It’s been a while since I’ve posted here on this page. In the past year, most of my postings have been as part of the Brooklyn Digital Conservatory which I founded a year ago. I wanted to share my latest project which I’m beginning to perform live with.
Generative music is a term coined in the 1970’s by Brian Eno and it refers to music generated through an algorithm in a system. The artist then grabs what the machine generates and does their best to make art from it. I find to the concept fascinating because I see it as a metaphor for life and improvisation. Time and chance throw event and people at you and each day you essentially figure out ways to take what you’re given and make the best from it. Sometimes it’s beautiful, many times it’s not, but it is always truly original.
The instrument I’ve come up with (pictured above) I call a digital electronium in honor of one of the great musical geniuses of the 20th century, Raymond Scott. Scott’s electronium was an analog machine designed to generate patterns that the artist could capture and alter and create a kind of duet between the composer and the music. This is my goal for this live set – to essentially compose electronic music so rapidly that to any listener it sounds like a live performance, and yet every single sound is generated either through random algorithms in the machine, synth parts I play in live and loop and external audio, from my own voice or that of other musicians, I sample into the computer.
The rules I made in creating this set are the following:
1. Absolutely no pre-recorded audio can be used at all.
2. I must begin with an empty Ableton set with no clips containing either audio or MIDI
3. All sounds can only come from the following: 1. Sounds by random algorithms generated by computer-based synthesizers. 2. Sequences on computer-based synthesizers that I play live into the computer. 3. External audio including vocals, electric bass, any other live instrument, a transistor radio etc. etc.
I have two purposes in creating this set.
Firstly to push the boundaries in regards to live electronic music performance and move away from pre-recorded audio towards sound created for the place and time of the performance. I say this without any disrespect for DJs. In fact, I would like my set to sound at times like a great DJ set. DJs are some of my biggest inspirations and it is an incredible art, but I am and have always been a live musician and have been making music on instruments since the age of 4.
Secondly, to learn to produce and make music so rapidly with Ableton that I can compose in real time. I’ve always wanted Ableton to become a true instrument – just like my bass – one that I can use to rapidly create music on my own and with collaborators.
I will be doing a series of performances at Brooklyn’s ShapeShifter Lab this summer and fall and hopefully getting ninja on this new instrument.
Here’s a 2010 feature on Squarepusher in which he talks about his live set-up and his approach to making music. I found it on a thread, so it’s a couple of hard-to-read jpgs, but it’s totally worth reading for both the technical content and the artistic philosophy. My favorite quote from the interview was:
“My advice to anyone who’s reading this would be: Don’t worry about what I’ve got. Don’t worry about what anyone else has got. Take whatever’s in your studio and make music. The most important thing is that you keep the free flow of ideas. Keep pushing your imagination. If you can only afford two bits of gear…. fine! Use them. Push them as far as they’ll go” (Squarepusher 2010)
An absolutely must-see interview with Squarepusher at the Creators Project. What he’s going for is absolutely on the cutting-edge of the integration of digital, acoustic instruments and visuals. Here’s a video of a track that he talks about in the interview.
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