Week 9

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Machine Music

Preparatory Reading and Listening

  • Gann, K., 1995. The Music of Conlon Nancarrow, Cambridge & New York: CUP, chapter 1
  • Royal Institution Lectures 2014 – http://bobnational.net/record/266495
    • 5:00 robot orchestra
    • 12:50 drum
    • 19:40 midi printer
    • 38:00 robots playing keyboards
  • Mechanical Marvels: http://bobnational.net/record/151879 especially from 27:00. Swan from 45:50.
  • Between the Ears: Paul Klee, a Balloon, the Moon… (Bob) – Paul Klee… and Me: A fantastical encounter with Swiss painter Paul Klee, in an imaginary Klee-world of twittering machines and dream landscapes, singing colour polyphony and scribbling violin. Composer and writer Ergo Phizmiz wanders through Klee’s paintings in the company of their creator, evoking their vivid colours and whimsical humour in intricately composed soundscapes. Klee takes Ergo on a hot-air balloon ride which, like a magic carpet, miraculously flies them to Tunisia, the land where he ’became a painter’. Their voyage also passes through paintings of strange gardens, mountain carnivals and abstract colour gradations, before they finally ascend to the moon, a dream-world populated by lunar monkeys, peculiar birds and trees bulging with seeping pain
  • Cowell Piano Concerto (1928) (Philip Mead perf) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEL85hdHss8

Conlon Nancarrow and rhythmic structure; machine music; automatic music and art.

Nancarrow, exiled by his leftist political beliefs to Mexico City and thus well out of the mainstream, combined his earlier studies with Cowell to take rhythmic structuring on an individual tack: he created a series of mathematical structures that could only be realised mechanically, on player piano rolls. We will examine these structures in a series of the player piano pieces.

Also consider Black MIDI, automata, robotics, machine music and technology in music.

Ligeti and the mechanistic

Consider Ligeti Poeme Symphonique (1962): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mUv705xj3U and Bartok String Quartet 4 pizzicato movement.

Ligeti String Quartet 2 (1968) and the string quartet tradition

  • I. Allegro nervoso 2:46
  • II. Sostenuto, molto calmo 8:02
  • III. Come un meccanismo di precisione 16:12

Continuum (1968): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPgwF3G5i4k

Chamber Concerto (1974)

see 11:00 or so here:

A part of this is creating extremes that would be unthinkable or unplayable by humans.  Other well-known examples include music used by Kubrick, such as the Requiem used in 2001 (view on YouTube, short score here):

and Eyes Wide Shut:


Much use of technology in music is based around similar experiments.  How does this compare to ‘standard’ composition?

Black MIDI

Have a look at this ‘Black MIDI’ note art:

Make sure you have a title and brief outline (abstract) of your proposed major essay ready for individual and group discussion next week.

Music and Algorithms

Computer algorithms are playing a more and more significant role in how we make, choose and listen to music.  How do you feel about this?

Indicative Seminar Discussions

Choose one of the followings questions (or come up with your own) and be prepared to discuss it:

  • What is the relation between music and mathematics?
  • How has the way in which music is presented to us changed music itself (e.g. vinyl records, CDs, streaming)?
  • Should machines play music?
  • Are musical instruments machines?
  • How might the use of computers effect music making and creating?
  • Bring along an example of music created automatically and demonstrate it.
  • How do you think the idea and implementation of the playlist and the use of categories or tags has effected and/or will effect music?