Deep algebra for deep beats: The beautiful sounds of musical programming

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Pop musicians have spent centuries flirting with expertise to push the boundaries of the artwork, from the Theremin to mid-century tape experiments. Regardless of this fascination, solely a tiny area of interest have gone as far as to programmatically generate music by way of code. In a span of roughly 70 years, the few who’ve accomplished so comprise a Venn diagram of intersecting programmers and avant-garde musicians.

The outcomes are in contrast to something you’ve got ever heard—and among the most formidable music to mix the realms of analog and digital sound.

I talked with people who find themselves utilizing code to make all kinds of music, from pattern mangling to a stay algorithmic radio present to preaching the Marxist qualities of open supply software program. Regardless of the technological complexity and deep algebra concerned, they’re all in search of one thing quite simple: a artistic sandbox unbound by conventions of time and idea.

“A mind-set prompt by this system”

A track from Carl Stone’s new album Stolen Automobile, now on the market

Carl Stone has been mangling samples (“mangle” being an agreed-upon verb amongst sound manipulators) since 1973. He borrows them from business music, tears them aside, and glues them again collectively in nonsensical methods, with outcomes resembling all the pieces from a pop track performed backwards to speedy gunfire constructed from a human voice. So, it was no shock to me after I found (after a sonic onslaught of a February 2020 present the place aged folks plugged their ears) that he completely makes use of Max, a beloved programming language for music and multimedia. It’s a visible workspace with musical instructions offered as modular containers that you could chain with digital wires. The open-ended design permits for free-flowing experimentation.

“You begin every coding expertise with a very clean slate,” Stone says. “It’s in contrast to any of the opposite business applications which have preconceptions and optimizations inbuilt. A program like [Ableton] Dwell—which I respect very a lot—tends towards a mind-set that’s prompt by this system itself.”

With out that framework, Stone’s compositions are overtly surreal. He likens his sample-based work to an anagram: “It has a semblance of semantic which means, nevertheless it’s unusual.”

A Los Angeles native and CalArts graduate with little coding background, the 67-year-old has been making music on computer systems since 1986. He labored with ’80s algorithmic music software program corresponding to Jam Manufacturing facility and Laurie Spiegel’s influential Music Mouse. He describes his ‘80s computer systems as “luggable” for the street, and he toured with a Macintosh Plus for years.

Do not copy that floppy?

Stone found Max (named after pc music pioneer Max Mathews) in 1989 throughout an artist residency in Japan, when his pal slipped him a pirated model on a floppy disk. At this level, Max might solely ship out MIDI information and couldn’t deal with sign processing. Stone started performing with it, ceaselessly collaborating with Japanese video artists, dancers, and musicians.

He’s witnessed the software program remodel through the years: Sign processing and visible processing had been later included. The software program obtained hackey-sacked between totally different companies, with Stone formally beta testing its improvement at varied levels. Ultimately, one in every of its builders based an organization to promote it, Biking ’74. An outdoor get together used Max to breadboard the wildly well-liked music software program Ableton Dwell. The 2 applications ultimately built-in, and shortly after, Ableton absorbed Biking ‘74 altogether.

Predictably, Stone has resisted the linear temptations of Ableton integration, and his latest output is extra radical than his work from 30 years in the past (one in every of his newer songs sounds rather a lot just like the digital subgenre vaporwave, however he says he has by no means heard of such an idea). He performs with an iPad and laptop computer, carrying a felt hat and utilizing OSC (Open Sound Management) to ship management knowledge to his Max patches. He’s lived in Japan full-time since 2001, instructing at Chukyo College; he’s spent his quarantine in Los Angeles, although, instructing Zoom lessons to Japanese college students at 2am native time.

His latest album, Stolen Automobile (an anagram of his identify), was launched on September 25.


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