File this one under “happy accidents.” That’s how Tom Player, aka Lost Track, characterizes the subject of a recent post he made to the website audiocookbook.org, which is something of a public salon and playroom and group-blog for a handful of experimental sound folk.
The track in question is a nearly four-minute recording of what Player describes as chance generative music (MP3):
Now, “chance” and “generative” are closely linked terms in the construction of experimental music, in part because it is precisely matters of chance that lend a lifelike, considered and even sentient, certainly not entirely predictable sensibility to much generative sound — generative sound being sound that is produced as the result of a rules-based system rather than a traditionally notated composition. These days that usually means in some manner an automated system, such as generative software like the Automaton plug-in by the software firm Audio Damage (audiodamage.com), or the sonic sculptures of Survival Research Labs member Matt Heckert (mattheckert.com).
Audio Damage uses Conway’s Game of Life as the basis for implementing and manipulating sound in Automaton. It’s a procedural descendant of the kind of work John Cage did in utilizing the I Ching as a tool for decision-making in composition and improvisation. In those situations, minor alterations — a new dot inserted in Conway’s grid, a left-field trigram for a Cageian performer — can radically change the direction of a piece of music.
In the case of Player’s track, however, he’s not talking about chance; he’s talking about an accident, which is perhaps the most quotidian meaning of “chance.” The music that came of it no less affecting, even if the source is water dripping from clothes. Player describes the system, humble as it may sound, that led to the recording as follows:
I set up a few cardboard loo rolls to resonate with the sound and stood around for 5 minutes recording it all. There are some really interesting syncopated moments, all underpinned with a regular metronomic beat. I liked the intrusion of external sounds to the mix, as you listen on.
The entire situation is John Cage by way of Rube Goldberg. The MP3 is a light percussive piece (that’s the “metronomic beat” he refers to) in which nothing is ever quite the same twice. There are various beat-like sounds that have the slightly funky feel of an experimental rhythmic track, to the point that one must remind oneself that none of this was planned, none of it predetermined, except to the extent that Player (could a musician who makes generative sound have a better name?) set up the system and adjusted it to achieve a result that appealed to him.