Performance Notes: Imagining A Perfect Musical System


I imagine a perfect musical system would begin by asking me questions.

What are you feeling today?
What is on your mind?
Where do you want to go?
How do you want to be?

Then the system would generate a series of sound sets based on my mood and my imagination. These sound sets would draw on all the work I had ever done, plus other sounds I might be interested in. It could be a set of soft sounds like pads, or crystalline bell tones halfway between a wine glass and an organ. Or it could be a set of angular wooden percussion sounds. Or voices. Or chord kits. Or sounds so synthetic they sound hyperreal. Surprise me!

Another stage in the interaction would have the musical system ask me to improvise around an idea—say an image presented to me based on today’s mood. I would improvise around this idea, tentatively at first, then with more gusto-abandon, until I had played continuously for say, ten minutes—long enough to hopefully stumble upon some interesting trajectories across the musical terrain. The musical system would then guide me back to a few promising sections of my improvisation in which I had played melodic figures and chords that suggested a new moment, an altered state, a deeper consciousness—something that makes you take notice. These sections would then be offered to me as springboards for further elaboration through counterpoint, sampling, sound design, or some other manipulation.

Alternately, the system could also spin out variations of its own on these moments of inspired improvisation that I could then fold back into the new piece. In other words, the system would spot my moments of inspiration and in turn become inspired, improvising on me to push us further along. This symbiosis would circle around and around in an intensifying feedback circuit, until a novel music emerged from the encounter like a fireproof bird soaring out from flames. How did that happen?

But here’s the thing: while I believe in all of these ideas and understand they sound like an AI imagining, I don’t want my computer to do the work. No, I want to do it all myself because the fun and challenge of art-making is figuring out how intuitive and rational thinking can get along.

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