Sunday, 9 August 2009

Classic Lewy - Musical Composition on Evolution

On BBC2 last night - "Classic Goldie": The famous drum'n'bass populariser composes a piece for the 2009 Proms with full orchestra and choir. Themed on (his interpretation of) evolution; Starts with big bang, has tribal phases, spirituality heavy, etc. It's not that surprising that he manages to pull it off with some style, despite having no formal musical training and being initially unable to read notation; he has a professional composer as a personal assistant, an operator to solidify all the details onto computer and an entire orchestra of the most talented musical minds in the country to inspire and assist him.
[Above: compossition of 2 screen shots from the show, via iPlayer]

+ Anyway, I couldn't help thinking about how I would go about creating a piece embodying evolution, starting from the *very beginning*, especially having recently been thinking about genes, memes, and temes.

It would be:

- A musicalisation (audio equivalent to visualisation) of an exponentially scaled (allegorical) history of the universe.

- It would have to show patterns (refrains), like sections of genetic code, cropping up, being copied/repeated (to other instruments), being slightly modified (some fail = stop, some continue & expand in length/complexity). The layers build up on top of one another, being played simultaneously, like a food web/musical ecology.

- A fairly simple concept that would take a musical genius (not me!) to make sound good, as well as being informative. The important bit would be the evolution of tunes ('melod-emes' as i call them), the linear history of time structure could be stripped away if desired.

+ Structure wise it would go somewhat like this:

- Start with a very, very rapidly crescendoing roar of every instrument played evenly (no distinguishable stick impacts or anything).
{inflation}

- The homogeneous roar slowly diminuendos, abruptly cutting out (but not *quite* all at once), leaving part of the percussion department still going.
{first atoms form, universe becomes transparent}

- Distinct beats can be discerned, but in no pattern and very rapid. Low, quiet tone from across the whole orchestral slides very slowly (so at first is not noticed; it has been there since transparency), then increasingly rapid, as it gets higher pitched, culminating in a blowtorch noise {stars ignite}. Perhaps a series of sliding notes from different parts of the orchestra (getting closer together in time) each resulting in a new layer of blowtorch noise.
{gravity takes hold; formation of galaxies, stars ignite}

- Difficult... but most of the layers of blowtorch noise would stop with a crash, one at a time.
{heavier elements synthesised & supernovas}

- Cyclical rhythms emerge in percussion, the more wild/haphazard/syncopated ones end abruptly end (in very loud bangs), leaving one steady beat (no syncopation).
{planetary systems resolve to stable orbits}

- Percussive bangs (not as loud as the planetary collisions, but the tail end of them), frequent but tailing off. Blowtorch still quiet in background. During the bigger gaps between bangs, bits of tune start to emerge, then are temporarily silenced by a bang (or 2), before resuming (the same, timid, simple tune (on one instrument)).
{Cometary impacts}

Difficult to represent asteroids bringing water to the earth's surface unless imitating or using recordings of ocean (wave) sounds, and splashes; don't want the piece to turn into a clip-art esq collection of sound effects!

- Several fairly discordant melod-emes (i.e. tune ideas/memes) might be heard around one section of the orchestra (at random timings, on different instruments of e.g. the string section) then one catchy melodic tune appears and is repeated immediately across that section (so becoming louder, more distinguishable), then split octaves (for cello vs viola), harmonised too perhaps.
{organic chemistry leads to self replicating molecules & genes}

- The above process is repeated for each new section of instruments {species of animal}. In principle they should start with the same tune as the section before, then embellish and add to it. The effect should be a little like singing "London's Burning" in rounds, but much more complicated and with intermediate steps (which are free to clash a little with the existing notes for a while).
{building of ecosystems}

The first melod-eme could start on double-base (e.g. 3-4-3-1-2-4-repeat; bass riff notes), repeating every bar. Then cello (or whatever) joins in the same tune for a bar before adding additional notes in-between on the next repetition. (now i'm just thinking of a jazz number with each instrument coming in, in turn until the star trumpet/clarinet player really takes the tune away into ad-lib craziness. Not quite what i was aiming for, but a good alternative.)

Harmonies/chords on the same (set of) instrument(s) could represent {multicellular organisms}, but perhaps that's a bit of a stretch of interpretation.

- After the bunches of tunes have reached crescendo for a little while (and been dominated by low brass instruments {dinosaurs}), another cometary crash silences the more complicated (recently added) half of instruments/tunes. A new set of melod-emes emerges (more rapidly this
time) along a distinctly different feel of refrain.
{mass extinction > beginning of mammals}

- Need a particularly catchy tune (melod-eme) for humans, medium long, and perhaps on an instrument/played in a way that definitely hasn't been heard yet (in the piece).
{humans}

- Much of the detail of different/convoluted tunes across different instruments can be stripped away now, being replaced by/turning into harmonies of that fit with the dominant {human} tune.
{Agriculture/animal domestication, massive extinction}

- Choir would come in at this point, no words as such (obviously would spoil the music as an analogy, rather than dialogue), should give a ominous effect. Drops away a little as the next feature comes in fully.
{religion}

- Synth/electric instruments (perhaps traditional rock band set) kick in with their own (complimentary, but more jagged/cutting/staccato) tunes.
{technology memes}

This has now become distinctly rock music (with orchestral backing). 2 drum fills could be inserted for the world wars.

- Volume is now becoming unbearably loud, with lots of extra detail stemming from and fitted around the main human refrain (that has transferred dominance to the electric instruments (perhaps lead by lead-guitar)). Extra layers of guitar and funky beats joining in.
{20th century => Current => G.N.R. revolutions}

- Perhaps a very rapid electronic tuned synth whizzing around everywhere like at insanely fast auto (tone) dialler/modem.
{Internet through to AI}

All tunes/rhythms/patterns that have been heard throughout the piece join back in for a brief, orgasmic climax (fairly strong choir/religious sound permitted, but not dominant).
{Singularity}

- Ending is a paradox, because the Singularity (and evolution itself IMHO) is all about eternal progress, without end, in subjective time. I think, if the roar of orgasmic detail where to inverse rapid-fade (like a backwards explosion/cymbal crash) to deliberately mirror the very beginning (of the piece), that would be as good as could be done:

That way it shows the perspective from real time (if we have Tiplerian Singularity in a closed universe). It also rounds off the whole of existence; there is nothing external to the piece, no before or after movements; all of the meaning/purpose/detail is contained within. And the manically chaotic ending roar is shown to be the polar opposite of the homogeneous beginning roar (having experienced all the details being built up), despite it sounding indistinguishable on first impressions.
[Above: a little composition by me for this article]

+ In principle the music should build up in layers, each on top of the next; the blow torch of the suns, rhythm of the orbits, basic repetitive first tunes {of the micro-organisms}, should continue in the background behind the detail of everything that comes thereafter (like the foundations of an upside-down pyramid). In practice they will definitely need to be gradually faded down to allow the next layer to be properly heard, and probably faded out altogether (until the very end).

+ Writing the combined, interlocking ecosystem of tunes for the end of the piece will be almost all of the work. From there, one can work backwards, taking out notes and simplifying rhythms, making deviations for failed attempts {at species} and writing the alternative {dinosaurs} themed tuned section.

- An existing piece of music (with sufficient depth of layers) could be deconstructed in a similar manner, for this purpose.

- Fragments of Well known tunes could be incorporated into the piece for an ultimate mash-up. However, this would distract too much from the overall meaning of the piece (if that was what was considered important); listeners would start playing name the song.

- The deconstruction could be done automatically with an algorithm/AI. Or built up dynamically using genuine evolutionary algorithms, with a fitness function that rates the resulting listenability or the music (the difficult bit; getting an AI to appreciate music effectively).

+ It might be possible to get the bare bones of this idea done with just jazz band (or even rock band) instruments... That should certainly keep it from getting unhearably complex. In the mid section that would be desirable, but at the end that's the exact effect aimed for. Would have to increase the tempo instead to achieve the same effect.

+ I just realised that a visualisation made to fit with my hypothetical composition would be somewhat like a scientifically rigorous version of the "Big Bang Theory" introduction... They'd do well to replace their original (annoying as hell) theme tune with a (highly condensed) version of my composition!
[Above: another collage of mine - "Evolution of Musicianship?"]

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