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About this Piece

Mark Grey is a sound designer and engineer, as well as a composer. As a designer, he is probably best known for his work with the Kronos Quartet and on some of John Adams’ large-scale works, but he has also done projects such as Show Boat for Chicago’s Lyric Opera and concerts at Walt Disney Concert Hall. As a composer, he has written pieces for artists such as Leila Josefowicz, Joan Jeanrenaud, the California EAR Unit, Kronos, and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. He has written the following note about this LA Phil commission:

 “The spark of inspiration for Awake the Machine Electric hit me as I stepped off a plane in Perm, Russia, during the summer of 2013. Within minutes I found myself in a chaotic world of brilliant sounds, cultures, and history in the region where Tchaikovsky was born. 

Perm, the ‘Gateway to Siberia,’ sits on the western slopes of the Urals. Its Central Asian arteries are fused together with an exhausted heart from the Soviet past. Throughout the region, massive industrial buildings and factories lie scattered, burned out, and left for the dogs – relics from behind the faded iron curtain. 

Pre-1991, Perm (renamed Molotov during 1940-1957) was a major part of the Soviet artillery and ballistic missile manufacturing machine and was erased from geographic maps until the collapse of the USSR.

 Wandering through the many districts of run-down Siberian log houses, it clicked. I was standing in a kaleidoscope of social parallels between this city’s past and The Heart Machine – the central deep-under-ground power station in Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis. 

I imagined grinding Bauhaus gears, diesel motors pumping, steam whistles screeching, and workers’ uprisings accompanied by a soundtrack of industrial Einstürzende Neubauten, Throbbing Gristle, and Nurse with Wound – all wrapped up in red-starred apparitions of Stalin.

“After spending a few weeks in the city and hiking the surrounding forests, I made new connections with its scattered urban wilderness and cultural soul – analogous to Whitman’s I Sing the Body Electric. The city, now a bustling hub of new arts and ideas, is rising from the stranglehold of dominant ideology, gulags, war, and invisibility. Once hidden under the pollution and dirt of heavy manufacturing, the city has awakened from the past with a newly beating heart.”