Complexification is a collaborative project with Sun Hammer (Jay Bodley of Portland, Oregon). The project is based on a set of rules:
0. Each make a short, simple piece of music.
1. Swap a copy of the piece with the other person.
2. Modify the copy to make a new piece of music that is more complex (the given piece must be used, but it can be transformed in any way, and new sounds may be added).
3. IF the result is more complex (as agreed by both participants), GOTO 1, otherwise HALT.
The aim of this project is to explore musical complexity through a creative approach rather than an analytical one. The focus is on complexity as a variable musical parameter, not just highly complex music. The process halted on the 10th cycle when it became too difficult to proceed, so there are two parallel threads with 10 tracks each.
Giving ourselves the task of complexification meant having first to agree on what we meant by complexity in music. We didn’t want to be tied down to a specific definition of complexity, but there had to be agreement about how to judge whether one piece of music is more complex than another. We understood complexity as being a function of the quantity, variety and order of musical elements or patterns. So we judged complexity in terms of how hard it would be to describe all those elements and patterns. Comparing two pieces of music, the one that takes a longer and more detailed description is the more complex. Although we understood that the focus was on the complexity of the music itself, as it is heard, and not the processes that went into making it, we found that it’s easy to get lost in the process, and that complicated processes don’t necessarily lead to complex sounds. Computer music pioneer Jean-Claude Risset warned of this in a lecture from 2004, ‘The Perception of Musical Sound’ [PDF]:
It is often a delusion to rely on a physical description for predicting the appearance or the effect of a visual or an auditory scene realized with elaborate technical processes: one should be aware of the complexity of the relation between the physics of the signal and the way it is perceived.
On the difference between subjective and objective complexity, Risset also says:
There is the saying “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. What matters in music is not intrinsic complexity, but the complexity we perceive, complexity in us. Some people claim that acoustic sounds will always be more complex than computer-generated ones. This is not true of objective complexity: a signal made up of samples independently chosen at random has maximal complexity, but we cannot cope with that richness of information – white noise sounds undifferentiated.
The album Complexification will be released in July via Entr’acte: http://entracte.co.uk/projects/guy-birkin–sun-hammer-e187/ The CD is available for pre-order, and samples of two tracks (07GB & 07SH) are up on SoundCloud.
We developed the practice of using rules and constraints through participation in the Disquiet Junto. Some of the audio processing techniques were developed in Junto projects, and the group’s tradition of documenting the creative process led us to do the same in this project. The technical details about the process are available in a PDF via Entr’acte, which also includes spectrogram images of the tracks and a couple of analytical charts.