r _Web.log

tag: composition

Windows Startup Sounds (slowed 4000%)

It is twenty years since the birth of Windows 95, released to the world on August 24, 1995. With the widening availability of SoundBlaster sound cards in the mid-90s, the sonic experience of the operating system became a key issue for the first time. Microsoft acknowledged this fact by commissioning Brian Eno to compose a short signature sound for Windows 95. Latterly known as "The Microsoft Sound", the brief was to evoke a utopian sense of optimism and futurism, chiming with Microsoft's vision of Windows 95 as the OS of the future. Eno describes the experience as "like making a tiny little jewel".

In homage, I've made a series of extended edits that hold a microscope up to these jewel-like sounds. Six Windows startup tones, from 95 to Vista, are slowed to 4000% of their original speed, transforming each into an ambient piece of several minutes' duration, and amplifying the internal structures of these iconic, dream-like sounds.

Read more about the sound designers responsible for creating these startup sounds courtesy of Create Digital Music.

The Extended Composer

I have recently contributed a chapter to a Springer textbook on Computers and Creativity. Edited by Jon McCormack and Mark d'Inverno, it's a great collection of essays which emerged from a Dagstuhl seminar on computational creativity and the surrounding issues: can algorithmic systems be said to be creative? What systems can we use to evaluate creative practice - or is a "fitness function" even possible for aesthetic values? How are computing and simulation altering our philosophies of creativity?

My contribution, co-authored with Mark d'Inverno and Andrew R. Brown, sidesteps ideas of autonomous creative systems to instead focus on how we can extend our own innate creative practice using generative algorithms, particularly in the domain of music making. It attempts to delineate several ways in which we can use algorithmic tools to alter or reroute innate creativity - by suggesting new routes, enforcing constraints, or imposing new aesthetic directions.

The chapter builds extensively on Clark and Chalmers' concept of the Extended Mind, which proposes that cognitive processes can take place outside of our physical brains; for example, when we are writing notes to remember later, or shuffling tiles on a Scrabble board to jog ideas of words to play.

In homage to Clark and Chalmers, it is titled The Extended Composer.

This chapter focuses on interactive tools for musical composition which, through computational means, have some degree of autonomy in the creative process. This can engender two distinct benefits: extending our practice through new capabilities or trajectories, and reflecting our existing behaviour, thereby disrupting habits or tropes that are acquired over time. We examine these human-computer partnerships from a number of perspectives, providing a series of taxonomies based on a systems behavioural properties, and discuss the benefits and risks that such creative interactions can provoke.

It's sadly an expensive publication and only viable to most through a University library subscription.

For general readers, available here is a pre-print PDF of the The Extended Composer. Please note that this document is intended for research purposes only.

Variable 4

In an abominable act of oversight, one of the major projects keeping me occupied in 2010 has yet to receive an official announcement here. So, I'm belatedly pleased to herald Variable 4, an environmental installation taking place on the other-worldly shingle plains of Dungeness in May 2010.

In partnership with James Bulley, and with kind support from the PRSF and Campbell Scientific, we're building a system which will be embedded into the desolate landscape and equipped with an array of meteorological sensors. Using algorithmic compositional techniques, it will then respond sonically to the real-time weather conditions, transforming and recombining a bank of precomposed movements and recordings via a multi-channel all-weather soundsystem.

It is taking place over a single 24-hour period, from noon till noon on 22-23 May, and so encompasses one complete daily cycle of solar and environmental conditions. For those not living in the Romney Marsh area, there will be a couple of coaches operating from London - booking info coming soon.

It's been a bit of a baptism of fire as far as project administration goes; who'd have thought that licensing and insurance concerns could occupy so much time? Current top of the anxiety checklist is ensuring that local fisherman aren't somehow entangled in wiring as they begin their 3am working days. Anyhow, we're finally well into the composition phase - leveraging Max For Live and the endless generative musical possibilities that it offers.

We'll be documenting the compositional and technical development on the Variable 4 blog and twitter @variable4, releasing relevant sourcecode and patches wherever possible.

Michael Dzjaparidze - The Schrödinger equation

I am smitten with this audiovisual piece by Michael Dzjaparidze. Based upon the Schrödinger equation — a central tenet of quantum mechanics, which describes the behaviour as a particle as its wavefunction equivalent — it is thoroughly conceptually faithful as well as aesthetically impressive.

Dzjaparidze states:

The curves obtained from the equation are for instance used as envelopes for the different sound layers but also as probability functions which determine duration, (quantized) pitch, density etc. of the grains and the additive 'waves'.

Most of the sounds for this piece are a combination of granular and additive synthesis so as to be conceptually in accordance with the wave-particle duality of all matter and radiation. The frequencies for all sounds are based on the Lyman series.

The author has also produced a number of studies in pure FM synthesis, whose organic richness is a refreshing escape from the notoriously harsh digital overtones of the typical FM sound.