The Systems Music of Marcus Fischer

An automated ambient performance for synthesizer, guitar, and tape loop.

Music that slowly develops as it proceeds is often described as “generative,” due to the way that development is autonomous, and the way we as humans have a tendency to attribute sentience to things that seem to act under their own guidance. Another useful rubric might be “systems music,” which is to say music that is the result of some combination of technological apparatuses working in tandem free of the continued presence of human agency. This “systems music” consideration puts aside, or at least lessens, the emphasis on an organic functionality, and looks instead at the functions, at the congruent parts and the whole that they constitute.

In the case of this video, that combination consists of guitar, tape loop, and modular synthesizer, the modular synthesizer being itself a system, a collection of interconnected devices. This is the work of Marcus Fischer, whose music often sits at the intersection of performance and installation, happening and recording, technology and sculpture.

The music here is a digital guitar loop, 11 seconds long if you want to keep pace at home, which is then being lent an echo thanks to that large reel-to-reel machine. The birdsong is a separate digital audio source, and all of it is being filtered, per the brief note accompanying the video. The music is sing-song, warbling, at time pushing well past the edges of what would commonly be thought of as audio fidelity, and in the process pushing into a whole new sensibility where artifacts are surfaced and left to be considered for all their newfound sonic loveliness.

Fischer’s mix of loops and tonalities, textures and reference points has no firm structure. It’s simply and elegantly a sequence of elements transforming as they proceed. This is music that is the end product of a system set up and then left, quite literally, to its own devices.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. The video originally posted to Marcus Fischer’s new channel, which launched in mid-December of last year and currently has five segments, all worth taking in. Fischer is based in Portland, Oregon. More from him at,, and I should mention that Fischer was the composer on a science fiction film, Youth, for which I was the music supervisor and, with him, co-sound designer.

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