THE THEORY OF IMPOSSIBLE MELODY
ART 1004 Music for computer, voice and instruments by LARRY POLANSKY with PHIL BURK, JODY DIAMOND, TOM ERBE, CHRIS MANN, WILLIAM WINANT
+(B'rey'sheet) (In the beginning...) (Cantillation Study #1) (for Jody Diamond) (13:16) Jody Diamond, voice; Phil Burk and Larry Polansky, live computers; Tom Erbe, recording engineer. Digitally recorded live in the Mills College Concert Hall, January 1990.
+Four Voice Canon #3 computer (1:46)
+Four Voice Canon #4 marimbas (4:48) William Winant, marimba; Tom Erbe, recording engineer
+Four Voice Canon #5 percussion (3:56) William Winant, percussion; Larry Polansky, recording engineer
+Four Voice Canon #6 computer (3:23)
+Simple Actions/Rules Of Compossibility Larry Polansky and Chris Mann (22:34) Larry Polansky, live computer; Chris Mann, voice; recorded by Jeanne Parson and Andreas Mniestris, live with no overdubbing, at the Mills College Center for Contemporary Music in October 1989.
+PSALTERY (for Lou Harrison) (16:41)
Produced and recorded at the Experimental Music Studios, University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, 1978, with assistance from Mark Haag and Melissa Birch.
All pieces digitally remastered and assembled for CD by Tom Erbe and Larry Polansky at the Mills College Center for Contemporary Music in January-March 1990. HMSL (Hierarchical Music Specification Language), written by Phil Burk, Larry Polansky, and David Rosenboom, is produced and distributed by Frog Peak Music, Box A36, Hanover, NH 03755.
The cover is based on Larry Polansky's Haiga: Meditation on the 14 Impossible Ternary Forms for I Wayan Sadra, a "picture" of 14 three-note contours that are easily described but cannot exist. The back cover of the booklet shows the 13 complementary, possible three-note contours.
Design and cover illustrations by Michael Sumner.
Thanks to Jody Diamond and Carter Scholz for editorial assistance.
B'rey'sheet (In the beginning...) (Cantillation Study #1) (1985; revised 1987,1989)
B'rey'sheet is for solo voice and live inter-active computer. It is one of the Cantillation Studies, a set of pieces based on computer-aided melodic transformations of the traditional Hebrew tropes and melodies used for singing the Torah. Each piece uses a 17-verse section of the Torah and is named for the first word of the text. Other works in the set are (V'leem'shol) (And to rule...) for five flutes (verses 18-35 of B'rey'sheet); and (Eleh Toldot) (These are the generations...) for four marimbas and live computer.
I envisioned B'rey'sheet as an evolution from disorder to order, as manifested in the relatedness between the vocal melody and the musical ideas of the voice-controlled computer. The soloist sings the cantillation melody unaltered. The computer reacts to the voice harmonically, rhythmically, melodically and timbrally, gradually constraining its variations until the voice and the computer are in unison. Four sine waves, distorted at first by special real-time modulation techniques, respond to the voice by decreasing their depth and degree of modulation as the piece progresses. The computer "invents" a set of tuning rules and intervals for each verse, based on successively more consonant just intonation (starting with 17-limit ratios in the first verse, and constrained to 7-, 5-, and 3- limits near the end). Melodic and rhythmic variation processes are generated in similar ways, resulting, for example, in the "chorales" near the end of the work.
Technical notes: B'rey'sheet was first realized and premiered on the prototype of HMSL (V1.0) in 1984 at the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College. It was later adapted for an Amiga computer running HMSL. The two-computer version on this recording was rewritten in HMSL V4.0 with the assistance of Phil Burk.
Four Voice Canons #3-6
The Four Voice Canons are "orchestrations" of one idea. Each is a mensuration canon, in which successive voices enter later and move proportionately faster. Consequently, the density and rhythmic complexity increases from beginning to end. Each voice is a list of all the possible permutations of 4 or 5 elements.
This list of permutations, generated by the computer, is ordered by a simple algorithm from elementary group theory: the next element in the list must be as "close as possible" to the previous by a 2-transposition, meaning that two items from each permutation are interchanged to form the next element in the list. For example, for four elements ABCD, a possible ordering might be: ABCD, ACBD, DCBA, and so on. Each piece in the set is a four voice canon of the same list of permutations, but the values are applied to different musical parameters.
In #3 (1975), for digitally synthesized sounds, the permutation lists are applied to spatial location, envelope, amplitude, pitch, duration and several aspects of timbre. In #3 the duration ratio between all voices is the golden mean; in the other pieces, it is an approximation of that ratio. #4 (1978-79), written for the choreographer Andrea Smith, uses four successively higher notes from the first 16 harmonics on C, making use of the complete range of one marimba. The rhythmic relationships of the four voices are 2:3:5:8.
#5 (1983), written for percussionist William Winant, uses four families of percussion instruments -- wood, tambourine, metal, and skin. Each voice uses one instrument from each family, with the first (slowest) the lowest and the fourth (fastest) the highest. The durations of the slowest voice are a half, quarter, dotted quarter and eighth note, adding up to one measure of 5/4. The three other voices scale these values by factors of 3, 5 and 8. #6 (1986) was written for a "homebrew" sampler, built at the Mills College Center for Contemporary Music from a single board 68000 computer running a prototype of HMSL, and analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters. The sound material is four five-second samples: frogs in the Mills frog pond, a Javanese rebab (played by Jody Diamond), a baritone sax (played by Anthony Braxton), and the sine wave preset of a Kurzweil 250 sampler. The sampling procedure in this work is intentionally "raw": no filters, zero-crossing algorithms, de-glitching or smoothing techniques were used.
All of the sounds, except the frogs, rise in pitch over the five second span, so the computer program, stochastically choosing starting memory locations later and later in the sample memory, tends to play higher pitches for faster voices. The rhythmic values, derived from the permutation lists and the mensuration canon, are determined simply as a number of bytes of memory for a given part. The piece is generated and performed in real time by the computer.
#3 is written in the computer language SAIL, and was generated and recorded at CCRMA, Stanford University. #6 is written in assembly language and in the prototype of HMSL (V1.0). #4, #5, and #6 were recorded at the Mills College Center for Contemporary Music. #3 and #5 were remastered by Tom Erbe using the DENOISE program, written by Mark Dolson, from the CARL CMUSIC package, adapted for the NeXT computer with assistance from Phil Burk. The instruments for #5 were selected by myself and William Winant. The 16 instruments include: low bass drum, large Egyptian tambourine (thanks to Peter Maund), lowest and highest notes of a Javanese-style redwood gambang (built by William Colvig and Lou Harrison), a large brake drum (courtesy of Lou Harrison), high roto-tom, amglocken, and stainless steel salad bowl (gift of Laura Daigen).
Simple Actions/Rules of Compossiblity (1989) Larry Polansky and Chris Mann
Simple Actions (for Daniel Kelley)... was first written as an improvisation for solo performer and computer. This realization adds a poet. The HMSL program is based on Minsky's "society of mind" idea: complex intelligences are often the result of the interaction of simple individual intelligences ("agents") that share a common informational terrain. In this piece, simple musical behaviors ("glissandi," "beeps," various timbral changes, melodies, and modifications of signal processing parameters) interact with each other in a complex musical terrain. The HMSL program allows the performer to activate, deactivate, and shape the behavior of hundreds of these musical "critters." The performer cannot control the details of any moment, but interacts with the environment to produce large scale changes.
After performing this piece as a solo for some years, I added software to incorporate the voice of Australian poet, composer and artist Chris Mann. The text of "Rules of Compossibility" is from his larger work "Tuesday". Mann's voice serves as one of the musical "actions"--his pitch and loudness interact with the other processes.
Technical notes: Simple Actions/Rules.. was premiered in Melbourne, Australia in August 1989, by the Astra Choir, John McCaughey, director. The piece uses Amiga local sound as well as special MIDI system-exclusive software written in HMSL for real-time control of a Yamaha FBO1 synthesizer (thanks to Carter Scholz for his advice) and similar software for the Roland DEP-5 signal processor.
Psaltery (for Lou Harrison) is constructed from 51 pitches, derived from a recording of one string of a hand-held bowed psaltery (built by Capritaurus Instruments in Santa Cruz, California) by tape manipulation techniques. The 51 pitches are the first 17 harmonics of three fundamentals, related to each other as ratios of 1:5:3, or a major triad. The harmonics from the higher series (5 and 3) are actually higher harmonics of the first.
After building up the initial series on the fundamental, pitches from the next series (5, or the major third) begin to replace their closest neighbors until the series on 5 is complete. This process happens twice more, moving to the perfect fifth (on 3), and then back to the fundamental. Finally, the series on the fundamental drops out.
Harmonics enter according to their "prime complexity" in this order: 17, 13, 11, 14, 7, 15, 10, 5, 9, 12, 6, 3, 16, 8, 4, 2, 1. More distantly related harmonics of a new series enter first, crossfading with close pitches from the current series so that, at first, only a "mistuning" is heard. Gradually, closer harmonics of the new series begin to imply the new fundamental, through difference tones and our own sense of harmony. The initial buildup of the first series is the reverse of this order, and in the end, the pitches of the final series drop out in this order.
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