MATRIXSYNTH: Animated Graphic Scores Performed on the Novation BassStation II

Monday, November 25, 2019

Animated Graphic Scores Performed on the Novation BassStation II

Rain Published on Nov 16, 2019 John Keston

"Strands is the working title for a series of audiovisual compositions based on the idea of animated, generative, graphic scores. Last year I composed six of these scores written in Javascript for Parking Ramp Project, a performance installation in a seven-level parking ramp with a large cast reflecting on transience, migration, and stability commissioned by Guggenheim fellow, Pramila Vasudevan. While Parking Ramp Project was composed for a trio, Strands is specifically composed for a soloist.

Rain is a new movement in the series and the first that I have produced with video of the animated score. Currently there are five movements in the piece. I performed the first four recently at the ISSTA conference in Cork, Ireland. The visual part of the piece is meant to be read like music but without the use of key or time signatures. Each time the piece is played the visuals are regenerated, so it is never performed the same way twice.

The musician may interpret the visuals in many ways. For example, in Rain lines are animated from the top of the screen to the bottom. Where the line appears horizontally is roughly regarded as pitch and as the line animates the sound is modulated. The lines also vary in weight. Heavier lines are louder and lower in pitch while thinner lines are quieter, generally higher, and sometimes altered with a high-pass filter.

I performed Rain using the Novation Bass Station II, which has a feature (AFX mode overlays) that allows for each note to have entirely different parameters. With this technique I was able to map different timbres to the keybed and use this variety in texture as another way to interpret the score. Keep an eye out for more of these. It is my intent to make videos for all five of the movements and perhaps add one or two more to the series."


Premiered Nov 24, 2019 John Keston

"Generator is the next piece in the Strands series. These audiovisual compositions illustrate the interpretation of animated, generative, graphic scores written in Javascript. Generator is made up of connected line segments that that go from left to right, up, or down, but never in reverse. The weight and length of each segment is consistent across the width of the screen and changes once a new set of segments starts again from the left.

I interpret each set of segments as an arpeggio. The tempo of each arpeggio is decided by the segment length. Shorter segments, drawn more quickly, are paired with faster arpeggios. As the line segments wander up and down I generally interpret the Y axis as pitch, but because the direction of each segment is random the pitches are not exact representations of the paths that are displayed; neither is it the intent to exactly follow the visuals. Instead, musicians interpret the score so that human qualities contrast the computer generated visuals.

The aesthetics of the pieces in this series, both visually and sonically, are secondary to the objectives. First that the scores are composed for the purpose of being read by musician(s). Secondly, the artist(s) have space to improvise within their interpretations. Thirdly (in addition to interpretation) aleatoric elements make the pieces significantly different from one performance to the next. Finally, although the performances vary, distinct characteristics identify each piece.

The objectives of these pieces lead to music that is often atonal and/or atemporal. After about a dozen rehearsals, performances, and recordings with a trio and as a soloist it has become apparent that tonality and timing often do emerge. For example, in Generator the tempi of the arpeggios change with each animated progression from left to right. Arbitrary rests are interspersed with random lengths. This amounts to timing without time signatures. And, since the pitches are left up to the artist the notes performed may or may not be in key. In my performance I chose to use a variety of intervals and scales leading up to the chromatic scale at the conclusion."

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