There is a hypothesis we’re constantly testing against – Is this music? No answer may be available but this is what we strive to understand as we create, invent, and form new music and sounds. Our experimentation is about testing the boundaries of what satisfies our need for categorizing what we hear as “music” or “good music”. This approach puts aside taste or genres. As I describe abstract solutions remember that ultimately it goes through your filter and judgement. What’s important is that we play with our notions of “music”, reflect on the results, and reach our own personal decisions. This is the a part of the foundation of the creative process.
A coworker has “Fires” and “Circles”, tracks from my new album, on repeat. I can hear it through the headphones. I am impressed.
“Art, and above all, music has a fundamental function, which is to catalyze the sublimation that it can bring about through all means of expression… This is why art can lead to realms that religion still occupies for some people.” – Iannis Xenakis, Formalized Music: Thought and Mathematics in Composition
Above is a piece of algorithmic composition built in LISP and C++. I don’t know any further details but I find it interesting. I’m currently trying to devise something that could be referred to as algorithmic performance – musical performance based on rules and a framework in which a performer can move around. It’s nothing new but it’s not often inherently framed this way. Many performers who improvise are working within some kind of structure but it’s not often explicit. It’s especially uncommon for the performer to have an algorithmic dynamic between themselves and their instrument. Traditionally there’s a 1:1 relationship between the performer and instrument or at least the performer aspires for this (the ability to 100% control the instrument and communicate exactly). Despite these kinds of musical traditions, openly algorithmic processes permeate the academic community, at least.
I’ll wonderfully acknowledge, at any moment, that I am an appreciator of John Cage and his theories and practices. When all is said and done, he introduced algorithmic processes to the zeitgeist of American music during the mid-20th century. Whether described as chance or indeterminacy, Cage often implemented a few rules in which chance occurrences had room to develop. Sometimes his rules could be as simple as flipping a coin or allowing for silence. The establishment of rules can be described as algorithmic (although not the crux of what Cage promoted) and it’s easy to find processes like this in any variety of places.
Cage aside, I’m wondering right now what “algorithmic performance” is? How can the practice, often in composition, be effectively implemented in performance? Is there actually a difference in algorithmic composition vs. performance? I’m not sure but it’s possible there is no difference. I’m trying to figure it out though using my more contemporary tools.
I have, what I consider to be, a fairly useless APC40. It contains a matrix of buttons (8×5) along with traditional knobs and sliders. It’s default settings with Ableton Live do what you would expect: play clips, stop clips, play scenes, pretty much everything you can do within Live. It’s simply not interesting and so I’m now trying to develop something in Max4Live to customize the device. I want an interface that plays with me. An interface that allows for surprises. I’m curious if the performance with the instrument can in a way, be as rich as between two jazz performers. One performer responds with a particular kind of movement. The other adds subtle chromaticism to their performance. Then the other performer sees room for a key change and moves to it.
I’m imagining this in an instrument/interface. I want to believe there’s room for this in our larger creative community. So with that perspective, I’m slowly devising some ways to customize the APC40. I don’t think my ideas are inventive. I haven’t used or even touched a Monome but I’m fairly certain what I describe is a regular part of that community. Theoretically though, I’d like to see a day where thoroughly interacting with the instrument is considered an important part of the instrument. Then we would have less overly-simplistic devices like the APC40.
I’ve finalized the mix (most likely) of my new album, INUMINOUS. So I’m taking a moment to acknowledge this point in time and share my thoughts.
I shouldn’t frame something like this so sentimentally because well… I’m sure there’s more work to come. This is only the beginning. However this process did seem hard won. It has been my goal since I was a teenager to record an album. I would work during my years in high school and save up my money to buy Cakewalk Pro Audio software. I used that money for an additional desktop computer – I probably started on some low-end Pentium and windows 95.
The years between then and now were filled with a rocky period of undergraduate and graduate school. This more or less limited my lifestyle. That desktop computer became increasingly hobbled and unusable. A hard drive crash in 2003 removed much of my original music recorded up to that point. I gave up shortly after and retired to my other creative interests (painting and graphic design).
I still wanted to make music but felt unable to muster up the money or discipline to pull it off. It increasingly seemed distant. I was emotionally removed despite myself.
Then 2006 rolled around and I picked up two things: a Macbook and Ableton Live 6. Four years later I won a remix contest judged Trent Reznor, for The Social Network soundtrack. I had lunch with him.
Around this time, I still did not see myself pursuing my music. I was still creatively lost after an artistically difficult time in a graduate program at UCLA. However all of this created a sort of catalyst for change. I was creatively directionless – unable to admit my first love: music. That’s changed.
This is the first album of many. It’s imperfect (as it should be). This is an honest representation of tastes, perspective, and vision. If I was a hobbled and broken artist previously… that’s changed.
Many people will not hear this album when it’s released. They’ll come around eventually.
I’ve been tossing around the idea of writing a book on Ableton Live. Strangely though the idea of writing a technical manual doesn’t interest me. I’m almost hesitant to base a book on any specific software. However, it’s a practical decision. The truth is I want to advocate for different creative solutions. I want to advocate for it and share with anyone interested so I chose Ableton Live as the technical foundation.
I’ll be honest: I’m no fan of dance music (edm?). That’s a bit difficult to say without a few clarifications. I have no problem with dance nor dance rhythms nor rhythm nor dancing to music. I’m completely opposed to the cultural norms that fixate on the easiest ideas. Most dance music is easy for most people to understand. Catchy riffs. Easy rhythm. Hooks. You’re done. I’m not saying it’s easy to make. It’s easy to get (as it should be).
I’m not having it though. That’s it and so where does my book – probably an ebook – come in? I want to present creative solutions in Ableton Live while introducing music theory and philosophical concepts. I believe it’s wonderful that so many more people produce and aspire to create music than ever before. There’s nothing wrong with that but a void of creative ideas exists and the nonsense of electronic dance music unnecessarily fills that void.
Let’s be honest. If you’re a young musician with Ableton Live trying to figure out how to produce music, you don’t necessarily have a foundation of knowledge or experience that allows you to find your voice yet. I can only assume that it’s too easy to look at the mainstream examples out there as a guideline of where you can go. A well armed musician and artist understands the wide scope of creative solutions available to them. Not just the culturally familiar ones. The overbearing status of dance music in electronic music has simply got to go.