NORTHAMPTON, Mass.— Smith College will present “Uncanny Valley,” a concert-length work for piano, spoken text and electronics at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 12, in Sweeney Concert Hall, Sage Hall. The event, featuring poet Jon Woodward and pianist Oni Buchanan, is sponsored by the Smith College Poetry Center and SmithArtsFest 2013 and is free and open to the public.
“Uncanny Valley,” a phrase coined by robotics designer Masahiro Mori in 1970 to describe the emotional and empathic chasm between humans and imperfect human simulacra, is the title of Woodwards’ third book, which won the 2011 Cleveland State University Poetry Center Open Competition and serves as the text for this multimedia performance. Buchanan and Woodward, who are married and live in Boston, commissioned the music for “Uncanny Valley” from the internationally acclaimed electroacoustic composer John Gibson.
In addition to piano and voice, both performers trigger electronic samples, creating various sonic detours that parallel and conflict with the text. The poem and the musical piece take on the problem of “semantic satiation” (the phenomenon whereby a given word loses meaning or identity when repeated), searching through repeated poetic lines and musical forms for what is most uncanny, and most human, in both language and music.
Buchanan holds a master of fine arts degree in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a master of arts degree in piano performance from the New England Conservatory of Music. As a concert pianist, she has released three solo piano albums and actively performs across the United States and abroad.
Woodward was born in Wichita, Kansas, and has lived in Denver and Fort Collins, Colo., before moving to Boston. In addition to “Uncanny Valley,” his books are “Rain,” and “Mister Goodbye Easter Island.” He works at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, where he specializes in digital imaging and a variety of other curatorial activities.
The concert will be followed by a book and CD sale and signing (cash or check only please). For further information, contact the Smith College Poetry Center at (413) 585-4891 For disability access information or to request accommodations, call (413) 585-2407. To request a sign language interpreter specifically, call (413) 585-2071 (voice or TTY) or e-mail ODS@smith.edu. All requests must be made at least 10 days prior to the event.