+ Jason Dewey - Quartet

Quartet was written entirely by picking numbers and notes out of a hat, rolling dice, and generally avoiding consciously making compositional choices myself.

Some might complain that it is just ‘music by numbers’. And while some think this may lack 'soul’, composers have used the system of organising pitches mathematically in rows in order to be more expressive with their writing: something I was also trying to do in Quartet.

The experimentation of using chance to determine the pitches and rhythms in my quartet produced something much more interesting: a sound I would not otherwise have acheived, but through a compositional process that was still my own.

Jason Dewey is a composer based in Birmingham: his suggested further listenings consist of John Zorn’s Spillane album, Björk and Andy Ingamells; he also pointed us towards the VlogBrothers

+ Rodzmatos - Intonations From Another Room

A sample is a fragment that can be joined by other fragments in search of a new sound experience.  As such it is the basic unit in a finite combinatory, which produces something novel, if not absolutely new.  What happens when the fragment is not connected to other fragments but rather is supposed to be explored in such a way that it itself is revealed to lack all unity?

The fragmentation of the fragment opens up a specific path—different from the idea that novelty or the new can be derived from the agglomeration of what already exists.  Or perhaps, more modestly, a path that leads us to question the most popular assumptions since the onset of postmodernism within the various explanatory paradigms of popular culture: the collapsing of high and low culture, the rejection of vanguardism (particularly the idea that it is the duty of an artist to conquer new realms and create new forms and genres), the rejection of technical mastery of an instrument in favor of a more open approach to sound production, and so on.  The unity of the fragment, then, comes to the fore as an effect.  Its unity is revealed as an arbitrary and secondary result of structuration. 

A cut, a second cut, a loop.  That is the method most commonly associated with the sample.  Of course it is not difficult to see that the method could be applied to the sample itself: that is, within the region defined by those two cuts.  It is possible to imagine that the power of the sample derives from the release of energy made possible by the clarification of structural outlines (it is hard to think of a more defined way of establishing that something is a structural unit: even if arbitrary, once those two cuts are made, a very precise definition of a structural building block has been determined).  But it is also possible to think that the undoing of that unity offers new possibilities for the release of energy of a different kind.  This is the energy that is released once the effect of structure begins to falter.  A structure has many functions, but a key aspect of structure, of a particular ordering of things, is the suppression of everything that calls that order into question, even to the point that it can be said that a structure has as a goal making itself felt not as a constructed and arbitrary formation, but as a natural and unobtrusive force that just is.  The most effective structures are those that do not call any attention to themselves, the ones that erase their own outlines so that it becomes harder and harder to question its coercive or limiting force.  (This is one of the reasons why the study of history can be such a revolutionary activity in certain social settings: it reveals that things were not always the same, and that they don’t have to be the way they are.)  Once it is possible to set aside the putative naturalness and ontological stability of an ordering principle, cracks begin to open up through which other possibilities begin to assert themselves.  These “others”—to use a term that allows us to understand to what extent, within the logic of a cracking structure, they feel as something uncanny, ghostly even, unreal and farfetched—come in ringing the death-knell of the stability that unity provided up to that point. 

I don’t think that it is an accident that one of the most popular programs used for music production in the era of the sample is called Logic.  That its coercive force (as a set of commands that make music, beautiful and shimmering and banal music, almost of their “own” accord) has begun to be questioned is only too obvious.  At the same time, it is only from within the resources available within the “logic” of the sample culture that its undoing and collapse will ensue.  The uncanny and ghostly “others” that enter the picture releasing their own unpredictable force are not apparitions from another world; they are simply the excess that was suppressed by that logic, in order that it could appear ontologically stable and not man-made in the first place. 

Can you hear them trying to burst through the stereo spectrum, moving from left to right, almost as if they wanted to shatter the speakers that reproduce them?  Can this be the sound of a new kind of folk-electronic-internationalist culture that looms in the horizon as one of many possible alternatives to the catastrophe that is our current globalized world?

For more on Rodzmatos, see, his release on Panda Fuzz, and the Interpretive Audio Composition Collective (IACC) group

+ Simon Kinch - QNT

We write our four-four pop and neo-classical concertos, with beats and barlines, cuts and syncs. The cassette tape medium just can’t keep up: writing and recording for it has an accuracy and finesse akin to trying to paint a still-life whilst sat on the fairground waltzes: it’s a roulette of where the tapehead will catch, on a magnetic lace marked with misplaced glitches and stretches.

But this is only a problem if you’re writing  music with accuracy. If you relax your control of this parameter (of specific entry points, of perfect timing), the clumsiness of recording-on-to or playing-off-of tape becomes irrelevant.

QNT is a quintet for string quartet plus one: a mic'ed-up tape player with a counter. The performer of the tape player can only judge how far to play, rewind and fast-forward the tape to approximately, meaning the rest of the quintet have to adjust to this level of inaccuracy. That the tape performer will seldom land at the same given point of tape at each entry adds an explicitly indeterminate element to any performance.

Because of these qualities, the notation used in QNT is specifically indeterminate and flexible: although guides are given, the cue to play any given note is not derived from counting or subdividing, but by listening to entries from the tape player or other string players. Pitches and dynamics are given, but the piece is shaped by approximation, and can only be as accurate as its least accurate performer: the performer with their fingers on the clunky buttons of the tape player.

Simon Kinch is a contemporary composer and graphic artist currently based in Seville. The stimulus behind CNCPTN magazine is derived from two classic serials: de Stijl magazine and the Tellus Tapes

+ Shelly Knotts - XYZ

XYZ (or Sonic Arm Wrestle) supports the notion of a democratic ensemble and the blurring of the boundaries between composer-performer-collaborator.

The piece consists of a text score denoting methods of interaction and medium of performance, however specifics of sound generation and large elements of structure are unspecified. The piece creates a situation where performers have to work together beyond the usual context of listening and improvising within a group to manipulate the sound by creating a constant flux between ‘fighting’ and ‘cooperating’ with other members of the ensemble. At times up to three players may be controlling different aspects of the same sound, and each player may be controlling a single element of up to three sounds with a single controller. The piece makes use of gestural motion-capture controllers to create a visual communication between performers and audience. Performers are asked to use large gestures when ‘fighting’ and small gestures when ‘cooperating’. XYZ is both a performance piece exploring the unique possibilities offered by a networked ensemble and a complex multiplayer instrument.

XYZ asks each performer to create a sound with 3 controllable parameters, X, Y and Z, and to map these parameters to a motion capture device e.g. iPhone / Wiimote / Kinect. The performers choose to control either their own sound or to fight to control sounds of other members of the ensemble. If a player decides to control an X, Y or Z parameter of another performer’s sound they must ‘win’ the right do so, by way of a sonic ‘fight’ (a period of time where both performers are controlling the same sound, thereby creating glitches as the parameter value fluctuates between two sets of controller values). Each player maintains control of the amplitude of their own sound for the duration of the piece.

Shelly Knotts, fluent in SuperCollider, is a member of BiLE and the SOUNDKitchen collective. For those who are laptop music fans, also check out Benoît and the Mandelbrots