Electronic / Computer MUSIC NEWS by Jim Horton
The wonderfully multi-talented multi-media composer, inventor, graphics artist, computer video and filmmaker Philip Loarie has been able to maintain a consistently musical approach in his wide-ranging activities. he works from a philosophy called "Art Integral" that outlines a unified artistic program grounded upon the universe's fundamental principles as understood by modern science.
One of music's oldest traditions is its participation in the available scientific insight. The practice of tuning instruments to scales led early on (c. 4000 B.C.) to the first physics, the science of harmonics. Numbers and ratios from music were then applied to delineating the processes of the mind, society, the doings of the gods, and the heavenly motions. Terrestrial music imitated the inaudible harmony of the spheres.
But in the 18th and 19th centuries European composers, supporting the middle class "personal" outlook, abandoned old ideas and fashioned a language of harmonic gesture to communicate movements from their innermost "souls", which they thought of as transcending the workings of a mechanistic world. To be musical was not to be an effect of universal cause, but to feel deeply.
In recent decades, some composers seem to be returning to the more ancient attitude. Cosmically based principles they use as guides for their compositions include: harmonics, relativity of perception, the logics of possible worlds, chance procedures, the recursive flow of symbols generated by algorithms, the unification of space and time, and the self-regulating improvisatory character of cybernetic systems.
Phil Loarie is one of the most active of a small group of composers who have developed self-programming electronic instruments that directly embody many of these ideas. His pieces built from digital integrated circuits can be seen to gain their distinct musicality quite directly from theorems of symbolic logic. G. Spencer Brown in his Laws of Form has proven mathematically how the simplest act of consciousness, indicating a distinction, calls into being the familiar laws of our experience. He shows how the forms of the resulting logic give rise to precursors of vibration, oscillation and memory.
Phil has invented four musical circuits so far this year, Skylab Ghost Detector is a beautifully crafted electronically sounding box submitted to Australia's first electronic music festival; Coyote in Heat is being integrated into a large painting by artist Mary Lucille O'Halloran as part of their series "Paintings that Sing." Digital Lunch, a four-voiced portable digital frequency multiplier/divider capable of generating complex pulsing and long sustained sounds, is built into a thermos style lunchbox and was a prize winner at the 1979 Sonavera International Tape Music Competition. Birdzilla, commissioned by the Susan Benjamin Dance Company, is a set of circuits that generate sound influenced by changes of motion and light. The whole system including amplifiers, speakers and powerpacks is worn by the dancers.
An older work (May 1977), Digital Dronezilla (with Random Raga Logic) is a six voiced instrument. Four logic-controlled phase-locked loop oscillators supply a steady drone of slowly sliding harmonies while the other two construct faster polyphonic lines. Pitch changes center themselves around the first fifteen harmonics of a reference frequency to which all oscillators are tuned. Partly because this just scale contains intervals based on 11 and 13 which are not implied by twelve tone equal temperament, intriguing, generally unheard-of, "raga"-like melodies are played.
Rhythm, harmony and melody are derived from a network of pseudo-random number generators, including one that can sequence through a non-repeating pattern of (2^41)-1 states. At a rate of one change per second it will take almost 70,000 years to play through! The number generator's parallel outputs are selected so that truth states sent to various components in the circuit appear in a delayed relationship. There is a hint of unpredictable canon in the resulting music.
Digital Dronezilla is usually played through "Tubatrons"--speakers inserted into long blue plexiglass tubes. The Tubatrons are carried by dancers, the "Space Rangers" who move them around, exploring reverberation, standing waves and doppler shift effects, making space as well as time integral to the performance.
Currently Phil is building a computerized poetry text editing system with Bay Area poet G.P. Skratz.
He will present a lecture-demonstration of his work, including his instruments, on September 17, 1979, 7:00 PM at the Oakland Public Library as part of its "See the World" series.