Monday, April 14, 2008

A Musical Interlude... and back to Programming

I've been listening to Daft Punk and Justice quite a bit recently. Apparently I'm on a techno kick again. I've never found any electronic music that I've enjoyed as much as Joy Electric's The White Songbook. The purity of the tones and style has made it one of my all time favorite albums.

This got me thinking about a project which I thought of years ago, started, then abandoned. It was a music synthesizer/sequencer which you would program, by well, programming. I mean that the music would be controlled exclusively through a programming language. This would alter the creative process in several ways. Most music sequencers are graphical and allow you to lay out musical patterns in sequence. Writing a program is extremely non-linear, with classes, functions, and variables being defined in the code long before they are used. In this hypothetical sythesizer language. a composition might look something like this:

sequence "intro":
playSample("beat", start=0:32.1, end=0:33.5, beats=[1,3,9,11,15])
playSample("moog", beats=[5,7,11])
shiftPitch(start=A4, end=C4, duration=bars(8))

sequence "solo":
playSample("guitarRiff", start=1:15.3, end=2:09.0)

tempo 150 BPM
play("intro", now)
play("solo", end("intro"))
play("solo" now()+bars(5))

In the above example, the first play statement will be executed, then the third play statement (5 bars into the 8 bar intro), then the second solo will play again, probably before the first solo finishes. There are other interesting features in the pseudo-code above, but the fact that these sequences are played out of order was what I really want to highlight.

I've done live coding at several events over the years and I tend to have fun with it. It doesn't always go exactly as planned, but that is the whole idea. Live coding turns programming into a performance piece. I imagine there is a niche group of people who could really get into the live coding music scene.
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