The world’s first email inspired Dan Deacon’s show at the Kimmel

Say hello to electronic composer Dan Deacon.  Credit: Shawn Brackbill
Say hello to electronic composter Dan Deacon.
Credit: Shawn Brackbill


Before we enter Dan Deacon’s show this Friday – which is sure to be auditory overload in the best possible way – we need to travel back to October 9, 1971. It was on this day that computer programmer Ray Tomlinson sent the very first email. This may surprise or confuse those who believed the birth of email came from those ubiquitous CD-ROMs that promised hours of free AOL connection.

Tomlinson worked at ARPANET, an Internet pioneer, and worked on the project SNDMSG, a program that enabled message-sharing on computers within the same network. Tomlinson pushed the concept further, creating a way to share messages with computers on different networks. This was the beginning of email, and the inspiration for Dan Deacon’s upcoming Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts performance at the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater.

Tomlinson has said he doesn’t remember what he wrote in his first test email —which is fitting. There’s something about the thought of that first email, like the millions to follow, just floating around unremembered in Internet space. It feels like the type of thing Deacon could not only cling to, but create an elaborate show around.

As a musician, Deacon is known for his intricate compositions of electronic bleeps and bloops, drums, and deeply inward rattlings. He’s also known for his lively and unpredictable performances, which usually involve audience participation and the occasional dance-off.

It’s difficult to imagine a more qualified instrumentalist to bridge the gap between the first email in 1971 to the instant message, instant gratification, instant everything world of today. But it would be too easy for Deacon to stop there. With the assistance of an audience-controlled smartphone light show, the entire performance is designed to highlight the way we continue to thrust into the future, getting further and further from that first, lost email.


If you go
April 12, 8:30 p.m., $15
Perelman Theater at the Kimmel
260 S. Broad St.



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