To create the Lifehouse-Method music portraiture system for Pete Townshend, I cranked up astronomically huge numbers of different available melodic streams. These were generated by my discovery Harmonic Mathematics, programmed for the project by wizard programmer Dave Snowdon. These giant strands of “musical DNA” were the building blocks with which I assembled the music.
In this work I was inspired particularly by two composers:
John Cage, who by allowing random decisions in his compositions, opened the field of expression way beyond the personal. This was key in my approach.
Terry Riley, who dared to construct beautifully in the new field of freedom that Cage opened up, by composing with a set of mantric loops, and allowed performers to choose when they moved on to the next one or took rests. (see his wonderful piece “In C”).
Although the Lifehouse-Method music generation is based on a carefully constructed cascade of choices, I tried to minimise the amount of human interference. (ie me).
There were many reasons for doing this. I felt that the more open I made the system, the more likely it would be to be able to cover wider varieties of types of music. Also I feel the element of surprise is paramount in a computer-generated music.
All the melodic streams in the Lifehouse-Method used looped figures that were themselves gradually changing, often with multiple copies that gradually shifted in time giving rise to cascading rhythmic interactions. This “DNA” stream of gradually evolving melodic looping underpinned the whole construction of the pieces.
Given that cyber-virtuosity of a degree and type heard on Terry Riley’s “Rainbow In Curved Air” (achieved by speeding up recordings) and on “Baba O’Riley” by the Who (inspired by and part-dedicated to Terry Riley) was on the cards to be explored by this system, I wanted to build in both the usual human tempos, and also superhuman speeds of playing. This meant choosing types of counterpoint, that far outstripped the conventional classical combinations of notelengths. I decided to use steady streams of identical notelengths in the music for each instrument, but to design in different cycle-lengths for the loops, and also to allow situations where some of the loop (50% or 75%) would be missing.
So this was the initial concept. Looped streams of identical notes in each instrument. Then the parallel layering of different cycle-lengths, each of which could have a particular notelength. There was a chart, set out in 2 dimensions that allowed me to configure 7 types of music construction. For example in one type all the cycle lengths are the same, but the notelengths in the stream of each part can be different (eg 2:3, 1:2 or 1:3 ratio). In another the notelengths are made to be the same, but the cycle-lengths are free to vary. In a third (“hash”) there are 2 different cycle-lengths (related of course) and 2 different notelengths (also related) and the program is free to choose from any of these. In a fourth (“Manhattan”) any cycle-length in the available set can be combined with and notelength in the available set. This gives rise to a more disjointed array of interlockings.
This system included very rapid playing – which sometimes occurred in many or all instruments, sometimes in only one. Instruments also dropped in or out across the transition between segments. Certain instruments, held as more central, would have a much higher likelihood of being chosen for each segment, others less so.
This results in a very controlled use of different possibilities. I used a set of instruments from rock, classical, jazz and synthesiser pads. At times one of these genres may dominate, at others a more pan-genre orchestra results. Always very different in emphasis of associations.
I used dozens of different white note scales, incorporating scales from many cultures. Largely because there had to be parallel combinability of portraits. But there are so many white note scales: (arpeggios, pentatonics and 7-note scales) that by choosing one or a mix, a large span of possible tonalities were available. White note scales are found in almost all music cultures, and I used sometimes one tonality, sometimes more, all overlaid as white notes are harmonious to be.
In extending counterpoint way beyond human performing capability, a big challenge was how to constellate an exhaustive range or reservoir of effective musical configurations. Hopefully one day, folk will be able to listen to many of the pieces to see how well I have succeeded.
I hope this gives some insight into the Lifehouse-Method portraiture, and whets your appetite to hear the album and to one day hear more of the pieces.
Method Music – the double album – was released on January 31st 2012 by Navona Records, available on Amazon and iTunes