Where math meets music

PULSATIONS [BITUMEN] is a concert performance composed and performed by Swiss musician Marcel Zaes — it’s at the intersection of generative digital music and four viola players with an original graphic notation.

Event Details


Studio @ 550
550 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139 United States


February 04, 2018 from 6:30 pm to 10:00 pm America/New York (UTC-05:00)


$8 for Non-event members, otherwise $10.

Photo credit: Marcel Zaes

PULSATIONS [BITUMEN] is a concert performance at the intersection of generative digital music and a viola quartet, with an original graphic notation featuring a BRAID.live algorithm and visuals, performed by:

  • Marcel Zaes (CH) – composition, electronics, visuals
  • Jordan Dykstra (USA) – viola
  • Ashley Frith (USA) – viola
  • Zsolt Sőrés (HU) – viola
  • David Schnee (CH) – viola

With PULSATIONS [BITUMEN], the Swiss composer-performer Marcel Zaes (*1984 in Bern) sets out to redefine the conventional concert performance. He presents a transcontinental music project which is an intriguing fusion of electronic and classical sound. BITUMEN [PULSATIONS] presents the least featured of all string instruments, the viola, with four exceptional players, and extends the violas’ sound with generative digital technologies towards a contemporary live-sampling esthetics.

PULSATIONS [BITUMEN] is the result of Zaes’ typical compositional practice which interweaves the violas with pure sine wave tones and mathematical grids and generates abstract pulsations. The result are groovy, yet minimalist soundscapes. For this work, while Zaes introduces a novel graphic notation system that is imperfect and solely capable of displaying a specific kind of rhythmic patterns, presents an account of a recent generation of music makers. It is a generation which is largely driven by digital technologies and has developed a notion of music making that relies on music software skills rather than on mastery of a musical instrument or traditional music theory.

According to Zaes, this generation is particularly influenced by the visual appearance of music software and apps; it is a generation more familiar with cubes, clips and blocks arranged on a visual grid rather than with note heads on staves. Correlating with this grid-based music practice is a shift of priorities; parameters, such as the pitch of a single note, are becoming more and more arbitrary for they are either controlled by some kind of sequencer, pattern, loop, or live as entirely randomized elements; authority is thus withdrawn to some extent.

The novel notation system developed for PULSATIONS [BITUMEN] accounts precisely for such a ‘digital thinking.’ The title part ‘BITUMEN’ stands for asphalt and emphasizes the interaction between the digital algorithm and the violists: machine-like regularity meets with natural irregularities to form a techno-organic surface.

Learn more about Marcel and his work:


Jordan Dykstra (US)
Jordan Dykstra was born and raised in Iowa, educated in Southern California, and re-educated in the Pacific Northwest. He has played viola and composed, mainly for strings, throughout. This year he will complete his masters degree in experimental music composition at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

Ashley Frith (US)
Ashley is a violist, currently focusing on chamber music at Community MusicWorks in Providence. She studied with Lila Brown at The Boston Conservatory.

David Schnee (CH)
David Schnee is a freelance violist, improviser and composer. He is a sought-after chamber music partner and equally adept at jazz, classical, pop and contemporary music as well as studio-work and orchestra playing.

Zsolt Sőrés (HU)
Zsolt Sőrés is a conceptual thinker, an experimental violist dedicated to electronics, improvisation, drone music and extended playing techniques. He also is a lecturer at the Franz Liszt Music Academy Budapest, and a film curator at the Ludwig Museum in Budapest.

This concert is part of a three-stop tour. Full tour details:

Fri Feb 2, 2018 — 7:30pm (doors 7pm)

Granoff Center for the Creative Arts
154 Angell Street
Brown University, Providence RI

Sun Feb 4, 2018 — 7pm (doors 6:30pm)

The Studio at 550
(presented by swissnex Boston and Non-Event Boston)
550 Mass Ave, Cambridge MA

Sun Feb 11, 2018 — 7:30pm (doors 7pm)

Center for New Music
(presented by swissnex San Francisco)
55 Taylor Street, San Francisco CA

Special thanks to Brian House for developing BRAID.live and for his endless support of this project.

This program is presented with the support of Non-Event Boston, swissnex Boston, swissnex San Francisco, Brown Arts Initiative, UBS Culture Foundation, Presence Switzerland, and Pro Helvetia, Swiss Arts Council.