17 February 2010

Pattern Recognition redux

It occurred to me that yesterday's post might have sounded too negative about Midi implementation and electronic music in general, which is unfortunate given the amount of time I spend attempting to engage with both. Jaron Lanier while being one of the creators of virtual reality as we know it today is also a collector of unusual and exotic instruments and a professional musician. He takes refuge in the analog world to recharge and recuperate from the digital realm he is more usually immersed in, and this might partially explain his disdain for digital music as a poor substitute for the richness and variety of expression analog instruments provide.

I am neither a professional musician nor am I able to play a traditional analog instrument, I am however a collector of unusual digital instruments, specifically those designed to allow non-musicians (ie those who can neither play a piano nor read music) to tap into their inner music and share it with all and sundry. To date the Tenori-On from Yamaha and Korg's rather nice Kaossilator have been the most successful in my seemingly endless quest to get the noise in my head out into the really real world. My computer is another, and it is here in the digital realm that you can do many things simply not possible otherwise.

The P22 Music Text Composition Generator is an amazing online tool that takes any text and converts it into a musical composition by assigning a MIDI note to every letter, number and most text characters. And its free. So I thought I would take a look at what could be done with it.

I took the entire text from yesterday's post "Pattern Recognition" and ran it through the generator, creating a rather long midi file. I then uploaded this into Logic, Apple's music production software suite, and created eight tracks, each with the identical MIDI sequence. I then assigned a different virtual instrument from within Logic to each of these tracks, though of course I could have connected my Mac to any number of external instruments and synths and used the MIDI track to control them. As this was just a proof of concept I didn't bother cutting up or altering any of the individual tracks, the only changes made to them once the instrument was assigned was on individual volume levels of each track, and I will admit to getting a bit creative with these. I ended up going for a tempo of 900bpm, and this brought the entire track down to just over eight minutes.

The whole thing took only a few hours until I had something I was happy with. I exported the track as an MP3 and uploaded it to Soundcloud, and the results you can hear for yourself below.

Pattern Recognition by UnkieDave

So there you have it, the sound of the written word. Something that would never have existed in an analog setting. Not better, not worse, just different.

Of course once you have music expressed in digital form you can continue to manipulate it to an extreem level. Photosounder is another program that expands the possibilities of musical creation by manipulating images and converting them to audio. Uploading the 'Pattern Recognition' song into Photosounder converts it into a visual representation of all the individual notes, so we now have a visual representation of text as filtered through audio:

Of course far more interesting is the reverse of this process where pictures are uploaded into Photosounder and then converted into an audio file. Aphex Twin was an early experimenter with this technology and some of his tracks are actually audio generated by digital images of his face. Plaid followed with sounds generated by images of their album covers and Venetian Snares threw in pictures of his cat to his appropriately named "Songs about my cats", as analysed below by bastwood.com

The point of all this is simply to argue that there is as much opportunity for genuine creation in digital music, and creation in ways not possible in an anlog only environment. Lanier derides mashup culture, with endless remixes and nothing new being born from the electronic environment and I disagree with this strongly. It is true that looking at most mainstream music you see nothing more than endless cycle of covers, samples and clumsily manipulated loops with little or no spark and imagination, but that has less to do with the method and tools used and more to do with the following of strict musical templates as dictated by the music industry.

Digital can be as creative as analog but only if it escapes the preprogramed templated world that an industrialized environment attempts to confine us all in. This is as true for the online environment of the web as it is for the offline world of musical expression.

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At 3:42 am, Anonymous steve said...

you're awesome

At 5:25 pm, Blogger 2BiT said...

Xmas number 1?

At 5:34 pm, Blogger Unkie Dave said...

@Steve - yes, I am, but probably not for the reasons you think

@2BiT - only if I can get Jedward to sing it.


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