I composed String Quartet No. 2 (Canon in Beta) with one objective: to reproduce as closely as possible the assumed method of a Phill Niblock composition. This objective was addressed to two questions.

1. What does music composed by this technique sound like (having read descriptions of Niblock’s music without ever hearing it)?

2. Can two pieces of music be indistinguishable in content yet convey different meanings, the way that visual arts can?

All creativity is in fact a distortion of a pre-existing model, whether intentional or not. This distortion may be deliberate (innovation) or accidental (incompetence). To quote Ron Nagorcka, “the very essence of electronic media is distortion.” Technology thus provides an ideal means for extending – or degrading – a creative idea.

Rather than try to be original, I work with the idea that each of my works should be consciously modelled on another artist’s works or techniques; so instead of attempting an original work that unwittingly imitates an older one, I might create an imitative work which, by inevitable necessary divergences from the model, allows some genuine originality to emerge.

String Quartet No. 2 has been through several iterations, each with a common basis: a string quartet holding a simple chord (octaves with an added fifth) fed through a digital delay system with computer-controlled micro-inflections in pitch and harmonic spectrum. It has been presented as recording, live performance and sound installation. Most recently, it has been exhibited in visual form, as an artist book reproducing a spectrogram of the work: 10 minutes represented in 64 pages.

Spectral Shadow of String Quartet No. 2 (Canon in Beta) is the latest iteration, made by running the spectrogram through the freeware image-to-sound program Coagula Light. The result is a computer-generated simulacrum of a computer-generated rendering of an imitation of a piece by Phill Niblock: yet another distorted copy, based upon the already distorted copy (itself based on a distorted copy etc.)

Ben.Harper, 2012.