“System has decided to generate in G.” G is the key, and generative is the mode. That line is one of the many captions that illuminate the software patch in action in this video. You don’t have to fully comprehend, or even read, the text to appreciate the correlation between the virtual patch (signal flows, triggers, and such) and the sounds that emerge as the piece proceeds.
The text and patch, both by Siegfried Mueller, depict the inner workings of GenAura, Mueller’s “Generative Ambient System.” The video is almost half a decade old at this point, and the interface of the toolset, Max/MSP, in which the software was coded has come a long way since then, but the music remains nuanced and entrancing, and Mueller’s concise distillation of process is a great example of how watching a generative tool enact its own decision-making is a form of live performance.
The word “indeterminate” is often associated with generative music because chance is a key factor in many generative systems. The thing to keep in mind is that when it comes to GenAura it can be said that the music is determined — it’s just determined by the decision-making of the software itself, which of course extrapolates decisions built into the DNA of its code by Mueller.
A lightly annotated clipping service (fairly brief edition this week):
RJDJ Return: This video is just a tease, but it’s a promising one. The makers of the RJDJ augmented-reality audio app have a new app in the works, named Hear, that processes everyday sounds through filters. There’s been much talk of an “Instagram for sound.” This has a sense of that wish being fulfilled. Video found via Ashley Elsdon’s palmsounds.net. (Post-script: since this note first appeared in the This Week in Sound email newsletter, the app has gone live on iTunes’s App Store. Unfortunately the app is not, for the time being, compatible with my fifth-generation iPod Touch, so I haven’t had a chance to use it yet.)
Sound Studies: Geeta Dayal interviewed Mouse on Mars’ Jan St. Werner, who is teaching a course at MIT called “Introduction to Sound Creations.” Says St. Werner, “I think it’s great that the visual-art world has embraced sound more, but there is the risk of that becoming a novelty. There’s also a great chance for sound, to see it as its own art form. It doesn’t need anything that makes it agreeable. That’s the great opportunity we see at the moment.”
Mapping Silence: At the Washington Post, Christopher Ingraham writes about a map commissioned last year by the National Park Service “of what the United States would sound like if you were to remove all traces of human activity from the picture,” pictured above. (Via Steve Ashby)
Wainwright Syndrome: Slightly removed from sound, though as always sound is vibration so buzzing is sound, and phones buzzing are doubly sound since the buzz is a stand-in for a ring(tone): at nymag.com, Cari Romm writes about phantom phone vibrations: “These imagined sounds and sensations are examples of pareidolia, the phenomenon of perceiving a pattern within randomness where no pattern exists (seeing the man on the moon, for example, or hearing satanic messages in a record played backwards). For this particular pareidolia, there are a few things that make some people more susceptible than others.”
Always On: As someone who is rarely a foot from his phone, I still find the voice activation aspect of phones alarming in a privacy sense, but Google keeps upping the ante: “Google Announces Voice Access Beta—Control Your Phone Completely by Voice” (androidpolice.com).
Pre-Acoustic: If you’re near University of Copenhagen, there’s an interesting symposium happening there in two days, on April 21: “The field of sound studies often gets restricted to sound practices, listening experiences and auditory dispositives after the advent of modern acoustics, established as an academic subdiscipline of physics in the 19th century. Yet unsurprisingly, auditory knowledge was present and impactful in cultures of the middle ages, the renaissance, and early enlightenment”: soundstudieslab.org.
Spotify Protip: Since I’ve been on and off tracking my use of Spotify (following the demise of the Rdio service), here’s a Spotify protip. If you’re having issues with the offline sync (which lets you store tracks or albums on a device, as I do on my iPod Touch, which is the primary way I use Spotify), the issue may be that you have too many devices associated with your account. I had four. Once I reduced it to three everything worked fine.
This first appeared, in slightly different form, in the April 19, 2016 (it went out a day late), edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound” email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.
You have to click through to the blog of Svetlana Maraš to hear her recent piece “Nymphae,” but don’t mistake that non-embeddable scenario for the work of someone who’s overly concerned about proprietorship. Maras, who is based in Belgrade, Serbia, has more than one SoundCloud page, and posts audio frequently. For “Nymphae,” not only has she uploaded the entrancing, minute-long sample of fractured glistening to stream, she’s also posted for free download the underlying tools anyone can use to accomplish the same sonic ends. Well, anyone with a copy of Pd (Pure data, a “real-time graphical dataflow programming environment,” itself freely downloadable), and the skills to employ it. The tools come in the form of a patch, which looks like this:
She describes the project as follows:
Nymphaea is one in a set of 7 works made under the title Ethereal Information. These works are Pure data patches, and they are generative sound works functioning by the rules of partially fixed algorithms. Each of the patches leaves the space for user’s input that will influence certain aspects of the work. Patches can be used under the Creative Commons Attribution license, as part of other works, in installations, galleries, public spaces or wherever you find them suitable. These works are highly minimalistic. They praise the simplicity of production and effectiveness of realization. They are to be appreciated for their audible but as well visual content that is in this case the structural element of the work that reveals work’s internal characteristics.
More from Maraš at svetlanamaras.com. I wrote about her work previously in February 2015, regarding sound design she’d been working on for a film that never saw completion. That audio is still online. The image up top is from an interview with Maraš by Theresa Beyer, published in 2014 at norient.com. Pure data is available at puredata.info.
I wrote about Erika Nesse’s fractal music about a month ago (“A Nautilus of Percussive Expressivity”), and she just posted this week another example that’s well worth a listen. Titled “You Can Wish It All Away,” the short piece, not even two full minutes in length, takes tiny snippets of source audio, in this case a woman speaking, and renders from them a slowly evolving rhythmic flurry. Slivers of syllables — not whole verbal sounds but mere bits of them, so even the softest vowel can serve as a plosive thanks to a hard truncation — become an ever-changing fantasy of computer-generated beatcraft.
Two moments seem to suggest that the piece isn’t directly the result of a computer using fractals to break and reformat the source, but that Nesse herself plays a role in the work’s composition — that she is using the fractal algorithm as a source for musical development, much as the algorithm itself is using the original source audio. The first of these moments appears at about the one-minute mark, when the previously furious mix of layered sounds gives way to a harshly minimalist, staccato metric. The second is at the end, when the original sample audio is heard in full, revealing itself as a line from an early episode of The Twilight Zone: “If I wish hard enough, I can wish it all away.” That’s the main character, a former film star, speaking in the episode titled “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine.”
Erika Nesse makes fractal music. She codes the music — “coding” being a term that has as much application these days as do “writing” and “composition” to the production of sound. This following playlist collects over a dozen examples of her algorithms set to work on a variety of audio sources. Listen as sounds ranging from white noise (“Fifty One”) to verbalization (“One two three”) to gentle bleeps (“It goes bop”) cycle through patterns within patterns, coming back around to familiar riffs even as they expand continuously outward, a nautilus of percussive expressivity.
For context, Nesse, who’s based in Boston, Massachusetts, wrote the following about the process behind What the Machine Replied, a five-track EP of her fractal music:
This album was generated entirely with fractals, nesting beats within beats to create a self-similar system. I give a small seed pattern of a couple of notes to the machine, and it goes deep into the tree of recursion and echoes back a dizzying track minutes long. Thus, “what the machine replied”.
Here’s a video visualization that aligns the sounds with images, helping the mind trace the patterns:
• October 13, 2016: This day marks the start of the 250th weekly Disquiet Junto project.
• November 16, 2016: I'll be sharing the mic at Adobe Books in San Francisco with my fellow 33 1/3 author Evie Nagy for an evening hosted, from 7pm to 10pm, by Marc Kate (facebook.com).
• December 1, 2016: A likely speaking engagement. Details to come.
• December 13, 2016: This day marks the 20th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 5, 2017: This day marks the 5th anniversary of the Disquiet Junto.
• Ongoing: The Disquiet Junto series of weekly communal music projects explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. There is a new project each Thursday afternoon (California time), and it is due the following Monday at 11:59pm: disquiet.com/junto.
• My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury, is now in its second printing. It can be purchased at amazon.com, among other places.