On Friday, March 22, 2019, I had the great pleasure of speaking as part of the first Algorithmic Art Assembly, a two-day combination of daytime talks and evening performances. That’s the flyer for it up above, listing all the participants. This is video of my talk, “The Woodshed Is a Black Box,” which takes as its subject the algorithms we call music communities:
And here is a summary of what I discussed, partially drawn from the transcript, partially clarified, and partially expanded upon. All the images seen here are slides from the deck that I used in my presentation:
Thanks, everyone — to my fellow participants, to everyone attending, to Gray Area for hosting, and to Thorsten Sideb0ard for putting this amazing event together, and for the invitation to present and participate.
We’re here for the next two days and nights to talk about algorithms and culture — in a variety of disciplines and from a variety of perspectives. The algorithmic culture I’m going to focus on in this talk is one that occurs within music communities.
I want to talk about the algorithms we call music communities.
The petri dish in which this activity takes place is often called, in musician vernacular, the “woodshed.”
The “woodshed” is the classic place to which a musician retreats in order to practice, to work things through, to self-improve. This venture is often thought of as a solitary one — a self-funded, low-budget “artist’s retreat of one.” I will also show that the solitary aspect of it actually isn’t necessarily the case, or the optimal case.
Now, “woodshed” is the sort of word that doesn’t really require detailed etymological dissection when being introduced as a topic. You put “wood” and “shed” together, and you kind of get the picture. One thing that should be noted, though, is that “woodshed” is more often, in this context, not a noun but a verb. One may “go to a woodshed” as a musician, certainly — but more likely, one will “woodshed.”
The word “woodshed” has particular presence in jazz, and it appears frequently in the biographies and autobiographies of jazz musicians. This bit is from Louis Armstrong: An Extravagant Life, Laurence Bergreen’s 1997 book on the early jazz trumpeter.
The “Lil,” named here, providing this anecdote is Lil Hardin Armstrong, Satchmo’s second wife (second of four, if you’re keeping track). I like that even from the vantage of the 1920s, the word “woodshed” was already a throwback to a still-earlier time.
This probably goes without saying, but one other thing to note about woodshedding is that it’s only really woodshedding if it takes a toll, hence the comment about Armstrong’s nerves.
The woodshed I’d like to invite you into is one called the “Disquiet Junto.” It’s a music community that’s been running for — well, it’s into its eighth year now. Specifically, it’s now in its 377th consecutive week, as of yesterday, March 21st, 2019.
I know the weekly count is up to 377, because weekly projects are the organizing principle of the Disquiet Junto community.
The way the Junto works is as follows. Each Thursday a compositional prompt is sent out to the music community — currently 1,300+ people on the email announcement list — and they have until the following Monday to respond with a piece of music.
I’ll talk more about the Junto shortly, but since we’re gathered in San Francisco to engage with algorithms and culture, how about we start things off by making some culture? Read more »