The Unseen World can also be performed independently. See also the article in Musicworks.
Still image from the "Death of Christopher" video section of Enigma.