Virtual Harp of Bach. by Alexander Chen between Net Art and Myth of the Great Composer

Adriana Kretkowska


In his projects, Alexander Chen (b. 1981) unites experiences as a programmer, designer, violist and indie rock musician. His is a virtual, audiovisual interpretation of canonical Prelude from Cello Suite No. 1 BWV 1007 by Johann Sebastian Bach. Like most of Chen’s projects, it is based on the code which he wrote in 2011. The fruit of the code is – in his own words – “a virtual string instrument”, “an interactive plucked instru-ment” or “an impossible harp” that is out of classification in terms of traditional typology of musical instru-ments. Grounded in mathematical fundamentals of musical string, it presents them in an attractive manner and unveils hidden geometrical beauty of well-known items. could seem to be too traditional, nostalgic and naive, lacking in deeply critical approach towards postmodern society and deeply attached to premodern understanding of beauty. Its user-friendly interface, ap-pearance typical for contemporary websites and elements of gaming suggest that Chen’s work is made just for entertainment. However, it is exquisitely interesting as an example of contemporary phenomenon, which Paul Elie called “reinventing Bach”. merges various layers of Bach reception: romantic, modern, and finally postmodern, which connects intimacy, entertainment and – characteristic for Bach himself – fascination of science and new technology. Two possible modes of contact with the Chen’s work, that is passive contempla-tion of the old masterpiece and/or (inter)active disruption of its harmony, can be associated with the ethos of the net artist who uses new technology to entertain people and provide intellectual reflection at the same time.

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