C.56 - "(Unfinished) The Rise of the Machines"

Composed: October 2013 to July 2014

     Oh boy, where to begin….

     This piece met the same fate as "Night of the Red Moon", in that I never finished it, but had worked on it so extensively that it deserves a mention on this list. I begun working on this around the same time as the "Sports Advert", towards the end of 2013, and then continued working on it all the way until my final days at college in July 2014, where I then ceased to work on it.

     In short, since I enjoyed composing via the Edexcel brief with "Into the Forest", I wanted to have another attempt. And so just as ‘Into the Forest’ was the brief I had the previous year for the 1st year A-level music task, ‘The Rise of the Machines’ was the following year’s brief from the Edexcel exam board. It was not a brief I was allowed to write for as it was the 1st year A-level music brief, but it was such a good title that I wanted to tackle it regardless.

     This was to be the largest work I would yet produce, not simply in duration, but in sheer orchestral size – I used a lot of the orchestra here that I hadn’t before, in addition to some obscure brass instruments which I’ll get to later.

     Akin to my previous orchestral works, this one was divided into chapters, and just like before, I wrote a story based around the title. This was the initial story I wrote, which differs quite substantially to how it ultimately turned out, dated from the 24th October 2013, just two days following my plan for the "Sports Advert":

Figure 1: The first draft of the story for "The Rise of the Machines"

Rise of the Machines - Story

 

The Inventor: Begin with a mischievous inventor (Metallic trills, perhaps Oboe?) in science and technology; looking for a new mechanical invention; possible futuristic form of the renowned Frankenstein with the creation of an advanced robot.

First Step: His ingeniousness creates the new machine (Brass instruments with subtle percussion). The creation is that of a robot, programmed without a life of its own, but to be controlled by the inventor.

Made to Work: The inventor - overwhelmed by his creation - uses his ignorance and overworks the new mechanical creation.

Rebellion: The machine spawns its own life, and turns on the Inventor.

Rise of the Machines: The machine calls upon all other technological devices of the home, spreading the message around the world for the machines to rise up against their torturous masters. The machines have risen. Out of sheer number, they overwhelm the world and all its life in an endless war before destroying themselves due to there being no reason to exist any further.

Emptiness: There is no life left on Earth (Short and quiet section with suspended 6th chords).

Renewal: Life returns to Earth (Grand ending).

     This draft more or less holds up until after the chapter ‘Rise of the Machines’ (I should also note, that originally the title of the whole piece was simply ‘Rise of the Machines’, until I later added the ‘The’ to the beginning after re-reading the Edexcel brief title and face-palming), after which ‘Emptiness’ and ‘Renewal’ are completely changed and the chapter following ‘Rise of the Machines’ becomes ‘On the Dawn of a Pageant’.

     This next chapter was to shift focus to a nearby village that was waking on the morn of a beauty pageant that the village have been holding (as is tradition) for nearly 200 hundred years (hence the main pageant theme appears at bar 199). This beauty pageant is very cliché, and quite frankly sexist now that I look at it as it is a beauty pageant for young women, and the contest is simply to find the most beautiful young women of the village. This chapter follows one young woman in particular that meets a man in a waltz, and the two dance away just before the pageant begins at 10:00AM (supposedly coinciding with the 10-minute mark in the piece).

     As this chapter shifted focus to humans as opposed to machines, there are several influences from Western music that appear; evidence of fugues, augmented 6th chords, Neapolitan 6th chords, a waltz, but anyway – I’ll explain that later.

    How the story was supposed to continue, as is hinted by the end of this chapter, is that the machines arrive overlooking the village from the distance and prepare to attack. The humans of the village take notice, but do nothing as they don’t believe it to be a threat. Of course, the machines then attack the village (and this would have been the next chapter following the ‘Pageant’, but I never wrote it). After the attack on the village, the man is killed, and I believe so too is the young woman. Then, through some typical cliché plot twists, the machines realize they had done wrong and leave, allowing for a ‘Renewal’ to take place and thus concluding the story.

     Nevertheless, here is an analysis of the music from whatever I can recall (apologies for the wall of text!):

    The piece opens rather abruptly with ‘The Inventor’, represented by the oboe, rushing around with an assistant, the bassoon. The ascending and descending figure, almost mirrored, represents the inventor running around, going back and forth between his work stations. The moments of chromatic ascension (e.g. bars 7 – 8) represent the inventor getting close to finally figuring out his invention, before it fails and he has to try it with different variables and ingredients (hence a key change). You will also notice that the horn appears at the end of bar 8 (the horn here representing the ‘machine’ that the inventor is creating) and breathes life for a brief moment before falling silent again. The horn's first entry introduces the 4-note ‘machine’ motif (AKA a ripoff of the ‘Fate’ symphony motif).

     Nevertheless, the inventor tries new ingredients from bar 10 with the key change and at bars 12 – 14 we can see he is getting closer to completing his invention, again reflected by the horn breathing life into the ‘machine’ motif. The ‘7 seconds’ text at the end of the chapter indicates the length of pause between this chapter and the next. The importance of 7 seconds is rather arbitrary, and I can’t recall if there was an important reason, or if it was simply written for the sake of it (I’d favour the latter).

     The 2nd chapter, ‘First Step’, is where the inventor's creation has just awoken and is taking its first steps (portrayed by the horn, and each consecutive step is represented by the periodic plucking cello). The chapter opens with an augmented 5th chord simply to be ambiguous as we do not yet know if this machine the inventor has created is friend or foe. As the machine takes its first steps, other machines of the inventor’s lab take note and also spark to life and witness this event (as represented by other brass instruments appearing). Not much else is worthy of note in this chapter except that it is more pleasant ‘stuff’, and that the oboe returns towards the end to represent the inventor finally responding to his creation, leading onto the next chapter.

     ‘Made to Work’ is just that – where the inventor has put his new creation to work the labs. When I showed this chapter to a friend in my music class, they pointed out, much to my embarrassment, that the melody closely resembles that of Les Misérable's ‘Look Down’, which was wholly unintentional, but is ironically fitting as the inventor’s creation is also being worked like a slave. Thus I left it as it was. The machine is given the inventor’s tasks, represented at bar 49 when the horn takes over the oboe’s melody, as the inventor cackles in laughter (represented by a trill in the oboe).

     But alas, the other machines of the inventor’s lab notice how cruel he is treating his new creation! They briefly spark into life, represented by the brass quickly stating the 4-note ‘machine’ motif throughout bars 51 – 52, before the oboe quickly realizes and looks around. The machines stop in their tracks to avoid detection as the inventor looks curiously to see what had moved – he becomes even sharper, as does the music. But nevertheless, the inventor continues working his new creation to the extreme.

     Again, the other machines, realizing how terribly this new machine is being treated, are planning to act and so quickly shift again at bars 61 – 62. Again, the inventor notices something had moved and looks around again, curiously confused at what he saw. He is now as keen and sharp as he can get (again reflected in the music with a sharper key) and is on the lookout for sudden movements. But, he still works that poor machine!

   “Enough!”, cry the machines scattered about the lab, and the thunderous ‘Rebellion’ ensues with the brass instruments awakening with a massive diminished seventh chord, rising in dissonance with the ‘machine’ motif scattered around. As the inventor realizes that his machines have all come to life as a result of his new invention, all he can do is call for help, which he does with the ‘help’ motif played in the oboe of bar 71.

      This ‘Rebellion’ chapter is my personal favourite, and to this day, I still think there is a lot of material here that I could reuse to an incredible extent, but alas, I can’t hear this material being used any other way than how I presented it here. It is a wonderful section where the machines are rebelling against the inventor, and as such, there is a consistent play between the machines (brass) and the inventor and his assistant (oboe and bassoon). There is an additional assistant present, represented by the flute, but he is axed off rather quickly by bar 76 (must have worn a red shirt that day).

      The inventor and his other assistant manage to flee to an area of the lab that is hidden from the machines, as noted at bar 85 when the machines fade to quiet and the oboe and bassoon remain loud. However, with the bassoon following the oboe, the bassoon can’t quite keep up, and the machines begin closing in. Horror! The bassoon is caught and killed at bar 101 after trying to flee the lab with the inventor!

      Another quick reference is made at bars 105 - 107 – the first reference to the ‘Rise of the Machines’ motif in the 2nd euphonium – showing that the machines are starting to call out to other machines to rise up. Has the inventor brought every machine to life?

     Nevertheless, the inventor is now on his own trying to escape his creations and soon turns to his last resort – pretending to be a machine himself! – as seen from bars 115 – 118 where the oboe slowly blends into the brass rhythms. But no! – The machines see through his guise and find him at bar 120! Run inventor, run! The euphoniums corner him off at bar 123, and by 128, he is caught! The machines blast out in victory as they catch the inventor that tortured their fellow machine. The inventor cries out for help once more (bars 133 – 136) but to no response – his fellow workers are all but slain. The machines close in on their captured creator, closer, closer! This is it, the inventor will soon be killed, but he exclaims some final words at bars 144 – 146 (a ‘call’ motif that appears later), before the machines close in on him from all sides (represented visually on the score) and he too is killed.

     Sorry, got a bit carried away there. The following chapter is ‘Rise of the Machines’ (or really, ‘The Rise of the Machines’), which begins with the final screams of the inventor, followed by silence. Distant bells signify their victory and send out the message to other machines. The machine that the inventor had created calls out using the ‘call’ motif for his fellow machines to help him (he was, of course, incapacitated by the work and did not take part in the rebellion). Other fellow horns help him out, and the rise of the machines begins.

    As anyone would do, the ‘Rise of the Machines’ motif is simply a rising motif, combined with the ‘call’ motif calling out to any other machines that are out there. And what is this? A response! Foreign machines from around the world respond to the machine’s call (represented by three trios separated from the orchestra and placed in the audience, each trio being of unusual brass instruments rarely used in the modern orchestra to represent foreign-ness). I thought it would be rather magical to have three trios separate from the main orchestra join in here, as if the audience themselves were being invaded.

    And the rest of the chapter is simply this rising motif, and rising up of the machines. (Ah, sorry if I’m starting to sound rather bonkers, I am feeling quite sick tonight and want to finish this reminiscence). I’m not too sure why I used euphoniums as a part of the main orchestra and not as one of the foreign trios, but perhaps that reflects my lack of experience for writing for brass, which is upheld even now. As the chapter climaxes, all of the machines start marching towards their goal of destroying all of the humans.

      I did actually write out a specific ‘setup’ document for how these trios would work, which I present here (written on 6th March 2014):

Figure 2: The draft setup for the three brass trios that would be off-stage

TRotM

Group 1 (Main Orchestra)

 

Group 2 (Offstage)

  • Soprano Cornet in Eb

  • Cornet in Bb

  • Baritone Horn

 

Group 3 (Offstage)

  • Alphorn (4th Octave)/Mellophone in F

  • Cimbasso in Bb

  • Ophicleide

 

Group 4 (Offstage)

  • Natural Horn (Hand-stopping)

  • Keyed Trumpet

  • Wagner Tuba in Bb

     Alphorn, eh? That would’ve been interesting!

    I should note that this entire chapter was influenced by the finale of Respighi’s "Pines of Rome" which has a gloriously rising contour which invokes awe every time I hear it.

     Continuing on, the chapter concludes by shifting focus away from the machines – which are now marching on their way to defeat all of the human race! – and instead momentarily glides through the clouds (the string tremolandi) before settling on a village 'On the Dawn of a Pageant'. The camera zooms in through a window to a young woman asleep in her bed. The sun rises and the young woman stretches herself awake (the playful ‘awakening’ motif of bar 186 in the harp and flute).

     At bar 187, a crowd carrying banners and decorations quickly passes by the woman’s window, and then out of view by bar 188. But then another group passes by, with even more decorations for the pageant and such at bar 189. The festival is beginning! The young woman gets out of bed, and stretches a couple times more at bar 190.

     Starting at bar 191, her mother rushes into the room with some servants and they begin preparing her daughter for the pageant (English horn and clarinet enter). As she is being prepared, the view follows out through the window of the room and shows the pageant in preparation with a charming rustic melody of bar 199 (as already mentioned, celebrating nearly 200 years of this pageant tradition). To better represent humans, I used several Western techniques, particularly the augmented 6th (e.g. bar 201), fugal writing (bars 203 – 209), Neapolitan 6th (bars 213, 215 etc.), scotch-snap rhythm (bar 242) and so on.

     After the first climax of the pageant theme of bars 199 – 202, we have a new section which begins with a fugal subject in the flute. The flute here represents the young woman leaving her house and joyfully strolling down the streets. All of the villagers surrounding her are similarly joyful, and one she bumps into – the clarinet (later revealed to be the judge of the pageant) – joins in her joyous dance momentarily.

     Then yet another section begins at bar 212; this is where we shift focus to a group of young men (the bassoons) mischievously rummaging about the streets of the village – not causing any harm, but simply being mischievous. One of the young men pauses as he spies the young woman dancing around the streets, and the waltz ensues at bar 227 . The flute and bassoon dance around together with the clarinet looking on joyfully at their union.

     But something is not right. At bar 239, the young woman notices something peculiar sitting atop a hill overlooking the village – is it a machine? No, that’s absurd! But her attention on this peculiar sight is interrupted by the start of the pageant, bright and sharp at 10:00AM (as already said, coinciding with 10 minutes through the piece) as we return to the pageant theme momentarily.

    Here we realize that the clarinet was indeed the judge of the pageant, and he comically prolongs the announcement of the winner, as all of the young women look on in suspense. But again, something is wrong, the music is taking a darker turn then mere suspense. At bar 250, more machines gather atop the hill that overlooks the village.

     But the village pay no heed at bar 251 and continue their pageant even though something is clearly wrong. A statement of the ‘Rise of the Machines’ motif appears at bar 252 in the tubas, and quick dashes of the ‘machine’ motif appears in the horns.

     The young woman is the first to notice that something is wrong, and she bursts out at bar 254, interrupting the pageant to announce the peculiar objects gathering at the top of the hill. The clarinet and oboe mock her claim, and the clarinet continues on with the pageant, remaining in B major, whereas the rest of the villagers slowly begin to worry and turn to B minor. As the villagers begin to riot at the judge for not noticing what is happening, the judge shouts for silence, and succeeds at bar 263.

     Here ends this chapter, and all that is left is a small segment for the beginning of the next chapter, which I would probably remove if I ever returned to working on this.

      Well, you can see how caught up I was when writing this composition. The only physical sketches I made for this work were of the section "On the Dawn of a Pageant", of which none of the sketches were used in the final piece. I am not sure what "Extract motif H" is supposed to stand for:

Figure 3: Early sketches of "On the Dawn of a Pageant"

     But when my college days ended, so too did my work on this composition, and I wrote a note on the score on the 5th January this year stating:

Figure 4: The final note I left at the end of the score

     ‘It was in the last days of my college years that I ceased to work on this piece – July 2014. I had started writing it at the beginning of my 2nd year when I discovered the Edexcel title for 1st year composition that year was ‘The Rise of the Machines’, and I wanted to give my interpretation of this out of fun. This is as far as it got. (Box written on 5th January 2016)’

      Perhaps I will return to it again in the future – I would certainly love to – but I have so much to learn before I am ready to tackle large-scale orchestral pieces again. Nevertheless, you are a real trooper if you actually read all of that, so here is the score and recording:

Reminiscence written on 17th and 18th July 2016

Last updated: 20th October 2018

© 2019 Jonathan Shaw