Indeterminacy in Music

I think my love of all things random stems from the many role-playing experiences of my youth. I speak not just of Dungeons&Dragons, but also of Traveller, Gamma World, TMNT, Rifts, and others. I have fond memories of countless hours in various basements rolling dice and referencing tables to determine the outcome of all maner of fantastical action. It was the dice, and the random element they brought to the game that made the experience magical for me.

I must also admit to a strong appreciation for the experiments of people like John Cage and Brian Eno. Cage’s thoughts on indeterminacy in music, and the ideas behind Eno’s Deck of Oblique Strategy have always fascinated me. It’s no wonder then that since entering the modular arena I have found myself drawn to the many different random generators available. The birth of this niche in electronic composition centres largely on Don Buchla and his Source of Uncertainty. Don’s design gave the user some control over the chance element. This allowed the user to apply a random dynamic, but still maintain some musicallity if desired.

It is my opinion that random sources in modular synthesizer systems, such as the S.O.U., lend themselves well to aleatoric compositional tecniques. In an aleatoric composition, the composer defines a framework for the composition, but allows some, or all of the details to be determined through chance. It is in this context that I like to think of modules such as the Wogglebug, and even the NoiseRing as my dice.

When working with such random generators in a musical context I have found three tools to be indespensible. The first tool is attenuation. This can be achieved in a number of ways, but boils down to controlling the number of random values to be used. The second tool is scaling. Sometimes called bias, or offset, this parameter defines the range of the random values. The third tool is quantizing. Quantizing further confines the range of random values to corrospond with musical scales.

The linked video uses several different random sources, and incorporates these three techniques to shape and mold the random elements. The random sources used are; Modcan 61B Quad LFO RCOS wave, Modcan 07B Noise/S&H, and a Wiard Noise Ring.


~ by rezzn8r on November 17, 2010.

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