INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Sound On Sound JUNE 1996 - by Brian Heywood
KOAN PLUS GENERATIVE MUSIC 1
Brian Eno is convinced that it's the start of a whole new ballgame... but is PC soundcard technology advanced enough for 'generative' music to work? Brian Heywood hears the new Enigma Variations...
I was invited to an interesting press conference recently. Brian Eno - doyen of new musical techniques - was holding forth on the development of music and, incidentally, announcing the release of his latest music project. If you are not familiar with Mr Eno, he was a founder member of Roxy Music and has collaborated with such luminaries as David Bowie, John Cale, Robert Fripp, Nico (Velvet Underground), Television, Genesis, Devo, Daniel Lanois, U2 and many others. In fact, he has been credited with inventing ambient and new age music, with the release of Music For Films in 1978, although I think that his No Pussyfooting (1973) collaboration with Robert Fripp is an earlier example of the genre.
One of the things Brian has always been interested in is what he calls 'Generative Music', which is where the composer 'designs' the processes that make the music, rather than defining the notes, voicings, etc that actually make up a particular performance. A simple example of this is a set of wind chimes; you can define the notes that are played, but the order, tempo and loudness with which they are played will depend on the current atmospheric conditions. Obviously a computer is an ideal tool for this kind of thing, assuming of course that appropriate software is available.
Generative Music 1 is Eno's latest ambient project, and unlike his previous offerings in this line, it's actually a piece of MPC music software rather than a traditional recording. The album uses SSEYO's Koan Plus music player, which uses 'probabilistic' rules - defined by the composer - to determine which notes will be played, so each performance is unique. This is rather like the composer defining a list of possibilities for the performer - in this case the Koan Plus software - from which he/she can choose. As a result, each performance is definitely 'Eno', but the actual notes played can be different every time you hear it.
The software/album requires that you have a SoundBlaster AWE32, SB32 or TDK MusicCard, as it uses samples developed by Brian Eno especially for the piece. This means it is by no means a universal work, but it is an interesting concept, which could gain currency as the MPC standard becomes more widespread amongst consumers.