Composer creates unique new piece to mark 60th anniversary of Lennon and McCartney

There are few relationships in music as successful as that of Paul McCartney and John Lennon. To mark the 60th anniversary of their first meeting, Dr Alexis Kirke, a composer at the University of Plymouth, has used a computer algorithm to chart the emotional development of their friendship through their lyrics.

The resulting data has been transformed into a new piece representing the 23-year relationship as a classical duet, which will be premiered at the Peninsula Arts Contemporary Music Festival on Sunday 26 February 2017.

The premiere is one of a series of performances showcasing the extraordinary new technologies and novel approaches to composition, performance and participation at this year’s Peninsula Arts Contemporary Music Festival. Under the theme, VOICE 2.0, the ambitious programme explores new forms and usage of voice in communication and musical creativity.

Come Together: The Sonification of McCartney and Lennon provides a new insight into the relationship between two of the music industry’s most recognisable names. Using a scientific database of emotionally-annotated words, Dr Kirke plotted the emotional positivity and physical intensity of the lyrics of 156 songs by McCartney and 131 songs by Lennon.

This word-based emotion was then mapped into musical features and transformed into a classical duet to show how each musician’s happiness developed throughout their friendship. 

Including references to iconic lyrics of some of their greatest hits, the piece mirrors the real life events that took place during Lennon and McCartney’s friendship. Opening with the onset of Beatles-mania, it hints at popular songs including ‘I Feel Fine’ to highlight the initial joy of their early success. This is followed by the plummeting positivity of Lennon during the band’s split in 1970 and the inclusion of ‘Borrowed Time’ lyrics to signify the lead up to his assassination in 1980.

An a cappella performance, the duet is composed for a soprano and tenor voice, with each expressing the emotion of one of the iconic songwriters. McCartney’s lyrical happiness will be sonified by the soprano line and Lennon’s diminishing happiness will be encapsulated in the lower pitch of the tenor. Their biographical state will also be illustrated through the projections of facts and figures demonstrating their relative happiness as the duet moves through their years of friendship.

Come Together: The Sonification of Lennon and McCartney, to be performed by soprano Rebecca Lea and tenor Christopher Bowen, is the culmination of seven years of research by Dr Kirke into the emotional analysis of lyrics. It follows The Career-Sonification of David Bowie, an analysis of Bowie’s career created in collaboration with electronic music pioneer Martyn Ware. Composed for the Victoria and Albert Museum’s record-breaking exhibition in 2013, the piece was also created using a computer algorithm.

By Nationaal Archief, Den Haag, Rijksfotoarchief: Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Fotopersbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989 - negatiefstroken zwart/wit, nummer toegang, bestanddeelnummer 916-5098. Cropped by Gabriel Sozzi, via Wikimedia Commons.

Speaking about Come Together: The Sonification of McCartney and Lennon, Dr Kirke said: 

  “I’ve been a huge fan of The Beatles since my dad introduced me to Sgt Pepper’s in my early teens. Having developed the lyrical analysis method with other artists, and realising that this year was the 60th anniversary of McCartney and Lennon forming The Quarrymen, it seemed a wonderful opportunity to combine my childhood musical enthusiasms with my adult research and composition. The lyrical emotion patterns that I discovered were very exciting and cried out to be turned into a performance. I feel honoured to have this opportunity to compose a vocal duet about two people that have had such a large emotional impact on my life.”

The Peninsula Arts Contemporary Music Festival is presented in partnership with the Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research (ICCMR) at Plymouth University which is developing extraordinary musical instruments, intelligence creative programmes and new technologies for musical compositions, performances and audience engagement. The department, which explores the meeting point of music, neuroscience and artificial intelligence, will demonstrate its pioneering research through a series of composed performance experiments.

Find out more in the full programme.

Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research (ICCMR)

Cutting-edge research in topics including the interface between music, computers, and the brain within a vibrant contemporary music community.

Access our well-equipped studios, open plan lab and annual research seminar series.

Find out more about the centre and what we do