Yesterday Tomorrow, by Annie Dorsen
In 2016, I saw the theater director Annie Dorsen’s performance piece Yesterday Tomorrow, in which three performers sing a song over and over. The song starts out as “Yesterday” by the Beatles, and ends as “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie. The transition between these two songs is accomplished by an algorithm that changes both the notes and the lyrics by a very small amount with every repetition, and does so differently at each performance.
Dorsen has been using algorithms in performance for several years, beginning with Hello Hi There, a work for two custom-programmed chatbots, in 2010. The algorithm for Yesterday Tomorrow was developed specifically for the project, in collaboration with a programmer and a researcher from IRCAM, a French institute for the study of music and science.
I am inspired by the use of programming to tap into very human concerns and emotions. Though a program is of course emotionless, its deployment in performance can produce a variety of emotions in the audience: nostalgia, anxiety, frustration, melancholy. For me, this piece was a profound meditation on the passage of time and the fleeting uncertainty of the present moment.