Friday, 22 April 2011

Computer Music - Pietro Grossi

Aldous Huxley’s much-used quote states that ‘After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music’, but what can a computer express? In the hands of Pietro Grossi, it is programmed to produce sounds, even to recreate works by Paganini and Bach, but unlike Wendy Carlos’s efforts to switch the modern world onto Bach, here Grossi creates a purely computerised rendition of classical music. He has fed the machine instructions, and it obeys.
   The very names of these machines, the System/360 IBM Model 67 and IBM System 1800, evoke futurist dreams of a golden age when the machine was bigger than us in every way, in capability, possibility, and size. So it seemed. They would play human masters at chess, and perform seemingly miraculous calculations. And here, the machines sing, as only they can, because They have their own fantastic sound-world.
   Listening to ‘Monodia’ is like being allowed a privileged peek into machines communicating when nobody is around. It’s what I imagine they say when everyone has left those vast rooms that house them. After the initial surprise (what could be expected? Melody? Harmony?) these sounds become spellbinding, in the way that all alien voices are. And this is how I picture extra-terrestrials communicating, in a mechanical warbles and trills, rather than the simple musical motif of Spielberg’s close encounter.
   ‘Unending Music’ is an appropriate title, because although it does end after 19mins, I suspect it may still be playing today. It’s the most fascinating piece on this Creel Prone release, sounding as much like conversation between the machine and it’s alter-ego, as it does mechanical improvisation.
   People play machines in order to tame them, usually, to impose emotion on them, to evoke feelings via them, but Pietro was not interested in that. So often in musical appreciation, emphasis is placed on ‘soul’ and ‘individualism’. Here, all that we have are machines making sounds, and as such, it’s a challenge. But after unburdening yourself of all musical preconceptions, it proves to be a fascinating sonic experience.

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