Phantomaticon - Paweł Hendrich International Festival of Contemporary Music Warsaw Autumn

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It is easier to get lost in the virtual world than to find one’s way – this is the warning contained in one of Stanisław Lem’s most famous essays, Summa technologiae. My work Phantomaticon concerns precisely this issue of getting lost in an artificially created world. The title is the name of a machine mentioned in the essay, designed for the process of phantomatics, or virtual world generation. According to Lem, phantomatics is “an art with feedback,” which depends on building interactions between the virtual reality and its recipient. 

Importantly, the second part of the work’s title, -aticon, is an anagram for “action.” This refers to the final phase of the composition, which the performers do not exactly reproduce from the score. Instead, they take live decisions as to the choice of the correct part (“action”) and its variety (“colouring”). This process is supported by an application I designed, a kind of “live performance simulator” thanks to which the conductor may test all the variants of the work’s ending and choose the one that suits her or him best. This creates another type of “feedback,” that between the composer and performer. 

Stanisław Lem emphasised that what we lose in the artificial reality is not just our way but ourselves as the human species. We abandon our humanism for the sake of transhumanism, in which high technology supports our lives. The contemporary, progressively more automatised world inevitably leads to a point when we ask: What do I need a human for, as a living creature? In Phantomaticon, the ensemble and electronics are to build a symbolic image of this dystopian world, whereas the soloist impersonates the last human in a post-humanist world. 

The project has been co-financed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage as part of the Collections programme, Composing Commissions priority, implemented by the National Institute of Music and Dance. 

The work has been commissioned by Orkiestra Muzyki Nowej. 

Paweł Hendrich