Magnificent Bastards

Saturday 3 May 2008

23 November 2003: I decide to make some music as quickly as possible. I open Scala, a program which generates and analyses musical scales, and ic, an I Ching simulator Andrew Culver wrote for John Cage.
In imitation of Warren Burt’s 39 Dissonant Etudes, I decide to make eight one-minute pieces, each using different microtonal equal temperament scales. Equal temperament scales, including today’s standard Western 12-tone scale, have a sort of left-side-of-the-brain organisational logic to them, but otherwise have no harmonic sense. I like the idea of using the sophisticated algorithms of Scala to make obtuse, inelegant scales.

Scala has an on-screen virtual keyboard, which lets you play directly with the scale you’ve just created. Rather than impose any compositional system, I go against my usual musical tendencies and improvise on the virtual keyboard, using the computer keyboard and mouse. The unfamiliar user interface, tuning, and piano keyboard layouts mitigate any musical facility I may have acquired over the years.
I record 24 improvisations, each one exactly one minute long. Each improvisation is recorded in a single take, without rehearsal or revision. Each improvisation is played in a different scale, ranging from 6 tones per octave to 29 tones per octave.
For my instruments, I use Gort’s Midget, a bank of synthesiser patches which take up a total of just 2 kilobytes of memory. Midget has 12 patches, so I can use each one for two different scales. The choice of which patch to play which sale is decided by ic.
I also use ic to select which improvisations should be overdubbed, to create composite pieces. The result is a suite of eight one-minute pieces for one to six instruments, in various clashing tonalities…

Each mp3 is about half a megabyte of memory.
1. Lento. | 2. Semplice. | 3. Allegro giocoso.| 4. Andante mystico.| 5. Grave, mesto.| 6. Leggiero.| 7. Tranquillo.| 8. Intensivo.