Future Shock: Structural Aspects of Computer Music Improvisation

This column is about the structural implications of improvising with listening instruments, or real time processors that are designed by one musician to interact with another. The specific example I explore is the work of Joel Ryan in the context of his duet with Evan Parker and the Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble whose new release The Moment’s Energy just dropped from ECM.

Joel Ryan

Zips, cracks, dings, blips, zaps, screeches and scratches – but that is only one side of the story; long, elegant, just-pierced silences rising into a swarm of cicada hovering over layers of crumbling concrete, rebar exposed, slouching towards mayhem and growling through speakers … These dense, synthetic, and complex sound worlds have a way of suggesting dramatic, imagined landscapes with the quick, sharp, gestural sounds becoming strides across that strange terrain. Textures and gestures collide, creating layers and obscuring any one player’s voice, until this undulating mass gives way to silence.

“I always liked what Andrew Pickering referred to in ‘The Mangle of Practice.’ That science does not proceed from the head alone, but requires an intervention in nature, a mangle,” says musician Joel Ryan of the way he thinks about the software instruments he designs and uses with the Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble. “I don’t think music can emerge from the head alone, either. You constantly make and apply new tools but this feeds back to change the very nature of the thing you were to get a hold of. After numbers became electric, music could never be the same. And this is nothing new, bronze and the science of measure surely altered radically the possibilities sound and music for our ancestors”

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