Among the through lines connecting the elements of what may seem to be an inexplicably diverse landscape of intentions in my music, metaphors associated with resonant emergence ring again and again. Investigations into resonances enabling palpable substance to exist in the universe, resonant reinforcement of behaviors within and among complex societies, and subtle resonant tracings of thinking, knowing, and believing permeate the propositional models of my compositional practice. Yet deep inside these phenomena reside fundamental, natural uncertainties hugging all borders presumed to differentiate one thing from another. Inspiring, unpredictably deviant, spontaneous resonances often balloon and flower there. Viewed with venturesome openness, these departures from what is presumed to be knowable can fuel joyfully creative discoveries and potentialities for newness and rebirth.
The works contained in this album traverse broad musical territories, to be sure. Yet, all can be knit together with the yarn of this thinking. They are examples of what I call propositional music, an approach to composing that admits building proposed models of worlds, universes, evolution, brains, consciousness, or whole domains of thought and life, and then proceeding to make dynamical musical embodiments that invite us to experience and explore them in spontaneously emerging, sonic forms. Key to this is maintaining openness to co-communicative emergence among composers, performers, interactive and adaptive instruments, systems of memories and histories, and perhaps most importantly, actively imaginative, creative listeners. Listeners are encouraged to be co-creators, who can regard listening as co-composing and as active participation in manifesting shared musical universes.
Portable Gold and Philosophers’ Stones (Deviant Resonances) (1972 & 2015)
In large measure, this piece is about listening as performance. To materialize that idea, specific features that can be sensed and analyzed in electrical signals emanating from the brains of two active imaginative, listening performers are linked to procedures for generating an electronic sound tapestry. A third performer calibrates a computer system to best follow varying degrees of coherence among particular smooth waves found in the listening performers’ EEGs, which can be associated with various states of consciousness, and which they can learn to control. In addition, the system detects both individual and synchronous changes in the EEGs that are typically associated with how the listeners’ attention may be shifting among features in the sonic landscape. The analysis and synthesis system adapts and responds to these features in specific ways. The performers listen creatively, noting their abilities to influence the sounds. The computer-electronics performer also interacts with them musically. A pre-composed architecture provides an array of available sound elements and guides the performance in time from initial simplicity to growing complexity, as sound elements are delineated through the counterpoint of listening. Then, after a period of improvisation, the system is eventually guided back to simplicity again.
This is the third and newest realization of Portable Gold and Philosophers’ Stones, first created in 1972. This one pays particular attention to goings on inside margins of uncertainty near the boundaries of differentiation that might be associated with recognizable, resonant elements. It also explores how unpredictable transient events may either reinforce or disturb emerging orders among resonant patterns. All this exploration is carried out within the framework of how we might fuse brainwave patterns and musical forms. In the context of performances like this one, our intentions are artistic and inclusive, melding products of scientific investigation and technology with aesthetic inquiries and speculations about the nature of human awareness and our ability to describe what we perceive as self and universe.
In addition to its alchemical references, the Philosopher’s Stone is also a mantric symbol related to prima materia, a mental image of original substance and ultimate principle of the universe. It has been said that by returning from the qualities of sensation and thought perceived through differentiation and specialization to the undifferentiated purity of prima materia, we might learn truths about creative power and the fundamental mutability of all phenomena. Adding the words Portable Gold was my way of emphasizing the timelessness and spacelessness of this idea.
This music emerged during a period of rich collaborations with composer-performer and South Indian mrdangam virtuoso Trichy Sankaran. The Sanskrit term layagnānam roughly translates as knowledge of time or perfect sense of time, and our intention was to make an extended instrument with which we could explore temporal resonances among musical variations in successive cycles of time. A compositional algorithm was developed that could follow degrees of variation in successive cycles of rhythmic gestures improvised on the mrdangam. In this way, an electronic accompaniment could respond to the form of what was being played as well as to individual sounds. The electronic sounds were all derived from recorded samples of several basic drum strokes that are part of the language of mrdangam playing. The samples were then transformed with computer music software to produce four degrees of increasingly extreme sonic variations for each one. In performance, each time Sankaran played a rhythmic gesture or cycle, the software would respond with its own variation during the next cycle. A real-time statistical procedure was used to rate how similar or dissimilar the successive rhythmic phrases he played were to each other. This rating then provided a scale from which the relative complexity of the algorithmic responses and the degree of acoustic variation applied to the sampled drum strokes could be determined, again in real time. In this way, Sankaran could influence the accompaniment to follow him closely by playing simply or push it into more complex territory by varying his own patterns more radically. A rare sample of this musical process was captured during a concert at Merkin Concert Hall in New York in 1990 and is offered in this track.
The Right Measure of Opposites (1998 & 2018)
The Right Measure of Opposites originated as a movement in a twelve-part, concert-length work for piano written in 1998 called Bell Solaris (Twelve Movements for Piano) Transformations of a Theme. The scored materials resulted from ideas about transformation, especially as found in both mythology and systems of evolution. The musical DNA for this evolution—expressed in the contours of melody, rhythm, timbre, and dynamics—was made to evolve through both adjacent and contingent possibilities with the aid of compositional algorithms. For this updated version, in which the Yamaha Disklavier™ is linked to a computer, the means of transformation are extended further with real-time analysis and synthesis algorithms, and the interpretation of the score is opened to enable interacting with them. The compositional model then becomes an instrument. As a result, continuously transforming musical shapes intertwine in a system of counterpoint linking them up and down a holarchy of forms, from the tiny details of individual sounds to the larger contours of the complete composition. In this version, a brief motif returns again and again, always with a new transformation of itself, in a kind of rondo form. The score for The Right Measure . . . presents long and short notes set in an underlying 3-beat time feeling with the tempo indication, “Very fast moving and disjunct.” Further suggestions to the performer appear at various places in the score: “Moisture-water,” “Chaos—fire,” “Warmth,” “Like the age of childhood,” “Emergence,” and at the end, “Formula for creation—the combination of the right measure of opposites.”
Earth Encomium with Nothingness is Unstable (2017)
Nothingness usually collapses into something-ness—the phenomenal particularities of experience. Musical particularities—musics of many nows, containing fine structures with created pasts and futures, also spring from initially undefined singularities of experience into multiple dimensions of mutual interactivity. This immersive musical wrapping is dedicated to our stressed planet.
Two compositions are combined here in an integrated form. They are linked together with a system of harmonic orbits. These orbits can be heard in ever-descending spirals within spirals that create multi-dimensional harmonic loops. Perhaps mixed feelings of homage, pathos, and inevitability somehow reside inside these descending loops. In Earth Encomium, the loops are interpreted in a solo for piano and electronics. The piano’s raw acoustic sound is parsed into specific spectral elements, which in turn ring a bank of complex digital resonators that are also tuned to harmonic orbits. In Nothingness is Unstable, delicate natural sounds collected in field recordings made in Indonesia and the United States activate the same banks of complex digital resonator circuits. Eventually, more intertwining harmonic orbits are blended in with the Disklavier™, which plays chords exceeding what can be performed with two human hands. This music was commissioned by Harvestworks Digital Media Arts Center to be presented with the unique Geluso 3D sound distribution object on the 2017 New York Electronic Arts Festival at ISSUE Project Room in Brooklyn.
Music for Unstable Circuits (+ Piano) (1968 & 2018)
This piece resulted from studying the complex behavior of unstable systems, which I believed could reveal powerful paradigms for musical creation and instrument design. I also felt that the seemingly endless quest for ultimate stability in electronic instruments, such as the “ultra-stable” analog oscillator, was somehow not consistent with the way of nature. Today we have the tools of dynamical systems theory with which to investigate such natural phenomena. We can now describe the behavior of these circuits in the language of non-linear dynamics, chaotic attractors, and resonant emergence. I still believe this to be fertile material with which to pursue an understanding of relationships between complexity and regularity in all domains of observing and thinking. The unstable circuits in this version were realized by wiring together a few Buchla 200 Series analog modules in an unusual self-organizing patch. The (+ Piano) part refers to how the piano is used to embellish and perturb the system with acoustic injections. Performing actions in this piece include creatively nudging this extended instrument into and out of stable and unstable behaviors.
The Experiment (from Hopscotch—mobile opera for 24 cars) (2015)
The Experiment was commissioned as a scene for a non-linear mobile opera, in which multiple contributors generated the final content. Individual scenes in Hopscotch took place inside one of 24 limousines, which drove audience members from one predetermined location in Los Angeles to another. In this scene, as audience members entered their limo, they heard spoken and sung explanations of what they were about to experience, while individual brainwave monitors were affixed to their heads.
One of the opera’s principle characters, Jamison, pursues an obsession with understanding the nature of consciousness by singing 11 questions to the audience that progress in nature from seemingly innocent inquiries to somewhat more confrontational probing. Concurrent patterns among the brain signals of the audience members are then detected with signal analysis techniques and used to gauge their collective responses to each question. The results are translated into an immersive mix of soprano voices singing three possible answers for each question with different musical qualities representing: 1) an agitated state, 2) shifting attention or alertness, and 3) being focused on one’s inner self and disinterested. These were presumed to come from the inner group psyche of the audience. In the end, instead of finding the answers he seeks, Jamison snaps.
Hopscotch was produced in Los Angeles in 2015 by The Industry, conceived and directed by Yuval Sharon. Subsequently, I made a concert version of The Experiment and recorded it for this compilation.
Four Lines (String Quartet) (2001)
In part, Four Lines is about exploring the meaning of stability and instability in strict and open forms. It is also about doubling. The players perform a written score in which each note corresponds to the initiation of an electronic sound. They try to match these initiation points, even though perfect synchrony is nearly impossible. The players may also choose to apply various articulations and modulations of the written notes in counterpoint with what they hear in the corresponding electronic sounds. Finally, their instruments are extended by means of granular frequency shifting processes tuned uniquely for each one. The players listen for meaningful coincidences and overlapping resonances. Fascinating and often unexpected musical details emerge, then, from superimposing multiple interpretations of common musical materials.
The electronic sounds in Four Lines came from a very particular process. They were produced with a biofeedback system I developed first in the 1970s and refined in the 1990s that measures auditory event related potentials (AERPs). These are transient impulses contained in brainwaves, the components of which follow the activation of parts of the brain engaged in processing information related to specific, singular, auditory events. In this case, the focus is on significant changes in sound patterns or textures. The system begins by producing sounds with stochastic (probabilistic) methods. It then employs a simple model of sound perception to make predictions about what kinds of sound changes, and when they occur in a particular context, are likely to be associated with shifts of attention in the listener. AERPs are then analyzed to confirm or deny these predictions. With confirmation, the probability is increased that the kinds of sound changes associated with these events will occur again. With denial, the same probability is decreased, and the sound forms are then made to evolve or mutate. The result is a self-organizing system from which an enormously varied landscape of musical forms can emerge. I have used it for many experiments and musical compositions. It has been described as an attention dependent sonic environment. By interacting with internal mechanisms associated with attention, one can both participate volitionally in directing the evolution of the sound forms or chose to simply be a part of this self-organizing process of attention mapping without volitional effort.
During certain sessions in which I performed with the system myself, I became fascinated with some particularly striking, though not necessarily comprehensible, temporal qualities that were arising in the musical lines. The contours of changes in pitch, timbre, and dynamics exhibited an inspiring juxtaposition of continuity and extremes outlining the time maps of these AERP events. As a way of investigating them more, I recorded two such lines and translated the events initiating the synthesis of electronic sounds into pitch and dynamic approximations in standard musical notation. The precise, relative placement of these events on a timeline was retained. When superimposed, the original two lines became four, and the notation was arranged for several different combinations of instruments, here for string quartet.
The form of Four Lines is not teleological. It explores curious temporal manifestations, but in the form of a time-like canvas. Consequently, listening strategies are best focused on the sonic tableau, a time-space landscape to scan. The result is as much determined by creative listening as it is by the composer and performers.
— David Rosenboom / October 2018
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Ravello Records is the contemporary classical label imprint of audio production house PARMA Recordings. Dedicated to highlighting forward thinking composers and musicians from around the world, the New England-based label's eclectic catalog offers listeners a cross-section of today's up-and-coming innovators in orchestral, chamber, and experimental music.
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