SenTENSes is a piece for two cellists, TENS machine, and video chat software. The cellists engage in an imitative dialogue over the video chat, exchanging similar musical gestures. Meanwhile, the TENS machine provides electrical nerve stimulation, inducing muscle spasms in the bow-arm. This interference is a metaphor for the inconvenience of the video chat; the imperfections in the video chat itself, over which the cellists are obliged to interact, means that either cellist may miss, misinterpret, or exaggerate the gestures of the other cellist, generating more interference still. Soon, the piece transforms the initial back-and-forth bow-stroke into a mass of imperfections, passed like Chinese whispers between the two cellists, and warped and attacked by impulses from the TENS machine.
The role of the TENS machine transforms throughout the piece – going from stimulus, to irritant, to major distraction by the end. The electrical shocks, whilst providing an important element of the sonic material (generated by the contracting muscles acting on the bow), begin to grow intensely painful, and, by the end, are a source of major intrusion into the cellist’s concentration, making the final minute or so very difficult to perform without errors in the mimicry. What starts as a novelty ends as a major guiding hand in the form of the piece, designed to reach outside of the form of the work and influence the players, in much the same way that contemporary channels of communication affect as much as enable conversation.
Rob King is a composer, conductor, and researcher based in Durham, UK. Currently undertaking his PhD in composition, his research has been published in the proceedings of the International Conference on Auditory Display, and his work has been performed by the Zöllner-Roche Duo and Blechtrommel. Primarily interested in expressing and exploring notions of social control through music, Rob is also moving into installation work – an installation concerning the fallout from COVID-19 is hoped to be premiered in late 2020. As well as an interest in bicycle racing, Rob is also keen (and dependent) on interesting or unusual coffees.