Elegant MP3, Generative Bonus

The design of New York-based composer Kenneth Kirschner‘s eponymous website couldn’t be more elegant. It simply presents a horizontal, chronological chart of his work, subdivided into increments of between two and five years. On the far left is a piece dated July 18, 1989. Currently the rightmost point along this line is dated November 18, 2004. In between are about 50 other downloadable recordings, and a couple of surprises. The November 18 entry (download MP3) is five minutes of light sound that fades in and out, music that appears and disappears with the regularity of a flattened sine wave but that, while it’s audible, engages with the tonal richness of considered composition. What is heard consists almost entirely of held notes, with their own detailed texture and ever-shifting envelope: gossamer on first impression, sawblade in retrospect. On the first, even the fifth, listen, those intermittent silences are disorienting. Has the piece ended, has it even begun, is something of import occurring amid the inevitable background noise? Hearing the cycle of sound and no-sound pass, one is tempted to visualize the unfolding piece across a strip not unlike the website’s timeline.

As for those surprises: Also deserving a listen is a unique piece, dated August 26 of last year, that is only available as an audio stream. This isn’t due to some sudden tightfistedness on Kirschner’s part. The work is computer-generated, in the standard multimedia format Flash (programming by Craig Swann of crash!media). Its exact mechanics are unclear, but once you hit the play button in the center of your web browser, a series of musical elements proceeds in random manner: moments reminiscent of the November 18 piece, spare piano chords that recall, by no coincidence, John Cage’s chance-informed works. Kirschner mentions that it will play forever, and it definitely benefits from an extended listen. (Another indeterminate/streaming entry is also online, dated about a month prior: July 29.) Adding to the computer’s temporary aura as a performer unto itself, when you hit the stop button the piece takes a short while to end. Explains Kirschner: “the piece will finish all of the currently playing segments and then stop.” He adds, “to stop playback immediately, simply close or leave the web page.” But why spoil a good denouement? Spend some time at kennethkirschner.com.

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