In Max Mathews’ “The Technology of Computer Music,” (the manual to Music V, for those who haven’t encountered it before), are two wonderful quotes:

“Scores for the instruments thus far discussed contain many affronts to a lazy composer, and all composers should be as lazy as possible when writing scores.” – pg. 62

“Furthermore, the note duration is already written in P4; it is an indignity to have to write P6 (= .02555/duration).” – pg. 63

I think these quotes describe that even in 1969, a schism was identified between what one writes that is relevant to them and their work and the underlying representation that is necessary for the operation of the musical system.  It’s been an interesting thing to think about what it signifies and how it presents itself even today.
The above quotes come from the section describing C0NVT, the routine one defined to transform what the composer wrote into the instructions that would work within the MUSIC V base system. While C0NVT would later see a descendant in Csound’s SCOT system, I think the general idea would be superceded by custom tools and/or language changes that allowed users to customize things in other ways.  Thinking more broadly outside of just the world of MUSIC N systems, today’s computer music systems generally involve many layers between what the user uses (i.e., the GUI interface of a DAW, a custom score language, programming in a general purpose language) and the representation used for performance (text score events, MIDI, OSC).
These layers of notation–what the composer writes, the various processes of transformation, and arriving at what is used for performance–need not be seen only to the digital music world. For example, the metric modulation notation of Carter might represent well what the performer needs for performing material that changes tempi in synchrony with other performers in other tempi, but it obscures the musical character of the material, which is often much simpler rhythmically when viewed within its native tempo. This might be seen then as score that has already been processed by C0NVT, and we are left to analyze and make out the pre-processed material.  (I do wonder then if Carter might have seen the modulations as a kind of indignity in having to write…)
Returning to the digital world, it is somewhat of a painful thing to see composers who must jump through many hoops to use the technologies available to realize their goals for which the technologies were not designed. Here I am thinking of the microtonal composer using MIDI, who might resort to using tuning tables and pitch bends to arrive at their desired tuning.  When microtonal composers use tools that allows them to write in one notation and transforms the material to one suitable for the target system automatically, it is quite a delight to see the notation and to hear the results and to clearly see the mapping between the two.  But for those who must work within tunings with many divisions of the octave, to see the coercion of a MIDI piano roll to fulfill their notation needs is quite painful.
On a personal note, these musings touch on recent issues in my musical practice of finding the right balance between how I would like to write and notate ideas and what I need to do to realize them in sound.  Sometimes text/code works so well and is so precise and clear, yet other times visual interfaces yield more overall information and provide intuitive handling and development of material.  Both have their appeals and drawbacks, and I suppose Blue represents a kind of hybrid system that allows one to not only explore either end of the spectrum but also the area in-between.  I have thought of this off an on for a long time, but not so much recently. Perhaps some quiet time to meditate upon it all and experiment with different designs is in order.

Announce: New Score Library in Clojure

Hi All,

I’d like to announce a score generation library written in Clojure called “score”:


This library is currently a work in progress. I am planning to put all general composition functions that I use or plan to explore within this library.

Some notes:

The library currently offers two styles of score generation. One is styled after SuperCollider’s Patterns. Patterns in SC generate values without context, and map directly to standard Clojure sequences. gen-notes and gen-score in src/score/core.clj are functions for use with the score generation style. With this it is simple enough to emulate any feature in SC Patterns using standard Clojure sequence-related functions.

The other score generation style is CMask-based. In CMask, rather than have sequences, generator functions are used that function within a context of time. (The start time of the current event being generated is passed-in as an argument.) That difference of having time as an argument allows to express things like time-varying masks, frequencies, etc. So far, I have completed porting all of the features of CMask and have done light testing.

As for the future of this library, I will be using this in my pieces moving forward, and expect to maintain this library, adding features as required. I would warn that the library is still a little volatile, so functions may move namespaces and users may need to update code between these early versions. I hope to clean up and stabilize the API soon so backwards compatibility can be maintained. (The library is version 0.1.0 at the moment; it will be bumped to 1.0.0 when the API is stable.)

Also to note, the library is purposely designed to be generic. I am targeting Csound score generation at the moment, but the core of the library works to generate simply lists of lists (see core.clj, and note the difference between gen-notes and gen-score, or gen-notes2 and gen-score2). This allows the library to be used beyond Csound. For example, you could always create a formatting function to send the notes as MIDI, OSC, etc. (I have some plans to do some interesting event exploration using score with a Clojure music system I’m working on.)

For examples, I have some demo clj files I used while developing within a REPL (https://github.com/kunstmusik/score/tree/master/src/score/demo).They show a bit of what using the library would look like.

Comments and contributions would be very welcome.


Solaris – Stanisław Lem

I finished reading Stanisław Lem’s Solaris this weekend and was just so completely drawn into the work.  The Solaris ocean, the idea of encountering life that existed truly outside of human experience, the exploration of man’s coming to some terms with understanding what it is, and through it learning something of themselves… I had seen the 1972 Tarkovsky film adaptation some time ago, but remembered very little of it except that I thought it somewhat surreal.  I’d like to revisit the film now, and perhaps even watch the 2002 version as well.  
One of the things that I am still thinking about now is the ocean as something somewhat unaware of the humans, something that is reacting to but only mildly curious of them.  Something that just is, going on about itself, and the humans there observing, pondering. It made me think too of music, one that was not in dialogue with an audience, but something that moved along freely in time, existing, simply being, and an audience there as observers, listening and pondering the piece. In this the piece could move along in its own time, by its own set of rules, perhaps ones by which listeners may or may not understand.  
I think the music I have found most connection with has had these kinds of qualities. A co-existence in space and time, breathing and moving along, unaware of those around.  A freely living sound. 
I imagine I will revisit Solaris more than a few times in my lifetime.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book and am still very much deeply contemplating it…

Generative Music and Distribution

I have been working on some iOS audio programs lately and the topic of generative music came up for me. Some 10 or 11 years ago, I remember thinking about the issue that generative music–or music that was not fixed in performance–did not have a means of content delivery. At that time, I imagined some form of meta-music player that would have plugins that could read Csound, PD, and other kinds of projects, yet could be queued up in a playlist much like you would find in something like WinAMP or VLC Player. The idea was that composers could then distribute their works in a standardized format, and consumers could then queue it up to listen to in the same manner they might load up an MP3 or CD.

Back in the mid 90’s, Brian Eno had done some generative music work with the Koan Music Player, releasing an album that would be performed differently each time by the player. The Koan Player though never really caught on, and since then the format and program have died off. What a shame it is to me that musical work can be tied to the life of a commercial program.

These days things like Bjork’s Biophilia for iOS start to renew an interest in generative music. However, the distribution scheme here is a custom application for a closed platform (iOS). I wonder too if the kind of thing that happened with Eno’s album and Koan might not happen once again with custom formats and distribution means.

What I would love to see is a generic means of distribution for both fixed and non-fixed works. Such a system would allow meta-data to describe what plugins would be required, as well as what hardware requirements would be necessary. So, for example, if your work required an 8-speaker octagonal cube or a video camera feed, that could be marked up in the distribution meta-data. That way, the distribution format would then be usable not only for consumers at home, but also as a means for concert delivery or generic installation setups.

Thinking about this all again, I think the idea still has merit and that developing a standardized distribution package could expand the audience for such work as well as create a platform that promotes longevity of work.

Max V. Mathews (1926-2011)

I was very sad to read on the Csound mailing list that Max Mathews passed away this morning.  It is hard to imagine how computer music today would be without his pioneering work in creating the first computer music software and work with composers and others. His contributions are truly immeasurable.

Beyond the work he contributed, he was a truly inspiring with his joy and passion for computer music.  I don’t believe I have ever met Max Mathews in person, though I was at a number of events where he was featured in some way or another (a fond memory is from last year’s Bohlen-Pierce Symposium, seeing Max on the big screen performing and giving talks over Skype…).  I always got the impression that he was a person of great character, passion, and joy…

From the people I’ve known who have known him personally, Max seems like someone who truly gave a lot of himself to others.  I will always have nothing but kind words to say about him, and if that is any barometer by which to measure a man’s life, then I would say he was as successful a human being in life as one could be. I will certainly miss his presence in this world, and hope only to be able to learn from his great work and life and maybe be a better person for it.

Nixon in China in Toronto

Lisa and I just saw a performance of Nixon in China by the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto: Amazing!  The performance as a whole was very strong, with the stand out moments being:

  • Madame Mao’s Aria at the end of the 2nd act – Marisol Montalvo’s performance was stunning, and I think for me the most enraptured moment of the night
  • The ensemble singing of the 3rd act – stunning precision and clarity by Madame Mao’s and Pat Nixon’s characters
  • Pat Nixon’s scenes in the 2nd act – Maria Kanyova performed it beautifully in singing and acting, a wonderful scene
  • Chou En-Lai’s aria in the 3rd act – Chen Ye-Yuan‘s singing was impressive throughout, with this precious meditation being extremely memorable

I really loved the staging of this opera with its period footage from Nixon’s visit via the use of televisions, the lighting, costumes, etc.  It really reminded me of the many wonderful productions of operas I saw in San Francisco during Pamela Rosenberg’s tenure there. Just perfect.

This was our first time attending a performance at the Four Seasons Centre and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I loved the hall’s design throughout, and really enjoyed the intimacy of the smaller stage and hall.  I will be looking forward to the next time I have a chance to attend a performance here!

Farewell Henryk Gorecki

I woke up this morning to read the sad news that Gorecki has passed away (NYTimes Article). I remember when Symphony No.3 became extremely popular in the 90’s and having quite a fantastic experience listening to it while driving down Riverside Drive on my way back to school.  A beautiful day, listening to the 1st movement at full volume, driving through fall colors…

I had read a book on Gorecki around that time, and it was his description of going to his composition lessons on a train and seeing the Polish countryside that originally seeded the desire to visit Poland. A few years later I managed to make my first trip to Poland, staying on my own for seven weeks in Krakow, one of the most fruitful experiences in my life.

I also remember an amazing concert of Miserere at the Warsaw Autumn in 2006.  In a church in Nowy Miasto, I remember an issue that they wouldn’t be singing it but then they ended up doing so and it was just wonderful.  The acoustics of the room with the delay of the sounds that came strongly from up above was excellent.

I am sad to hear Gorecki has passed away.  I have and continue to enjoy his music from his avant-garde days to today, and will I know I will continue to listen and think about his music and his life well into the future.

Standing in line, curious once again

I was standing in line at the grocery store today and found myself focused outside of myself, looking around at the store, and seeing how strange large grocery stores are. It was fascinating to be standing there, looking around with people wandering around the store, standing in line, talking, all amongst the countless number of items on the shelves, the unnatural light, the artificial floor…

While I was standing in line I found myself tapping into a musical sound world within my mind that I had not been in touch with in quite a while, filled with slow and gentle melodic fragments and quiet tones, rich and present, all floating by in their own time.  I have not been working on much music recently, finding daily life going by quickly with one thing or another.  Beyond all that, I have been thinking about the state of the musical world (from pop to dance to classical to computer to…), how it lives in society today, as well as my own connections with music, whether it be the music of others or be the music of my own creation.

So there I was, standing in a long line at the grocery store, and there I found myself once again in a state of experiencing things in a way that was familiar but also strange.  It had been a long while since I can remember last being in that state of curiosity and observation.  I think it was important to have made that connection to that experience today, even if briefly, to remember all the other experiences, to reconnect with the impressions and memories from the past, and to once again be in touch with that world of sound…

Gubaidulina, Bruckner, and Kurt Masur

On Friday, we had a chance to hear Kurt Masur conduct Sofia Gubaidulina’s "The Light of the End" and Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4.   Regarding the Gubaidulina, I found that I didn’t quite get into the general writing with mostly a singular line being moved around the orchestra with ostinatos being performed, and things which I thought were supposed to be somewhat dramatic felt flat to me (i.e. loud stabs of brass).  There were certainly some brilliant moments, of which I found myself really quite involved (the passage near the end with the tuba, cello, and horn was quite excellent).  Throughout the piece I kept thinking of Bartok’s "Duke Bluebeard’s Castle" and Bartok in general, and perhaps that interfered with listening to what was there. It may have been that my own taste lately has been for music with more individual parts, or that the piece was simply new to me, but overall I didn’t find myself that into the piece.  I would like to hear the piece again in the future though to see what my impressions would be on a second listen.  I do have to say, it really was neat that Gubaidulina was in attendance, and I still have the utmost respect for her and her work.

As for the Bruckner, I had not heard the 4th in quite some time and never live.  Quite a bold piece! The symphony really did play out with great effect, but I found that the timing of the more fragile exposed sections were problematic.  Granted, the offset in the parts are a bit tricky to keep in time, but I think my expectations were quite high, especially since the bolder sections were done so well.  Sitting behind the orchestra in the center terrace afforded a great view of the conductor and I felt that during the more fragile sections that Masur could have done more to keep the timing more precise. If it weren’t for these sections slightly tugging at themselves in time, I think it would have been a phenomenal performance.  I think it is my own deep concern for time that makes me a bit sensitive to these things, but it really did stick out to my ear. 

Regardless, I was glad to once again be at the symphony listening to the orchestra.  I think it would be nice to attend the symphony as much as possible before we move later this year.

Philip Glass – Music in Twelve Parts

Last night, Lisa and I went to the performance of Philip Glass’s “Music in Twelve Parts” performed by Philip Glass and his Ensemble at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. I was very excited to be going to this performance as I had missed an opportunity to hear a full live performance in New York when I lived there.  Overall, I enjoyed the performance very much and had a wonderful time, though it also brought up many questions I have been asking myself lately.

On the performance itself, the concert was broken in 4 sections: Parts 1-3, a 10 minute pause, Parts 4-6, an hour dinner break, Parts 7-9, a 10 minute pause, then Parts 10-12. The first half sounded out of balance with the volume of the synthesizers dominating the hall, making it hard to hear the flutes, saxophones, and soprano.  (This was a bit of a shame as parts 1 and 4 are favorites of mine…)  The balance of the sound in the second half was much better adjusted and really did just sound fantastic.  Beyond the balance, there were a few places where things got off but the performers would recover on the next iteration of the pattern, and overall I was very impressed.  Having listened to recordings of the piece many times, I often forget how athletic a piece it is, and throughout the piece there was energy and attention in the performance.

Regarding the piece itself, I had not listened to it in a long while but I found it pleasantly familiar last night.  Sitting and really paying attention to the piece, beyond the familiar I also enjoyed hearing aspects of the piece I had not noticed before.  I was surprised at how quickly the time went by, the concert starting at 5:00pm and ending around 10:15pm.  I think the pauses and long break were great for absorbing the piece as my ears did not ever feel fatigued and physically I did no feel uncomfortable from sitting long periods of time. (Listening to the music also brought back a number of fond memories of being in college and visiting New York, shopping for CD’s in used CD stores and places like Kim’s and Other Music…)

During and after the performance, I found myself comparing the experience of the piece with the performance of Feldman’s String Quartet II we had heard in New York some years ago.  Music in Twelve Parts has such a physicality to it; certainly the volume of sound had a large presence, as well as did the rush of the constant rhythm in a singular time. In a piece like this I found myself feeling sometimes mesmerized by the rhythms.  In contrast, I think back to String Quartet II, how almost loosely time flowed on, how much the thickness of the silence was felt, and how present the sounds were too, though not from their volume so much as being framed so well to allow observation of their details in the midst of the space around them.  In a music like this I often find my attention very focused, though I never felt a sense of a loss of self in the moment as I did with Glass’s music, but rather a stronger presence of self as well as everything else, and deep sense of observation and contemplation.

I left the performance last night thinking of these two pieces and how both are of value and have very unique experiences. I think these days though I find my own tastes drifting towards more of the quieter, contemplative music than the more physical experiences of sound. Last night was very enjoyable though, and not having gone to see a live performance in quite some time, I was very glad we went and was inspired for music by it all.