digital harmony

playing along

These days, we musicians are left with a question: what is left?

practise muted violin on minor vi-ii-V-I

What is left when everything is audio? What can performance mean in this infinite, icy context? What can be the message from our fingers, our own digits, our own breath, when touch seems at best superfluous and at worst outright dangerous?

Even as the idea of performance changes radically – and I can see neither limit nor brake in the current trend away from former conventions – live performance will remain a crucial point of contact not only amongst people, but also between people and the tactile, living world.

musical questions and answers

The question even of a digitized message is not only how does it make you feel, but how does it ask you to respond? This second question makes us build music. Music is a thing which asks for a response in kind.

Here is an answer:

Autumn Leaves for violin and sine waves

To the following. question from the computer:

[‘0x6c0’, ‘0x6c0’,  ‘0x590’,  ‘0x590’,  ‘0x330’,  ‘0x330’,  ‘0x660’,  ‘0x660’,  ‘0x4d0’,  ‘0x4d0’,  ‘0xb2’,  ‘0xb2’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x6c0’,  ‘0x6c0’,  ‘0x590’,  ‘0x590’,  ‘0x330’,  ‘0x330’,  ‘0x660’,  ‘0x660’,  ‘0x4d0’,  ‘0x4d0’,  ‘0xb2’,  ‘0xb2’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x4d0’,  ‘0x4d0’,  ‘0xb2’,  ‘0xb2’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x6c0’,  ‘0x6c0’,  ‘0x590’,  ‘0x590’,  ‘0x330’,  ‘0x330’,  ‘0x660’,  ‘0x660’,  ‘0x4d0’,  ‘0x4d0’,  ‘0xb2’,  ‘0xb2’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x20b’,  ‘0xd80’,  ‘0x82c’,  ‘0x660’,  ‘0x660’,  ‘0xb2’,  ‘0xb2’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x6c0’,  ‘0x6c0’,  ‘0x590’,  ‘0x590’,  ‘0x330’,  ‘0x330’,  ‘0x660’,  ‘0x660’,  ‘0x4d0’,  ‘0x4d0’,  ‘0xb2’,  ‘0xb2’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x6c0’,  ‘0x6c0’,  ‘0x590’,  ‘0x590’,  ‘0x330’,  ‘0x330’,  ‘0x660’,  ‘0x660’,  ‘0x4d0’,  ‘0x4d0’,  ‘0xb2’,  ‘0xb2’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x4d0’,  ‘0x4d0’,  ‘0xb2’,  ‘0xb2’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x6c0’,  ‘0x6c0’,  ‘0x590’,  ‘0x590’,  ‘0x330’,  ‘0x330’,  ‘0x660’,  ‘0x660’,  ‘0x4d0’,  ‘0x4d0’,  ‘0xb2’,  ‘0xb2’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x20b’,  ‘0xd80’,  ‘0x82c’,  ‘0x660’,  ‘0x660’,  ‘0xb2’,  ‘0xb2’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x262’,  ‘0x262’] 

What I hope to be able to give with harmonypartition is not a technique for automation, but rather a language for prediction which allows multiple, flexible and complementary solutions. If we learn to play over chords, we will learn how to accommodate multiple voices, and we can play with each other, with infinite variety, in timbre, timing, register…

The computer can help with this, perhaps.

what is (or was) a concert?

Consider a concert, in the abstract. They were always call-and-response at their core, regardless of genre (wikipedia definition of call-and-response notwithstanding).

One group of people, identifiable as a ‘group’ by costume or location, would make sounds together in an identifiable way, while another group of people listens and watches. As the concert proceeded, the audience also makes sounds, usually of approval or encouragement. Sometimes this came as ‘applause’: handmade pink noise.

The computer sends echoes, but that is not sufficient: we need responses, not echoes. A response is not a right or wrong answer: a response is something which answers affirmatively that someone is indeed out there.

Simulation of a response is perhaps the only wrong answer to a musical question. Simulation… or absence, which are weirdly similar. to one another.

When we play with each other, live, we constantly respond, with infinite complexity. We applaud someone else’s music when we respond to it; we give it a history, a trajectory, a social meaning. We miss a part of it, we take a part of it; we transform it, we preserve it.

It is a miracle that it can be remembered at all, let alone taken further. It was all a memory, even when it happened.

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