Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On Notation, KARMA, Sequencers and Tangerine Dream

I could not think of a better title for this blog so I thought I would simply list all of the topics I hope I can bring together here in some synthetic whole. Today, I simply will introduce the topic and then edit and add to this entry as time permits.

By introduction, think of this. Most who probably read my blog are familiar with the electronic artist, "Tangerine Dream" whose music literally spans decades. They have appeared hundreds of times in performance, their albums are prolific to say the least and there music appears in many movie soundtracks. But my point here is not to plug their music, but to ask this. Would it be possible to create sheet music (i..e. traditional musical notation) for Tangerine Dream or for that matter much of electronic music? My answer is simply no. Not in any way that would convey the content.

In classical music, there is a very clear dividing line between performance (of the individual musician), conducting, and composition. The work of most composers, at least up to the 20th century, can be expressed in traditional music notation. However, both the musicians and the conductor add to that and interpret, or perhaps add, to the vision of the composer. Instruments, while varied, are also limited in types and in timbre. A trumpet, while capable of a wide variety of sounds, will always sound like a trumpet, a violin like a violin and so on. Synthesizers, on the other hand, are in many ways so much more expansive in what they can sound like but on the performance side, I would also argue more limited.

What fascinates me about Tangerine Dream, is how they use both sequencers and and performance aspects and blend them together into some striking and beautiful music works and yet, the line between performance, composition and conducting, is now blurred and the ability to create musical notation, all but eliminated save what might appear embedded in a sequencer.

In 20th century electronic music, algorithmic composition has also opened up a whole new avenue, music that is allowed in some sense to create itself with composition left up to certain rules and to chance and the aorist becoming not performer but conductor. Again, lines are blurred.

In Tangerine Dream, we have sequences which can be rather boring but by varying them, Tangerine Dream creates a flowing fabric of sound that is captivating. This is where I get to KARMA. For those who may not know, KARMA stands for Korg Algorithmic Real time Music Architecture. KARMA, by the very words of Stephen Kay, it's designer, is a "sequencer on steroids" and yet, I believe that that is a very modest statement. KARMA resembles a sequencer and an algorithmic composition tool but it is neither. What I am currently interesting in doing in my own musical projects at the moment, is looking for ways to join KARMA and analogue synthesis. This blog is in some sense my musings and thoughts on this and I hope, a means of getting some feedback from others. That's all for now and I hope, a means of introduction to what is a complex topic.

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