Day Of The Hyperfunction


 
To celebrate Impossible Music, the first CD release on our own Hyperfunction label for algorithmic music, I had organized a mini-festival for algorithmic computer music at Cologne’s LOFT on Saturday, April 4, 2009.

We don’t know if the spring weather was too fair, the football games on TV were too tempting, or if the theme for the evening was not interesting enough to the Cologne audience, but only a few people showed up to see and hear the four computer music acts. Each of us played for roughly half an hour.

Tobias Reber from Bern (Switzerland) started with a laptop piece based on Max/MSP. Its shifting layers of electronic sequences and its microtonal electronic sounds reminded me of the magical and austere music of the early electronic pioneers.


 
Stefan Tiedje from Berlin had already presented his interactive Max/MSP based “Ondes Memorielles” music system at the Loft when he performed at Cologne’s 1st International Livelooping Festival in May 2008. His new performance made use of two mobile microphones that circulated through the audience so that everyone could add their own sounds to the music.


 
Markus Reuter from Innsbruck played his new self-designed touch guitar through effect gear and Ableton Live algorithms and loops. His atonal music sounds sparse at the beginning but it eventually builds up to an enormous sound cloud, beautiful and at times menacing. The many variables going into a performance like this make the outcome unpredictable. On listening to his own set the next day, Markus wrote, “Is that really me? I’m surprised once again”.


 
Markus’s Centrozoon partner Bernhard Wöstheinrich had a strong feeling that my Impossible Music needed sounds different from the ones used on the CD, so when we played this evening’s last set, I was only responsible to generate suitable midi signals, and Bernhard translated them into sound with his synthesizer. Old technology met new technology – the Impossible Music algorithmic system is based on a fractal software called HOP that I wrote in the early nineties, and on this evening, it actually ran on a trusty ancient MS-DOS computer while the sounds were created using very recent synths and software.

      MichaelPetersBernhardWoestheinrich20090404

I used a set of a dozen different fractal shapes to play with – the images, projected on a screen for the audience, were directly translated into midi signals, following some simple rules, and then into sound, so somehow what the audience saw corresponded to what they heard – not always in a very transparent way maybe, but nonetheless. Unfortunately, the images that look most pretty often turn out to create boring music, and some of the more boring images create the most interesting music, so sometimes the imagery that I used consisted just of a few dots or lines but they gave birth to surprising musical structures.


 
The HOP based algorithmic music engine will keep me busy for a while – there are so many interesting musical structures hidden in there. Here’s a short montage from the “rehearsals” I did a week before the Hyperfunction evening.

      HOP_MONTAGE1


 
The evening was an interesting experiment, demanding for the listeners at times, but also very rewarding (at least that’s what I was told by one excited visitor). And it was nice to see everyone again and to spend some time together.

Impossible Music


 
Algorithmic Music – music composed without human intervention, based on formal procedures, mathematical formulas, computer programs.

Gumowski and Mira – two CERN physicists who found an interesting mathematical entity, a new attractor – something not unlike a fractal – while researching into nonlinear dynamical systems. It was later called the Gumowski-Mira attractor.


 
HOP – a software that I wrote in the early nineties which created graphics based on this attractor. It was successful as a DOS screensaver. Then one day, I added a Midi output module, hooked a digital piano to it, and found that the resulting musical structures were very interesting.

Impossible Music – a collection of 16 improvisations with that Gumowski-Mira attractor based software. While the computer computed the attractor, I played with the constants and various other variables, and Matthias Ebbinghaus took care of the sampler, the digital piano pedals, and the live mix.

hyperfunction – a CD label for algorithmic music, launched by Markus Reuter and me, with Impossible Music being the first release.

      theanomalouscatalogue
 

Thanks to Matthias Ebbinghaus‘s initiative, we finally have a beautiful CD with quite adventurous recordings that we had done 13 years ago, at this time not thinking about publishing them at all. The DAT tape had been sleeping in some drawer and I had more or less forgotten it but about three years ago, Matthias remembered it and suggested that we listen to it again, maybe for a potential CD release. So we listened to it again, found that we liked it a lot, selected the most interesting parts, remastered it … and then I talked to Markus Reuter about it and he suggested setting up a label for algorithmic music and publish it there.

Here’s what WIRE magazine just wrote about the CD (in the April 2009 issue). Maybe they have a point criticizing that we used familiar instrument sounds (mainly piano and percussion) for music that is so non-traditional. For me though, this music stands out because it is structurally interesting – maybe turning these strange structures into equally strange sounds would even take away some of the structural strangeness – I don’t know. (In 1996, I simply had no stranger sounds at my hands anyway 🙂

Michael Peters is primarily an electric guitarist with a long standing affinity for Frippertronics – last year he organised Cologne’s first livelooping festival. Now and then he’ll venture beyond the loop, as on this set of pieces for digital piano and sampler, recorded in 1996 but only recently edited and mixed for release. In a sense Peters here raises his enthusiasm for looping to a conceptual level: Impossible Music arises out of the zone of nonlinear dynamic systems, being based on a strange attractor discovered by physicists at the CERN nuclear research centre. By real-time manipulation of this fractal structure’s parameters, Peters and Matthias Ebbinghaus generate l6 algorithmically grounded improvisations.
Algorithms – essentially, objectified sequences of instructions – can, as John Cage recognised, produce results that personal taste might have precluded, and figures as diverse as Xenakis and Eno have used such procedures effectively. Limited interventions, such as those Peters makes, add an improvisatory aspect that can conjure up further structural variation and surprise. But beyond the glacial satisfactions of the concept and a sense of the abstracted structure, the pleasure of such music necessarily depends on the quality of the sound material. Most of the samples Peters uses are percussion. There are classical guitar-like timbres on “Alhambra Algebra”, synthetic pipe organ sonorities on “Blow Up Meltdown”, marirnba tones on “Woodenfall”. The digital piano often approximates a concert grand. It’s done well, but surely strange attractors cry out for wilder and less familiar sounds. (Julian Cowley)

 

We will try how this music sounds with more adventurous sounds on April 4 – there will be a CD release party at the LOFT in Cologne, and while I am in control of the attractors, Bernhard Wöstheinrich and his synthesizers will make them sound. Watch this space for a report if you can’t come.

More Gumowski-Mira attractors: