Alan Turing — Solace for Irreversible Losses (2010)

Michael Oesterle

string quartet

Commission: Bozzini Quartet, Société Radio-Canada (SRC)


  • 1. Matter and Spirit
  • 2. Delilah
  • 3. The Universal Machine Concept
  • 4. Acronyms
  • 5. Morphogenesis
  • 6. Hyperboloids of Wondrous Light


Program Notes

Hyperboloids of wondrous Light
Rolling for aye through Space and Time
Harbour those Waves which somehow Might
Play out God’s holy pantomime

—Turing, A. M. (1954). Postcard to Robin Gandy, Turing Digital Archive, AMT/D/4 image 16,

Alan Turing’s epitaph begins with lines he wrote himself “Hyperboloids of wondrous Light.” His life was strange and wondrous, he lived in multiple dimensions of emotional bravery, rigorous scientific pursuit, and practical applications. His was a life of poetic realization defined in scientific and mathematical terms. The lives of scientists fascinate me, the force of their concentration and creativity, their method of work, and the frequency with which they meet society’s opposition despite invaluable contributions to our lives. Alan Turing was a thinker, driven by both scientific curiosity and emotional involvement to find connections between physics, mathematics, engineering, biology and chemistry. A central figure in the British war-time code breaking project at Bletchley Park, working with complex cyphers and acronyms he was able to envision and test ideas essential to today’s computer technology with innovations such as an advanced speech security system named Delilah and his universal machine concept. Following the war, his work at Manchester University might have lead the world in software development but his attention turned to the extraordinary potential of the mathematics of morphogenesis. His work with chemistry and biology extended our understanding of the human brain, and suggested the eventual direction for artificial intelligence. Turing’s apparent suicide in 1954 at the age of 41 marked the failure of society to appreciate one of its most gifted and valuable members. His unapologetic homosexuality resulted in public prosecution and chemical castration as an alternative to jail time. Publicly ‘outed’ he was also excluded from his work for the government as a cryptanalyst during the cold war. It is only in 2009 that the government of Great Britain formally apologized for their mistreatment of Turing.

Alan Turing: solace for irreversible losses travels through nine movements. The music is intimate, sentimental, and exacting, reflecting both the nature of the String Quartet and the private intellectual struggles of a mind and spirit that would not be governed by expectations or accepted limitations and boundaries. The quartet begins with a simple—even sentimental—joy. It creates an arc across nine movements towards an ever increasing franticness, practicality, cynicism, and finally sorrow as the pursuit of ideas is first mixed with the deadlines of war and then the unjust persecutions which ultimately make joy an impossibility. Shifting rapidly between different states of creative tension and endeavor, it takes directions that are unusual for me, a foray into a diverse range of expressions as I challenged myself to take risks, to experiment, to pay homage to an autonomous mind whose potential was irreversibly lost.