Events in our surrounding world are formed by coherent patterns of material and energy that are driven by natural forces. We tend to experience these events as discontinuous objects or processes. In contrast, the music is intended to provoke the listener to imagine events in the world as a series of unique and independent (discrete) patterns which occur sequentially and continuously in a variety of forms, at different times, and at different orders of magnitude and scale.
The titles of the first and last piece Logical Invention for Digital Oboe and Synthesizers (1994) and Virtual Landscape for Digital Flute and Synthesizers (1993) refer to the cyberqualities of the music, as well as the algorithmic processes used to generate it.
Oceans of the Moon for Digital Piano and Computer-generated Sounds(1995) is a musical representation of the plain surfaces as seen on the visible side of the Moon. Along with the craters which dominate the Moon’s surface, the Moon contains wide, dark plains, misnamed ‘seas’ as they have never been filled with water. The chief mountain ranges form the borders of the various seas. Both mountains and seas are scattered across the surface of the Moon from north to south, east to west.
The Fourth Kingdom for Digital Clarinet and Synthesizers (1995) refers to the Kingdom Animalia, to which humans and all other living creatures belong. In addition to Animalia, there are four other taxonomic categories of living things, including two Kingdoms of bacteria, fungi, and plants.
The Earth’s Shadow for Digital Bassoon and Synthesizers (1995) is based on the moving shadow of the Earth as seen from a distance. As the Earth turns slowly, continuous light from the Sun strikes the Earth’s surface in different places and at different times, causing various shadowing effects.
The Six Quarks for Digital Piano and Computer-generated Sounds (1996) is inspired by the fundamental elementary particles of matter which form the nucleus of an atom. These particles oscillate in resonance with one another, forming coherent vibrational patterns. There are six different kinds or ‘flavors’ of quarks, based on their position within the nucleus. Quarks were given their name by particle physicist Murray Gell-Mann in the 1960’s, borrowed from a passage in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.
All of the music on this recording was generated by a computer from a set of microprograms which contain the instructions for realizing the music. The software instructions combine the simplest elements of musical texture (pitch, dynamics, duration, speed, rhythm, articulation, etc.) with basic structural elements (continuity, repetition, variation, and chord structures which are derived from the melodic flow of the music). Occasionally, melodic ‘themes’ are incorporated within the music. In some pieces, the themes are originated with a theme generator program, while in others they are freely composed. The themes are input into a data base where they are selected and modified automatically when the program is active. Some random variability is introduced in the program to provide structural coherence. The program then outputs the musical information in the form of MIDI data which controls the digital instruments.
The computer is programmed to select short, independent sequences or patterns, each with a unique musical identity. These mini-sequences, or sound-groups, complete in themselves and sometimes separated by silences, are then strung together within the program to form a coherent movement or short piece.
The patterns which form the sequences are selected by the computer program from a set of musical options based on primary elements of musical texture, such as pitch, dynamics, duration, speed, rhythm, articulation, etc. These basic elements of texture, which transcend musical cultures, styles, or idioms, are combined to form various repeated patterns, ascending and descending patterns, rhythmic patterns, melodic patterns, varied and contrasting patterns, etc. Within a single piece, the program may select from over 100 different musical options.
All of the digital instruments on this recording were commercially sampled. They were then modified by the composer to conform to various musical requirements such as brightness, presence of sound, and tone quality. Although one cannot help but make the comparison, the digital instruments are not intended to imitate or act as a substitute for standard concert instruments. Rather they have been designed to function as true digital instruments, possessing their own unique qualities and character.
Synthesizer sounds which accompany the digital oboe, clarinet, bassoon and flute were selected for their blending properties with a solo instrument. It has traditionally been the case with solo/accompaniment combinations that the harmonics, particularly of wind instruments, clash with the accompaniment instrument, usually a piano, rather than resonate with it naturally. The use of the synthesizer as an accompanying instrument represents a contemporary solution to this problem.
The digital piano is a commercially available Bosendorfer sample which has been modified by the composer to accommodate both aesthetic concerns and MIDI programming challenges. Computer-generated sounds which are employed in conjunction with the digital piano were originated using Barry Vercoe’s CSOUND developed at the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The sounds themselves have been designed by a variety of composers and sound designers and made available as samples.
John Holland’s music is often based on extra-musical ideas related to science and nature. Listening to the music informs us about ourselves and our larger context in the world.
Like many processes in nature, including the structure of matter, the music is essentially combinatorial. A computer program creates a sequence of separate but continuous musical patterns that mimic the flow of events and processes in the real world. The program does not explicitly connect these patterns. However, we make the connections, putting these patterns together as a way to organize them and give them meaning. As these musical patterns come together in our mind, we experience ourselves and our surroundings in a new way.Nature also does not explicitly connect events. According to evolution through natural selection, the ‘central intention’ is survival in the short term. There is no long term plan. John Holland’s music, like nature, has no central intention, or long term plan. Since we cannot expect what will come next in the music, we have to listen carefully to decode the patterns and ultimately to decipher meaning.