The Return of Algorithms

I’ve been meeting with Clarence Barlow a lot lately, a composer who is well known for his algorithmically composed music. It’s something I was very interested in as an undergraduate, but haven’t pursued much since then. Now that I’m getting to know Clarence, I think it’s something I may take up again.

Essentially, you write a set of rules, and then get to find out what music those rules generate. For instance, if you wrote the rule “the note C will occur on the first beat of every measure,” when you execute the algorithm you’ll get the note C on the first beat of every measure. This isn’t exactly an oversimplification, but it’s possible to get way, way more complicated. This may seem very dry, but for me, the joy of it is in hearing things that you never would have come up with otherwise.

As such, I’ve taken a preliminary crack at it by applying the lines of Pascal’s triangles, from modulos zero to five, to rhythm. It was a pretty simple thought, but some of the rhythms that came out of it are things I definitely would not have come up with, and sound pretty cool. It’d be a lie to say that this wasn’t partially inspired by the work of Tom Johnson, who I was lucky to meet and get to spend some time with this week.

Click here to check out the score. Drop me a line if you want to try playing it, I’d love to hear what you do with it.