Brokenheart (2007)

for improvising ensemble and Max patch

Brokenheart is a work for computer-controlled electronics, acoustic instruments using small loudspeakers on and in their instruments and live video. It was commissioned in 2007 by the European Bridges Ensemble (EBE) ensemble and the Dutch LOOS ensemble and funded by the Budapest Global Village conference and the Netherlands Fund for Performing Arts.

As inspirational material for this piece, I’ve used information on the broken heart syndrome. The audio samples played by the computer are recordings of instruments built by Wessel Westerveld, recordings of Anne La Berge reading text and sine tones generated by the Clavia Nord synthesizer.

The “broken heart syndrome,” is a condition in which intense emotional or physical stress can cause rapid and severe heart muscle weakness. This condition can occur following a variety of emotional stressors such as grief, fear, extreme anger, and surprise. It can also occur following physical stress such as stroke, seizure, difficulty breathing, or significant bleeding.

It affects primarily women and occurs most frequently in middle aged or elderly women with the average age about 60. While it can also occur in young women and even in men, the vast majority of the patients are post-menopausal women. The exact reason for this is unknown.

With the brokenheart syndrome, the heart muscle is overwhelmed by a massive amount of adrenaline that is suddenly produced in response to stress. The precise way in which adrenaline affects the heart is unknown. One of the main features of this syndrome is that the heart is only weakened for a brief period of time and there tends to be no permanent or long-term damage.

The brokenheart syndrome can easily be mistaken for a heart attack. Most of the people with the brokenheart syndrome appear to have fairly normal coronary arteries with no severe blockages or clots. The heart cells of people with the brokenheart syndrome are “stunned” but not killed as they are in heart attack. This stunning heals very quickly, often within just a few days. Even though a person with the brokenheart syndrome can have severe heart muscle weakness, the heart completely recovers within a couple of weeks in most cases and there is no permanent damage.

First described medically in 1991 by Japanese doctors, the condition was originally called takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Takotsubo is a type of pot used by Japanese fishermen to capture octopuses. When doctors take images of a person who’s experiencing brokenheart syndrome, part of his or her heart resembles the shape of the pot.

The score for Brokenheart and the Max patch are available from Anne La Berge: alb [at]

Brokenheart was premiered by Ensemble LOOS on 6 October 2007 at the Dag in the Branding Festival in The Hague, The Netherlands.

A recording of Brokenheart with Anne La Berge and Cor Fuhler was released in 2011 on New World Records as part of La Berge’s CD Speak.