Answer Machine Tape, 1987

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Answer Machine Tape, 1987- piano, KeyScanner

Answer Machine Tape, 1987

This major new work for piano and multimedia by Philip Venables, created in collaboration with dramatist Ted Huffman and pianist Zubin Kanga, focuses on New York visual artist David Wojnarowicz (pictured, below in his Self-Portrait (1984)), and the turbulent period leading up to the death Peter Hujar, his close friend, fellow artist, and former lover from AIDS-related illness in 1987. It uses a transcription of Wojnarowicz’s answering machine tape in the days leading up to Hujar’s death, featuring calls from Hujar, other artists, friends and lovers, to explore not just his life, but that period of the New York art scene, queer history and the AIDS crisis.

As part of Zubin Kanga’s Cyborg Soloists research project, the work uses new sensor technology – the Keyscanner created by the Augmented Instruments Laboratory – allowing the piano to function not just as an acoustic instrument, but as a typewriter to transcribe, comment on and illuminate the messages. In Answer Machine Tape, 1987 we eavesdrop into a private world, messages are transliterated into a musical fabric, become character studies, become reflections on a community, become attempts to decipher meaning. Transcription, and its failure in the face of extreme difficulty, becomes a poignant metaphor for the AIDS crisis and its devastating effect on a generation.

This project is the seventh collaboration between Philip Venables and Ted Huffman, including their award-winning operas 4:48 Psychosis (2016) and Denis and Katya (2019). It has been performed at hcmf//, Time of Music Festival (Finland), November Music (Netherlands), Paris Autumn Festival (France), Musica Festival (France), and Oxford Festival of Science and Ideas

Trailer for Answer Machine Tape, 1987

Full performance of Answer Machine Tape, 1987 (hcmf//)

Denis and Katya (trailer for this opera, a previous collaboration between Venables and Huffman)