anonymous obvious

Programme Note

anonymous obvious (aka several instrumental structures to annoy ludi) is based around a prototype of an instrumental composition algorithm (called slippery chicken) that I am in the process of developing. Using instrumental samples, the algorithm generated short musical structures (and will generate longer ones); complete little pieces even, that are surprisingly convincing and somehow musically logical. They are, however, also rather anonymous, that is, to me they sound like a generic form of contemporary classical music that lack my own musical characteristics. Hence the "anonymous" part of the title. Hence the algorithm is still under development.

The "obvious" part is the deliberate and prominent use of rather hackneyed musical devices, such as fade-in and fade-out, in combination with generically beautiful electronic sounds (actually processed vibraphone and marimba in this case). Beginning after about two minutes, the obvious and foreseeable structure fulfills its natural tendency to become very loud but then surprises (I hope) in simply staying at this extreme volume and thwarting its small, beautiful beginnings with its transformation into a very weighty and rather threatening adult sound form. The idea then is to make something interesting out of what was initially obvious.

Arriving at the subtitle, I must first explain that anonymous obvious was created during the summer of 2000 whilst I was in residence at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, Germany, as made possible by an artist's stipend from the ZKM | Institute für Musik and Akustik, director Johannes Goebel (thanks go to him and his excellent staff for his/their support). The composer Ludger Brümmer (ludi) was also at work there and, being old friends, we had many conversations, some of which were even about music, in particular the sorry state of electroacoustic (tape) music within the already marginalised field of contemporary classical music. Disappointment was expressed over the domination of this field by mainly instrumental composers, leaving little room for the specialists and therefore the development of structural paradigms of a purely electroacoustic nature. And there was I, one of the supposed specialists, working on instrumental composition algorithms that I was then using in a tape piece. True to my nature, I decided to flaunt this fact rather than hide it, much to Ludi's chagrin. So much for the subtitle.

In my defence I must say that these obviously and self-consciously instrumental structures represent what may be called ideal, or even impossible ensembles, and that is what makes them so appealing to me. They are ideal in that every sound, no matter how quiet (the tremolo bowing of a violin tailpiece for instance) or loud (a cymbal crash) is heard in perfect consort, something that would be impossible when performed live, despite the closest attention paid to discrete amplification. These structures are also not alone, as many of the sounds are more purely electroacoustic in their nature: granulated, splintered, transposed, filtered, delayed, hurried, deep-fried, burned sounds from samples of many and varying types, from the purely instrumental (bass and contrabass clarinet, violin, horn, prepared piano, various percussion instruments) to the purely ambient (café noise, a catholic mass, mountain air...)

As with all of my pieces which involve computer processed sound, the transformations were carried out using signal processing algorithms developed by myself using the Common Lisp Music (CLM) software by Bill Schottstaedt of CCRMA, Stanford University. The hundreds of sounds created by the automatic and non-automatic processes alike were sorted, ordered, described and stored in an SQL database that I developed for this purpose, and which was then queried according to various structural criteria to produce a track list for the mixing program (ProTools LE). All was accomplished on Macintosh G3 and G4 and Windows computers.