A Composition Machine
In order to construct a composition machine, the typical composer has to let go of his/her hold on conventional compositional ‘ideals’. One obvious change is the aspect of organisation. Whereas a composer would normally follow one specific structuring of the musical content to create a whole, s/he now has to shift her attention to the smaller structural elements of the work to compare it to the machine. The smaller units of a conventional work serve the composition in a ‘linear’ way, but with the composition machine the small parts are repurposed, each balancing a complex relationship of aesthetics and ability to sustain creativity and improvisation. The similarities between the big structure (the potential composition) and small structure is probably more prominent in this environment. The composition – which exists even less here – becomes a speculative artifact (a work that does not yet exist), an abstract result of possible combinations of musical phrases and sound sections, identifiable by their ability to connect; to be joined together. When considering what the machine is designed to do, it is probably more correct to call it the aesthetics machine – if not the improvisation machine – with its purpose to realise the actions and choices of the listener/performer. The listener/performer’s choices, firstly guided by personal taste, will also – with further acquired knowledge of the system – be steered by the recognisability of sounds within other sounds and subtle aspects of similarity among tracks.
This machine and its handling could be compared to a three dimensional musical score open to be ‘performed’ by the listener/performer. And this, when explored deeply, will reveal a bias towards certain musical ideas (and therefore outcomes), which in turn could result in a smoother stringing together of musical figures/sounds to form a cohesive narrative. Some tracks, if played from the beginning without interfering, can already exist as watered down compositions, others only form skeletons to be filled up or dismantled further into pieces to be played along with other tracks. Some tracks are less coherent and only function as storage for different sound samples/figures to be implemented with other tracks. One example of a track clearly functioning as a structure for an incomplete composition is the flute track, Track 9 (last track). It is ‘homogenous’ in its flute activity, delineating silent sections of varying lengths. These silences petition for the engagement with other sound units/samples or maybe not, or interact through the manipulation of their durations by jumping ahead.
The interface of the composition machine consists of 9 playback audio tracks organised in a specific way to foster friendly, experimental interaction. Tracks are populated with self-contained musical units/section/samples varying from 2 seconds to 1 minute 25 seconds of activity. These units are the ‘prescribed’ musical blocks always starting with silence and ending in silence. This makes for a glitch-less implementation of the latter without electronic clicks, which happens if a sound file is played back from anywhere within the sound. Sound sections mostly start on multiples of 10, a useful tip when the starting points of sound units are not yet familiar to the listener/performer, but listening through individual tracks are definitely recommended. A silent section (never shorter than 2,5 seconds) always precede the beginnings of a new sound units/samples to mark these musical sections more clearly. In simplistic terms, mastering the machine lies in memorising the identities of sounds and the starting times of sound units/samples.
It is important to note that tracks are categorised in pairs according to their amount of sound units/samples, for example 3 Units – Track B (B Tracks frequently function as ‘storage tracks’ for samples, while A tracks demonstrate a more ‘musical’ structure). As mentioned, the former starts on multiples of 10 (seconds), but not necessarily on consecutive ones; allow the length of a track to be the guide. Similar musical textures, tone colours, pitches, delay effects, glissandi, ‘melodies’ and rhythms are repeated, sometimes varied, across tracks. This could support a more linear approach to the compositional/improvisational process, rather than relying on the layering of units/sounds. The volume control of each track allows for another layer of manipulation.
To know the playbacks, to know how [similar] sounds are dispersed over the system, will elevate the subjective aesthetic and make the compositional outcome more personal. It can enhance the experience of the machine from the perspective of a performer as bystander, to experiencing it as being a part of it, recalling an interaction comparative to that of playing a type of musical instrument.