Cycles

Georges Gurdjieff, Gamelan instrument, Robert Fripp, Steve Reich
The Price is Reich

Back in the late 1980s, I somehow found my way to an odd assortment of things: the writings of Gurdjieff, Balinese Gamelan music, and Steve Reich. Much of this was brought together because of a guitar teacher based in Virginia Beach, who taught for some time in Claymont, West Virginia at a school led by Robert Fripp.  

There is something cyclical to all of this. Gamelan music works in cycles – too complex to explore here. Much of what Robert Fripp does with his guitar is cyclical – often using odd time signatures (5/4, 7/8, 11/8) which adds to his distinctive sound — and Steve Reich’s compositions are greatly defined by the melodic and harmonic cycles (of different lengths, shifting accents) going on at the same time.  

Speaking of cycles, I’m returning to these early experiences with new tools – and I’m remembering (cyclical!) my excitement about everything I mentioned above. Fast forward to the mid 1990s, when I first created computer based sounds, using loops on what would now be considered rudimentary equipment with limited options (which is not a bad thing) —nearly a quarter century later, I’ve returned to doing some musical experiments using computers and, recently, was able to finally wrap my head around Ableton Live, a software program that works using two interfaces, one is linear and the other is cyclical. That’s as far as I’ll go here.

I can’t score music – I understand it, to some extent I can follow along. However, I can translate Midi notes (from Ableton) into musical notation. Here’s something I wrote out using Midi notes.

Using this two bar sketch, I created four tracks (clips) in Ableton, three of which arpeggiate (using a native midi effect called ‘Bach 16th’) with shifting emphasis (by changing offsets and rates.)  The 4th track (clip) turns these two bars into eight. All of the sounds, two vibes patches, are from an Arturia Synclavier V. The four clips begin and end at different points. 

I hope to do more or something different like this in the future. It’s undoubtedly influenced by Reich but the path that took me here was very different – I’m not a composer or arranger. This is more a matter of what Brian Eno refers to as Generative Music — I put a very rudimentary idea (two bars of chord changes) through two processes: arpeggiators with different accents and one element that was played with sustained chords at 1/4 of the tempo. 

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