Working generatively – some thoughts and questions…

So I’ve been thinking recently about drawing a distinction between a generative ruleset or process, and its eventual use in a working creative system. What it seems to me is that perhaps this curatorial, compositional process is sometimes not given enough credit – and that this process extends much further than one of ‘mapping’. Lately I’ve been asking myself some questions along these lines. Here are just a few of these:

– Can algorithms be neutral, that is, can they easily be transferred from one system to another?

– Are transferable, generalisable algorithms preferable in generative arts practice?

– What kinds of aesthetic decisions are made when one makes makes creative use of a generative process? Are there recognisable, common approaches?

– What can we learn about our art practices by looking at the process of translation between an algorithm and its instantiation in a working system?

– If a generative algorithm is tightly bound to an individual usage case, where does the algorithm end, and the artwork begin?

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Although I like the idea that employing a generative algorithm in a system might be seen as a curatorial act for the artist, at the same time, I think it is also much more than this – I think it is a bi-directional process of translation. For me, understanding how this process of translation twists and bends our creative practice towards the idiosyncratic is crucial to understanding the power of generative approaches. Perhaps viewing generative art this way means that we can take stock of what’s really driving the decisions we make when creating these systems using generative algorithms.

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Interpretation in human-machine improvisatory performance

Interactive music, musical meta-creation, electro-acoustic improvisation, human-machine performance… each of these labels refers to a type of performance that involves the improvised collaboration between humans and computer music systems. I have recently been fascinated by the contradictions that abound in this space. For me, placing an instrumentalist in a performative context alongside an autonomous or responsive software system raises significant questions about performative agency, as well as the notion of artistic authorship. This has led me to begin thinking about how the term musical ‘interpretation’ might apply to this context, in addition to improvisation, which is undoubtedly fundamental to this type of performance practice.

At first, speaking of musical interpretation might seem like somewhat of an anathema in the context of free or non-idiomatic improvisation. Of course, by definition in a freely improvised performance musicians develop a musical structure in real-time without the presence of an overarching compositional framework. The notion of interpretation as requiring something to interpret – that is, a pre-existing ‘work’ in the form of performance instructions typical of a musical score – does not exist in any traditional sense. However, despite the best efforts of programmers/system designers to seamlessly embed such systems into previously human-only musical performance, it may be argued that the introduction of autonomous systems into this performance scenario does challenge traditional understandings of improvised performance practice. As such, I believe the term interpretation warrants some attention here.

In the broadest sense, interpretation in performance might be defined as the process of making sense of the artistic ideas of one or more authors, and bringing them to life in the form of a real-time performance. Such an understanding of interpretive performance is of course common to all forms of the performing arts, including dance and its connection to choreographers, theatre and film’s playwrights and screenwriters, and finally to music and its composers. For music as for other art forms, integral to the notion of interpretation is the medium in which artistic ideas are transmitted outside of the performative context itself, what we might call the musical text. It is the interpreter’s job to make decisions about how to most successfully bring to life a composer’s ideas within the constraints communicated by their text. A composer might be fastidiously prescriptive by offering many detailed symbolic instructions for the performer to follow (as in the complex traditional notation of Brian Ferneyhough, or the tablature notation of Aaron Cassidy), or they might outline a framework that guides a performer’s interpretive decisions (“Draw a straight line and follow it” – La Monte Young; or “Make a sound in a middle place, in some respect, of the sounds around it” – Wolff).

Regardless of the medium through which a composer’s ideas are expressed, however, the contents of the musical text not only outline a composer’s musical instructions to be executed, they also embody and express context-specific assumptions about the role of the performer in bringing the work to life. To give a few examples, figured bass notation assumes a level of contextual understanding about harmony on the part of the performer; tablature notation directs the performer towards the execution of physical action before sounding result; graphic notation often relies heavily upon the more subjective interpretive faculties of musicians; and textual instructions like those of La Monte Young and Wolff focus upon providing performers with a musical and interactive framework with which to construct a musical happening. Despite their disparate manifestations, all of the above types of musical text articulate the desired boundaries of a musical performance, and imply various levels of musical and interactive freedom and constraint for the performer. These examples all involve some combination of explicit and implicit constraints upon the performer, and most of them act as a form of instruction. It is within these sets of explicit instructions and implicit boundaries that the musician is said to interpret a musical work.

So what is it that qualifies a musical performance as interpretive as opposed to it being completely improvised? And how might we understand the role of implicit musical constraints in the face of the more explicit requirements found in a set of instructions? The distinction between the concepts of instruction and constraint is an issue that dominates discussions surrounding the relative openness of musical texts, and therefore their ultimate interpretation by performing musicians. Understanding a musical text as a set of explicit instructions provided to performers, the term interpretation implies a balance between fidelity to these instructions, and the injection of significant performative and stylistic understandings of the composer’s intentions by the musician. In addition, the relationship between adhering to and interpreting instructions is often heavily dependent upon the stylistic norms of the musical period in which the work was written (as is often the case in the performance of ‘classical’ music). In this context, interpretation defines the process by which any gaps in communication between composer and performer are made sense of in light of accumulated cultural and stylistic norms. In this respect, the musical text (score) communicates the requirements of the work as articulated by the composer, whilst the musical and cultural context in which the work resides provides further constraints on any reasonable and/or correct interpretation of it.

It follows from this that the more unequivocal a text appears as a form of instruction, and the more significant the weight of cultural conventions associated with that text, the less interpretive flexibility is offered to the performer in creating their own personal ‘reading’. As more ambiguous forms of musical text, graphic scores are often provided to performers with no accompanying instructions or performance direction. Although such scores may not communicate explicit performance requirements of the work to the performer, given their identity as scores these objects still exist as forms of musical text to be interpreted. Graphic scores range from a set of symbolic instructions that leave levels of freedom within certain musical parameters, to objects of immense interpretive flexibility (such as in Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise, for example). In the latter case, the notion of interpretation rests upon the performer developing explicit rules and procedures in order to realise the musical work. Arrangements of graphic symbols such as those found in Treatise therefore become the catalyst for the creation of a personalised musical and sonic grammar in response to the text. Rather than acting as direct instructions, such scores provide a set of loose constraints that anchor a musician’s interpretive decisions; choices that are both guided by their own personal musical vocabulary, and the cultural and stylistic context of experimental musical performance.

Discussing the role of the score and of the composer in contemporary music-making, saxophonist Evan Parker posits that a musical score might be considered as either one of two contrasting types of text: in some cases as a representation of an ‘ideal’ performance, and in others as a ‘recipe for possible music-making’ (Bailey 1993, pp. 80-1). Speaking as an improviser, Parker’s opinion on the role of the composer and the prescriptive nature of some musical scores is articulated in his characterisation of the composer’s role as score-maker: ‘… if anyone in the production of a music event is dispensable, it is the score-maker, or the ‘composer’ as he is often called.’ (Bailey 1993, p. 81) Although the perspective articulated here is largely negative, Parker notes that the more musical scores resemble the ‘recipes’ he describes, the more there is a gap between the score as ‘ideal’ and any live performance of it. It is from within this gap that the real-time act of performance resides, leaving open for consideration further context-specific ‘ingredients’ of musical performance in addition to the instructions outlined by the composer. These may include the choice of specific musicians to perform the work, where the work will be played as well as how the audience might react.

Speaking of the difference between requirements and constraints in the context of musical performance, Bown has noted that performances of graphic scores may also include forms of extra-musical constraint that should be considered either directly curatorial, or at least requiring a form of interpretation by a group of musicians (Bown, pers. comm., 28 September 2014). Such constraints might include the decisions and wishes of a concert promoter (venue decision and therefore acoustics, performers asked to ‘keep it short’), discussions regarding musical/sonic materials between players, to the presence of ‘garish paintings’ hanging on the walls of the concert space. Such instructions and environmental constraints will of course require a form of interpretation on the part of the musicians that will directly or indirectly affect the resultant musical outcome of the performance. As Bown implies, such constraints often also apply to freely improvised music, no doubt affecting the way in which musicians interact with each other on stage, despite the lack of a unified performance framework as embodied in a score.

If such extra-musical constraints may act as objects of interpretation to a group of improvising musicians, might they therefore be considered as forming an interpretive framework on par with the ambiguous instructions of a graphic score in which musicians engage? My answer to this question rests upon an understanding of composition and curation as intentional activities of humans acting outside of the real-time context of musical performance. The framing of a performance context might be achieved through the existence of explicit requirements (notes on a score, imposition of formal boundaries etc.), but equally through placing musicians in a performance context that might constrain or alter their natural performance dynamic in some intentional way. However, the inherent collectivity and self-organisational properties of improvised music-making, free of intentional constraints on musical structure and materials, preclude it from being understood as an interpretive activity.

Because of a decided lack of musical text to be interpreted in this context, any extra-musical constraints that might influence an improvised performance should be considered part of the social and cultural context of improvised performance itself, and not intentionally imposed as objects of interpretation on an improvised performance. Musicians that engage in improvised performance bring with them their own personal histories of engagement with the practice, and although the boundaries and constraints may change from performance to performance, these form part of the context of improvised performance that has developed over time. This context both normalises and frames the performance activity itself. As such, although external constraints may be ‘interpreted’ by a group of improvising musicians – and may therefore affect the musical discourse – these constraints should be seen as manifestations of the context in which an improvisation takes place, and not part of a set of intentionally curated decisions in which the musicians must engage. The social and cultural context enables improvisatory music-making to occur, rather than directing it as such.

Of course, the most fundamental and defining constraint of improvised performance is the contribution of the individual performers to the musical outcome. From a freely improvised perspective, the most important ingredient of any performance is the ability for improvising musicians to be free to make their own decisions on how to affect the musical discourse, without having to defer to a set of instructions that might constrain these decisions. A form of musical activity that Parker has outlined as his ‘ideal music’, free improvisation therefore not only eschews the presence of a pre-defined musical text, it also places specific emphasis on the reliance upon the interpersonal relationships between like minded musicians improvising ‘freely in relation to the precise emotional, acoustic, psychological and other less tangible atmospheric conditions in effect at the time the music is played’. (Bailey 1993, p. 81)

So, acknowledging these specifics of improvised performance practice, what of the inclusion of autonomous systems to improvisatory practice? Can we assume that an improvised duo or ensemble performance would function in an identical way with the added presence of an autonomous musical system? To answer this question we must concern ourselves with the ontology of such systems, and the way in which musicians may perceive them in performance. With the ability to generate independent musical material as well as to adapt to their performance environments, it might not be so unusual to think of such systems as ‘virtual performers’ in their own right. In some respects, one might argue that the presence of such systems in performance, although synthetic, would not change the nature of the musical context given that a successfully cognate system would act in the same way as another musician. Successful systems of this type would therefore share authorship of a musical performance with their co-contributing human improvisers. From this perspective, the presence of such an autonomous machine might simply form part of any ‘less tangible atmospheric conditions’ Parker has referred to – its status as a machine contributor resting as a mere technicality in the context of freely improvised performance.

Contrary to this assumption however, it is my opinion that the introduction of such a system does alter the way in which the performance context is perceived, thereby changing the nature of the practice itself. The presence of a generative, responsive or autonomous musical system in performance brings into focus the relationship between system designer and any human musician engaged in this practice. It is my view that such types of human-machine performance take place as part of a unique form of socio-technical curation. The autonomous machine significantly affects improvisatory performance practice due its existence as a programmed entity. It is precisely because of the specific creation of a non-human actor (the software) to be engaged with in performance – a context traditionally reserved for human musicians – that the dual notions of interpretation and constraint in performance become relevant.

However, at issue when relating these concepts to improvisation-centred human-machine performance is the very notion of a ‘work’, the detachment of the developer/designer from the instantiation of the work in performance, and the lack of a perceivable musical text in either traditional or non-traditional terms. Questions we may ask therefore are where the work resides in human-machine performance, whether or not we can attribute the proposed musical framework (inclusive of the software) to a single author, and whether or not the software itself may be considered a musical text. Such questions lie at the heart of the concept of authorship in human-machine performance, problematising the notion of autonomy of both a software system and the human improviser in such scenarios.

Firstly, regardless of any manifestation of autonomy on the part of a musical system, one cannot discount the fact that such systems are designed by human actors – namely their programmers or system designers. Taking a broad look at the practice, it is first and foremost these actors that propose the musical scenario of human-machine performance to improvising musicians, either explicitly (via invitation) or implicitly (through software distribution). Regardless of how this proposition is made, in this context the system designer, acting as author, has proposed a musical framework to be navigated and explored in performance. The placement of one or more human improvisers in such a performance context should therefore be understood as a non-trivial act of curatorial authorship. The programmer is no longer simply the author of a piece of software, but is also partly responsible for the musical and interactive framework in which both human and machine engage. From this perspective, although a system may act in an unsupervised manner, the programmer shares authorship over the musical discourse through their software’s interactive behaviour, acting as a part of this curated performance framework.

Secondly, neither this broad curated framework nor any musical system itself exists in an aesthetic vacuum. Human actors developing such systems indelibly hold personal musical goals and preferences, many of which are subtly (and sometimes overtly) manifested in the behaviour of their systems in performance. Although our musical systems are often capable of surprising yet musically coherent results, their capabilities are inevitably understood as the results of the programmed decisions of some human author external to the present interaction. Whilst neither the programmer nor the machine may have made specific requirements of a musician’s performance, the programmed dynamics of such software systems will ultimately contribute to framing the musical and interactive boundaries of any human-machine improvisation.

Designer goals and preferences are also manifest in the manner in which improvising musicians are integrated into interactions with such software systems. In some cases, software behaviours and dynamics may have been explained to a musician prior to an interaction, whilst in others they may be left to the improviser to be discovered during performance. However, even if a musician is asked simply to ‘play normally’ as if improvising with another human, or advised not to try and provoke a direct response from the software, certain interactive preferences are revealed to the performer prior to an interaction. In the context of freely improvised musical performance, spontaneity and the ability to provoke and surprise are important elements of the performance practice. The choice not to reveal the underlying capabilities of an autonomous system can be seen as a manifestation of such an attitude to performance. As such, assumptions and expectations of both improvisation style, as well as a musician’s ability to act as if the machine is human are further revealed.

Another important factor in considering the nature of human-machine improvisation is the awareness and understanding of a machine’s capabilities. Just what abilities the machine has, whether directly responsive, analytical, generative or otherwise will no doubt affect a musician’s perception of their relationship to the machine in performance. In this respect, initially unfamiliar performance paradigms encountered as a result of human-machine performance context can be conceptualised as a form of material with which the human improviser brings their own musical self to bear. In addition, whereas human musicians conceivably approach an ensemble improvisatory context aware of the both the musical potential and cognitive faculties of their fellow human interlocutors, the same cannot reasonably be said of human-machine contexts.

In human-human improvisational contexts, although the possibility of encountering surprising musical materials and forms is always apparent, such materials are subconsciously rationalised and understood by musicians in terms of the skillset and abilities of their decidedly human counterparts. By contrast, any relationship that develops between a human and a computer system during performance might be characterised as one of navigation, exploration and discovery. The very programmed nature of a system’s interactive and sonic behaviour promotes a mode of interaction whereby the constraints of any given system are revealed during the act of performance. Programmed constraints, as experienced by the musician in performance, manifest themselves as both musical and interactive constraints on improvised performance. The more a musician spends time with such a system, the more such constraints are revealed. As such, these flexible and relational musical systems promote exploratory modes of interaction due to their inherent curiousness as programmed, interactive entities.

So does this mean that the software system itself becomes a type of musical text that the musician interprets? Although a musical text in the form of explicit requirements discussed previously might not exist, as we have seen, in communicating constraints upon a performance scenario and by embodying design decisions of human authors, these artefacts certainly contribute to the creation of an interpretive framework in which the musician engages. Even if one disregards some of the more obvious compositional decisions made by a system developer (such as parameter mapping, choice of sonic vocabulary etc.), we can also understand the choice of a particular generative algorithm as well as the type of audio analysis and feature extraction used in such software as aesthetically motivated. Although these decisions may seem fine-grained and technical in nature, they can reveal some of the context-specific assumptions of a system designer, and therefore further point towards the software system as providing constraints on performance.

It may therefore be argued that the development of the software itself is akin to the creation of a type of musical text not dissimilar from the graphic and open-scored works discussed previously. However, rather than embodied in an external graphical or textual representation, the constraints on a musician’s improvised performance with such machines are interactively instantiated through performance with the software itself. Certain modes of performance will ultimately reveal themselves as implicitly more ‘reasonable’ or ‘sensible’ than others, and may also have been communicated as such by the developer prior to an interaction. As such, imbedded in the software as text are the context-specific assumptions and expectations of a type of performance practice envisaged by the author of the software, as revealed by both the sonic and interactive constraints experienced in real-time by the human performer.

In such musical contexts, whilst the musician is certainly improvising with the machine, I would also argue that they are also working within a type of interpretive framework. Any musical performance with such systems may be seen as an instantiation of the combined musical ideas of the system developer, the musician navigating this space of ideas, and the interactively instantiated responses of a machine to the actions of both the performer and the overall musical environment. It is precisely because such systems are imbedded with these subjective attributes that performers in this context are necessarily engaging in a form of interpretation. Although their moment-to-moment performance may be freely improvised, the framing of the interactive context cannot suggest anything other than an interpretive framework. From this perspective, any consideration of a musical text must take into account the entire performance scenario.

The musical text is, in effect, the boundaries and constraints of such a human-machine musical interaction as influenced by the machine’s perceived capabilities. Navigating these possibilities in a truly interactive sense is the task laid out for the musician. Interpretation can therefore be characterised as the navigation a space of potential relationships between human and machine agency, a context envisaged and brought forward by a system developer to a live performance context.

Acknowledgements:

The thoughts above have been galvanised by some fruitful discussions with a number of fantastic musicians and researchers recently. Many thanks to Owen Green, Ollie Bown, Bill Hsu, Mark Summers, Aengus Martin, Arne Eigenfeldt and Pierre-Alexandre Tremblay for taking the time to discuss this topic.

References:

Bailey, D. 1993, Improvisation: Its Nature And Practice In Music, Paperback, Da Capo Press, Cambridge, MA.

Open for interpretation | François Roche’s architectural self-organisation got my brain going

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“I’ve heard about something that builds up only through multiple, heterogeneous and contradictory scenarios, something that rejects even the idea of a possible prediction about its form of growth or future typology. Something shapeless grafted onto existing tissue, something that needs no vanishing point to justify itself but instead welcomes a quivering existence immersed in a real-time vibratory state, here and now.” – François Roche – “I’ve heard about”

In 2012, I attended a lecture at UTS by French architect François Roche. It was fascinating. Here was architect tackling themes of emergence, self-generation, growth and decay both conceptually and practically. His philosophy of research as speculation was also fascinating, and something I’m only now fully coming to grips with. I took some notes at the time, and have only recently returned to them given my thoughts about symbiosis in performance. I was aided in making these connections by a brilliant app called Mohiomap, which allowed me to map hundreds of notes from my Evernote library into organic, typological graphs – showing connections in my writing I wasn’t aware of.

Roche’s talk focused upon his conception and use of organic processes in his practice, and how this can be harnessed within architecture. He spoke at length about the way in which tools for architecture need not be specified, and that the way in which we look at the way something is created needs to be taken from another angle. An example of this is rendering a movie of an envisaged biological/cyborg process creating a structure. The way in which the structure is created in the first place comes out of the way the process is defined. It is only after this that the means by which the thing can be constructed can be envisaged.

This is fascinating on a number of levels. Firstly the idea that one might ‘outsource’ the specifics of a design to an semi-unpredictable process, an algorithm, a biological model. Of course there are clear links here to evolutionary systems but also politically a rejection of top-down hierarchical structuring of elements. The process itself is defined, and the interacting of the individual elements is the thing that specifies the final design. He spoke of the need for architecture not to be thought of as something fixed, something as a finished and crystalised rendering of a pre-conceived idea, but (if I understand it correctly), as something that can be a particular snapshot of a process not completely known in advance. Taking this idea further are projects that are not snapshots, but constructions in a permanent state of change and completion. Architecture as something living, something definitively un-fixed. Designing environments that are an escape from the real world through metaphorical associations, but also ones that live and breathe with the environment in which they are placed, they become part of the environment itself. Things like this include his structure that grows through electromagnetism, collecting pollutants and allowing this inherent environmental factor to contribute to the overall design of the structure.

This process focuses upon the relationship between a structure that is fabricated in this way and the world in which it lives. However, the way the building/structure is perceived or experienced by the outside world is not something that he spoke much about at all. To me this is especially important given that we generally consider architecture as fixed, as something that structures and defines everyday existence in space. The fact that a structure might be built to be specifically affected by its environment turns this notion on its head. Despite the focus upon evolutionary typographies, and the distancing of control of the architect over the structure itself, there are still aesthetic questions here of course – there would most certainly be a set of desired attributes for such structures. The question then in this type of work is whether or not generally understood aesthetic criteria are irrelevant, or is loss of control and specification of a beautiful ‘process’ more important? I guess what I’m wondering then is where the interface lies between the human relationship with the environment. There are low-level models of biological activity that are creating these structures, these works of art in livable form, however the interface with human inhabitants/audience members/receivers, is this relevant?

This is where I’m beginning to make the link with musical generation of this kind, specifically in the context of musical performance and improvisation. Self-organisation in such processes are appealing in these contexts because the enable a different conception of what it means to present structures of many kinds – architectural, artistic, musical etc. In addition, the fact that such processes stem from our understanding of living systems provides a concrete link to those observing/interacting with the result of such processes. We recognise our collective selves, our social and biological nature reflected in the design and implementation of these cyborg constructions. My questions in the context of all of this work stem from higher up however. Whist appreciating the autonomous nature of such process, implicitly understood to be derived from the very same organisation as living systems such as ourselves, can we recognise us? Can I recognise me? In interfacing with a technological construction (art, architecture, performance etc) should be able to recognise me amongst the design? Is there a political statement being made in such types of work about the separation between collectivism and individualism?

If I zoom out a little I find that its all relative to context, and also to different levels of agency, interaction and causality. Take for example a building. The design of the skeletal structures can be informed by longer form collective interactions, things that are perceived on a low level – biological interaction between components, networks and the like. These things are models of evolutionary systems, or at least inspired by them. I understand them to represent processes that make up me, only through abstraction and scientific explanation. However, they cannot represent me as I perceive and know me, for practical and social reasons. A construction in space of the scale of a room or a building is a social space, to be perceived and experienced socially. It therefore makes sense that for a structure such as this represent or be inspired by ‘me’ as related to the world, as part of a collective universal me. Breaking me down into components that are universal requires a very low-level approach, a consideration of where the fundamental rules and logic of biology and social organisation comes from. Building a structure such as this reflects then – in the design process and perhaps also in the continual fabrication process (those structures that continue to mutate and change) – the interactions between low level components common to humanity, but also to life in general – to darwinian evolution.

I have lots of questions. My thought here then is that the concept of agency in both the design, generation and appreciation of such work is somewhat of a contradiction. Agency and autonomy as we conceive of them as intelligent beings are much richer than these low level, long-form associations between individual components. Autonomous and self-organising structures are of course fascinating and rich, over many iterations and longer forms, and these things are perfect for exploration and inclusion in social and environmental spaces. Does this mean however that in turning to such ways of generating and presenting work that there is also some kind of mistrust of individual will and intentionality? Or are we simply not willing (pun unintended) to engage with the generative genesis of such fundamental concepts that make us human – our notion of self identification? How can we as designers, artists, musicians and creatives reconcile the inevitable abstraction from biological models (those that exert real autonomy and self-organisation on a low-level), with our inherent understandings of human will and intentionality? Is it possible to acknowledge creative intentionality and at the same time distance ourselves from it? What does this mean for authorship and those who are perceiving the result of such processes? Is the conceptual space in which such approaches present themselves bound to be perennially open for interpretation?

Symbiosis in art and performance

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Painting Robots Orchestra – PRO021113 – Leonel Moura

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Mutualistic Relationships No.5 (Symbiosis State), 2013 – Amber Stucke

I’ve been thinking about the process of developing machines that themselves can make music. This whole concept of ‘metacreation‘ – of creating something that creates – and how it relates to our conceptions of creation, design and control over artistic output. The metaphor of ‘symbiosis’ has come to mind thinking about my _derivations system. For me adapting the concept of symbiosis (the biological process of mutualistic relationships in nature) to performance practice with _derivations is apt, because it acknowledges mutual influence as being at the core of an interaction, rather than striving for complete autonomy between man and machine.

Autonomy is a fascinating concept, and one that has so much potential for the development of generative and interactive music, but it only tells one part of the story where interaction is concerned. The idea that machine and a human performer might need each other to create is appeals to me far more, that such mutual dependence creates a unique environment for exploration and joint creation. I also think that symbiosis describes the process in a much more nuanced way than arguing the line between reactivity and interactivity would ever do in determining the responsive characteristics of a performance system. Autonomy of human and machine forms part of the equation, but acknowledging their mutual dependence also enables a way of understanding how one is entangled with the other in performance, thereby opening up ways of analysing such creative strategies from the perspective of system design and real-time performance.

Incidentally, doing some research of symbiosis and art it’s hard not to come across the work of Leonel Moura, artist and designer working with robotics and artificial intelligence. His conception of symbiosis in art is provocative yet appealing, if a little peripheral to the area of interactive performance. Creating machines as artists themselves that can autonomously create is an exciting practice that is happening right throughout the arts, and Moura has a beautiful yet resolute way of describing its potential in his ‘Symbitotic Art Manifesto’. My thought that follows this is how his ideas might intersect with the notion of interactivity. Can his appropriation of the concept of symbiosis be extended to real-time performance? How might we understand the process of creating something that not only creates something new, but also changes the notion of performative relationships throughout the act of creation?

“Symbiotic Art Manifesto:

1) Machines can make art
2) Man and machine can make symbiotic art
3) Symbiotic art is a new paradigm that opens up new ways for art
4) It involves totally relinquishing manufacture and the reign of the hand in art
5) It involves totally relinquishing personal expression and the centrality of the artist/human
6) It involves totally relinquishing any moralist or spiritual ambition, or any purpose of representation

[Making the Artists that make the Art]

Art as we know it is dead. This time it is definite and official.

Often declared during the last century though never actually achieved, the death of art is now a fact. Not just out of a mere wish or avant-garde rhetoric, but because the conditions for artistic production have changed brusquely. Suddenly, all of modern art has become ancient art. Because the idea of art as a product exclusively of human creativity has been finally abandoned, to adopt the notion that it is the direct output of non-human artists.

As usual, such a change of paradigm has only been possible through technological evolution. From the analysis of the parts we move on to the mechanics of complexity. By studying living organisms we are now in a position to realize life as it could be.

When robots ceased to merely simulate human behavior, such as walking, playing football or cracking jokes, to start being used to make art, something very radical happened. Robots that make art are not only questioning the idea of art or philosophy, they even cast doubts on our own condition as human beings. Why bother continuing to do something that machines can do better and more consistently? If art has no purpose, as all the modern and post-modern theories declare, then machines are the best creators.

Once having freed ourselves from making art we may now devote our efforts to generate a new type of artist born from the broth of protobiotics, robotics and artificial life. We can build the machines that will make art. This new artist/machine has no predetermined objective, nor aesthetics, morals or intent. He realizes the last of the “pure psychic automatism” as announced by Breton and partly developed by Pollock. Besides, there is no concern about individualism or identity. The action is collective and the World is apprehended as a common territory emerging from a stigmergic behavior.

From a philosophical standpoint the action is relational and the works that are generated are synthetic proposals issuing from the unraveling of collective experimentation. The life of the artist/machine is interlinked to the life of the artist/human.
When we cease to make art to start making artists, what do we become ourselves? We become symbiotic artists! Humans are no longer concerned about the direct production of objects, but dedicate all their knowledge and energy to create and cooperate with an imaginary, non-human life that is devoted to art-making.

In doing so, the symbiotic artist asserts that technology serves creativity and not the destructive military industry or mercantilism.
The role of the symbiotic artist from now on is to create non-human artists and to cooperate with them to produce art. This entails understanding the rudiments of non-anthropocentric life and creating the conditions for experimentation to take place. In other words, art as it could be. Art of the 21st Century.”

(Leonel Moura, Henrique Garcia Pereira, 2004)

BCF2000 | Ableton Live | Animoog

I’m writing this little configuration post as I had a lot of trouble getting the setup I wanted exactly right. It’s something that will help me retrace my steps, but hopefully might be of use to anyone using this controller with live and external synths (iPad included.)

Basically, I wanted to be able to use the BCF2000 to control live in Mackie Control Emulation Mode, as well as send MIDI through the BCF out to my iPad from the MIDI out of the BCF2000. Mackie emulation mode with the BCF is EXCELLENT in Ableton, especially if you’re using LC X View to view parameters. I’m also getting excited about using synths on the iPad since recently getting an iRig MIDI interface. The setup seemed simple enough, but there were a couple of small issues to take care of… not the least choosing different MIDI channels for synth and controller! (der).

Anyway, for what it’s worth, here’s how I now have my setup configured:

BCF2000:

MIDI Out A of BCF2000 connected to iRig MIDI In via iRig MIDI DIN to minijack cable.

Boot BCF2000 in Mackie Control for Cubase Mode (MC C) – hold the button below whilst powering the unit on.

Screen Shot 2013-10-21 at 2.38.06 PM

 

 

 

 

 

Once inside the Edit Global Mode, set the first V-Pot to U-4 USB and then press ‘Exit’ – this is explained in the BCF documentation

Ableton Live:

Set BCF2000 MIDI configuration in Live’s preferences. Set Track on MackieControl Output (BCF2000) to ON:

Screen Shot 2013-10-21 at 3.46.53 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On a new MIDI track, insert an External Instrument Device. Select the BCF2000 under MIDI To, and set the MIDI channel to Channel 2:

Screen Shot 2013-10-21 at 3.19.02 PM

 

 

 

 

 

Animoog (iPad):

In the Animoog choose iRig MIDI as Midi Input. Change Channel 2 for MIDI Input (NOT OMNI!!!):

Animoog

 

Finally connect the iPad’s audio out to two channels on your audio interface, and choose the Audio from channels in the External Instrument Device (in the above screenshot), and tweak hardware latency.

DONE.

a100ql guest blogger series

A few months back I was asked to contribute some thoughts about my work to the blog of computer musician and good friend from Switzerland, Tobias Reber.

The guest blog series has recently finished, and groups together 10 interesting and varied approaches to computer music composition and performance. Reading over some of the entries today I realise that there’s not that much blog style, casual writing around about these kinds of approaches around. Tobias’ initiative is fresh and unique, and hopefully will spark the interest of those interested in the role of technology in live performance today. I certainly learned a great deal from reading them!

The posts can be accessed here, and my post on _derivations can be read here

Recent _derivations input experiments

Below are a couple of recent experiments with different inputs to my interactive system _derivations:

Another test input to my interactive system _derivations. This time I hooked up my polyphonic sampler instrument to feed into the system – I’m improvising here with the sampler controlled by a MIDI keyboard…

This was a lot of fun to experiment with. Having only recently acquired NI’s Razor synthesiser and experimented with some sounds, I thought it would be interesting to have it controlled and processed generatively through some of the systems I’ve built in MaxMSP… ‘Multiple Players’ picks up where my short keyboard impro left off, generating improvised MIDI responses back to Razor derived from my performance, and _derivations analyses the audio output and recalls and transforms previously performed phrases… An interesting experiment I’m keen to try more of!!

_derivations – percussion input experiment

Having recently made numerous changes to my autonomous improvisation system _derivations, I thought it a good time to try some non-pitched sounds through it to see how it fared. This track is an experiment – just a little improvisation on a MIDI keyboard triggering a standard bank of percussion sounds, routed through the patch in real-time. So far I’m super happy with the results. Changes made to the phase vocoding and statistical matching of phrases are working just as well with complex/inharmonic sounds as they do with pitched sounds… Have a listen below:

_derivations with statistics

It’s been an interesting experience documenting different steps along the way as I refine, change and add elements to this interactive system of mine, _derivations.

This is an example of the most recent iteration of the system design. Without going into details, I’m running a pre-recorded saxophone improvisation through the patch as a simulation (the soundfile is a recording of the dry signal from a previous improvisation with the patch). I quite often run simulations through the patch for testing purposes, and although this is a very practical means of testing and evaluating the system response, the ‘interactivity’ is of course only one way, computer responding to performer with no feedback in the other direction.

My most recent preoccupations have been in the analysis and matching of live input gestures to those stored in memory. The idea is to enable the system to be somewhat aware of the current context of the performance when making choices about what to respond with – i.e. which stored phrase to send to the synthesis modules to be output with transformations.

I’m using some statistics on four descriptors (amp, pitch, brightness and noisiness) to do this matching – and although it is still rather crude and prone to some errors, it’s working a great deal better than randomly choosing phrases from memory.