Dr. Richard Boulanger’s Bohlen-Pierce Csound instruments played in Ableton Live with Enrico de Trizio’s Csound drag and drop Max Instrument. (via Piscoff’s twitter stream)
If something terrible happens between now and tomorrow’s deadline, such as my secondary computer spontaneously combusting, I’m happy to say that it won’t get me down. As I have finally completed a version for which I’m more than satisfied with.
That said, there are many still many little things I want to fix up. I’ll tidy it up this evening. Listen to it in the early morning. Send it off to Dr. B. And then go see Alice in Wonderland as my personal reward. (I actually have no interest in seeing it, but they’ll be previewing the new TRON Legacy trailer.)
My outline is complete. I just wish I had two weeks to refine it. Since I have only two days, this means less blogging and more coding. I will say this. Even though the last section is a duplicate of the first, it won’t be that way in the final product.
The piece is due this Friday, and of course, that means my computer had to die yesterday.
*shakes fist at deadline gremlins*
So I lost 5 hours of composing time. The good news is that I have a backup computer. It runs a bit slower, but I can move forward.
I appended another fragment to my outline. This section is inspired by two sources. The first is
Mozart’s Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. I’ve had this piece on my mind ever since playing the “Lost in Nightmares” expansion mission for Resident Evil 5. The second is Khachaturian’s Gayane Ballet Suite, though it’s influence is perhaps subtle.
Have you ever seen Connections? I’m about to make a few.
The Gayane Ballet Suite was used in the film 2001: a space odyssey. The author, Arthur C. Clarke, “was the first to propose geostationary communications satellites.” John Pierce, of the Bohlen-Pierce scale, “arrived at the (same) idea independently and may have been the first to discuss unmanned communications satellites. ” (source)
Also in 2001, we hear HAL sing the tune Daisy Bell as he is dying. The film’s director, Stanley Kubrick, was visiting with Pierce at Bell Labs to get a sense of what a telephone booth in space would look like. Pierce used this opportunity to show him the computer music program, which included a synthetic vocal arrangement of Daisy Bell by Max Mathews, the father of computer music. Here’s a video of Mathews telling the story; Dr. Richard Boulanger is also in it.
Stanley Kubrick passed away on March 7th of 1999. The first day of the Bohlen-Pierce conference starts on March 7th. I originally heard of Kubrick’s passing around the corner and down the street from where Monday night’s event takes place. I was at a gathering at Elaine Walker‘s apartment, who has been a composer of Bohlen-Pierce music for years, and is presenting both music and a lecture at the Symposium.
I wrote an event capture utility that writes events generated by a MIDI keyboard to a text file.
How to use it: Start fragment_10.csd, and play your MIDI keyboard. When you are done playing, press control-c, or whatever key combination stops the Csound process. This will have generated a file called fragments_10_captured.csd. Now run fragments_playback.csd.
It doesn’t work perfectly, as the amplitude envelope in the playback file is off. However, this utility fits my needs since I’ll be re-orchestrating the output for different instruments. Since I have a deadline, I’ll squash this bug later when I revisit this topic.
The program notes and biographies for the for the Bohlen-Pierce Symposium are now posted; Here’s mine.
I’m currently blocking out the structure of the piece, and would like to take a moment to discuss what’s bouncing around the confines of my skull. From the program notes:
“This direction emulates the way in which a hacker approaches the challenge of dissecting a piece of software or electronic device.”
“There’s always a rhythm to the space between things. Pause, hold the thought, check the moment. Repeat. Wait. There it goes again. Another thought, another pause in the stream of conscious in another abstraction–the reader, the listener. Speak these words out loud, and the same logic applies–there’s always a rhythm to the space between things.” – Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky, That Subliminal Kid), Sound Unbound
I believe there is a rhythm to computer code. The way it reads, the way the computer reads it, the way logical expressions are grouped, how it functions as a whole, how data is pumped in one side, translated, and then poured out the other side, etc.
Since I’ve adopted a hacker-like approach to the Bohlen-Pierce scale, I felt compelled to translate elements of coding into aspects of the composition. Each line of code is a statement. A grouping of related code is a statement. Each feeds off and into other statements. And there is a rhythm to be found in between all of them.
The title Fragments also implies multiple things. I have a collection of various musical statements and processes. I’m trying to figure out how to hack these individual ideas into single functioning work. I want the listener to be able to hear each fragment individually, while hearing them together as a functioning unit. This idea is a lot like code. Any single function or subroutine can be analyzed individually, ignorant of everything else. Though this same subroutine is still part of a larger functioning unit, the program. Am I making any sense?
What this all boils down to is that I want the piece to be perceived as discrete, yet having a natural flowing rhythm to it. This is what I’m trying to achieve. I’m now trying to establish that rhythm. I’m about half way through. And when I’m done, that’s when real fun starts.
Since discovering my opening statement, I’ve been itching to place it within a musical context. I developed a rough outline of what the first minute of the piece may sound like, ending with a possible transition into the second part of the composition.
There is a lot of space in there, which will give me a lot of head room when I go back to this section to flesh it out and polish it up. Especially with spatial elements, like panning, reverbs and echos.
I need to bring up something else. Turns out that the chn opcodes are broken on some platforms, which is preventing people from not being able to render these csd files. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to go back and convert my effects routing to zak or similar system. So in the mean time, if you aren’t on OS X, you won’t be able render the csds. However, I’m told that the bug has been fixed in CVS, so these files should work in the next release of Csound. Sorry for the inconvenience.
I have discovered my opening statement; a simple melody that will be the musical foundation for the rest of the piece.
What this piece needs is a simple motif. Simple, but capable of making a strong impression from the get-go. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? After all, the concept of “the hook” is straight out of music writing 101.
Since most people have little to no experience with Bohlen-Pierce, myself included, the music can sound alien. A strong recurring motif that is established in the first few seconds of the piece may give the audience a sense of familiarity by the end, as opposed to a series of seemingly random frequencies.
Over the last few days, I’ve been spending my time in front of my MIDI keyboard, trying various phrases and chords, and listening to the results while letting the tonality of Bohlen-Pierce sink in. I had been flirting with the just intonation. I’m now of the mind to go with equal temperament. With just intonation, I had a tendency of writing melodies that were akin to badly tuned 12-tone music.
Here is the Bohlen-Pierce tuned MIDI synth I’ve been using for the last couple of days:
I’ve split the keyboard into two voices, where c-3 and c-5 are two octaves apart. There is a split somewhere in the middle.
If you took a bunch of random magazine clippings, created a disorderly stack, topped it with a rotten banana peel, and stapled it all slightly off center, you might get something that sounds like this:
This is just a sound test to see how all of these fragments so far fit together. As you can hear, I have my work cut out for me. Starting right now, I need to focus on motives, melodies, chord progressions, gestures, smarter note generators, etc. You know, the music.
This means putting off the granular synthesizer instrument. Time is of essence, and if I’m going to make a trade off, I’d rather put emphasis on the harmony of Bohlen-Pierce rather than designing another synth. I’m not saying the granular instrument won’t happen, because I’m actually quite confident I’ll have to the time to do it, and do it right. I just don’t want to find myself in a position where I’ve poured hours and hours into all these instruments, and not end up with a decent piece for the concert. It’s very easy to get caught up in all the technical stuff when composing a piece of computer music. Something I’m personally very guilty of.