Godfried-Willem Raes (1952): Jumpy Variations (1995)
These variations arose from my interest in a particular arithmetic proposition
that appears to be true and trustworthy, but nevertheless still belongs
to the category of unproven propositions. Articulated as a procedure
the proposition presents itself as follows:
Take an integer. If it is even, divide it by the number 2. If it is odd, however, multiply it by the number 3 and add 1. Now, after a sufficient number of recursions, we always arrive back at the number 1.
take 15 :
(15 * 3) + 1 = 46 46 / 2 = 23 (23 * 3) + 1 = 70 70 / 2 = 35 (35 * 3) + 1= 106 106 / 2 = 53 (53 * 3) + 1 = 160 160 / 2 = 80 80 / 2 = 40 40 / 2 = 20 20 / 2 = 10 10 / 2 = 5 (5 * 3) + 1 = 16 16 / 2 = 8 8 / 2 = 4 4 / 2 = 2 2 / 2 = 1
Apart from the mystery around the difficulty of finding a proof for such a 'simple' proposition, the series of numbers this function generates intrigued me quite a bit. The number series is pretty adventurous and makes wide excursions, jumping up and down between large and small numbers. Thus came the idea of using it as a basic algorithm for melodic and harmonic development in a musical composition.
Although it would be quite possible - though extremely tedious - to compose these pieces by hand using pencil and paper, I preferred to use the computer and worked out an algorithmic composition program around the given rules. At the same time, this offered me the chance to include the performance of the pieces and their interpretation as a part of the program itself. So I decided to score the piece for player piano, immediately bypassing the limitations of human performance.
The Jumpy Variations are truly interactive: their interpretation is up to the performer, controlling the instrument remotely from behind the computer, running the Jumpy Variations algorithmic software. The original version of this software - written between 1992 and 1995 - was a multitasking MS-DOS program needing an Intel 80386DX processor. In 1999 I upgraded (and rewrote) the software to take advantage of the higher processing power and more easily handled memory provided by the Pentium II platform. The 1999 version thus became a full 32-bit application running under Win32 (Windows NT, 98 or 2000) and features a more flexible user interface. It is now part of my <GMT> real-time composition software.
The Jumpy Variations that have resulted from this work comprise three movements, respectively called
Each of those sections uses the principle of musical variations as a compositional procedure. Each variation reveals another run through the jumpy algorithm. The piece, as such, is pretty austere and belongs to the category of pure abstract music - it is not a 'landscape with cows,' as I used to call most contemporary composition. In Tendering the gesture is one of 'getting tender', of offering audiences a chance to hook into the piece on a more expressive level. It is up to them, however, to do so or not. The piece itself is not rhetoric and does not force anyone into anything. Hence it is also fragile and vulnerable.
The second movement, Tropes, uses a selected set of numbers for which the algorithm produces particularly interesting bursts of melodic and harmonic development. Since the numbers produced tend to become extremely large, we used the logarithm of their logarithm as a point of departure for the musical mapping on the piano keyboard.
The last section of these variations, Totems, puts the algorithm in a vertical format: it outputs discontinuous clusters in which each note/component gets an individually weighted dynamic. The resonances in the piano can thus be controlled in a way that would be beyond the scope of any performer of flesh and blood. The clusters can be from two to fifty-six notes wide. Their composition is based on very specific rules of harmonic evolution. The timing - beyond any sense of periodicity - is calculated strictly as a function of piano resonance and algorithmic logic.
Godfried-Willem Raes: FortePiano (1973)
This piece originated in my large-scale music theatre production Berichten en Berechten composed in 1972/73 on texts by the Flemish author Jan Emiel Daele. In that context it was scored for a small instrumental ensemble. Later, in the early eighties, I rewrote the piece for performance by a piano soloist. In that version it was performed by players such as Philip Mead and Yvar Mikhashoff. The piece, however, is extremely difficult - not so much because of the notes, but because every chord has to be played ff, then repeated immediately pp, thus striving for a bouncing effect.
After building my player piano in 1995, I decided to rework the composition for automatic performance. In the version on the Logos CD, two pianos and two player piano Vorsetzers were used.
Joachim Brackx (1975): Dualistic Solitude II (1999)
Dualistic Solitude II is music written for an automat, which is obvious
to the ear. No attempt was made to imitate or improve on a human pianist.
The piece lets the machine be a machine, and tries to apply the specificities
of the machine in a constructive way. Remarks like "It sounds machine-like."
are obviously redundant.
The player piano starts a conversation with itself, fast and mechanical - a machine chit-chat, regularly interrupted by moments of doubt and alienation. The machine falters; something is wrong; but in the absence of consciousness, a moment later the solitary dialogue resumes without listening to itself - which does not matter, as it is all the time about the same thing: dualistic solitude, communicating about the impossibility of communication.
Hans Roels (1971): Sailing the Seas of Down Below (1995)
Hans Roels considers the player piano as an instrument different from
the regular piano. The player piano is unique in its potential to tackle
huge polyphony (an orchestra of 88 instruments / keys), complex rhythms,
and superhuman speed. In Sailing the Seas of Down Below, Hans Roels
has exploited these possibilities to an extreme, resulting in a very
'pianistic' work: the limits of the player piano (and thus of the piano
itself) are being reached for: thirteen-voice polyphony, combined decelerations
and accelerations, and keyboard runs so fast the ear perceives them
as glissandi. Sailing the Seas of Down Below consists of two elements
that at first sight seem contradictory: a tight melody in a steady rhythmic
pattern (typically mechanical) and intertwining chromatic lines in a
very free, improvisatory rhythm (typically human: with tempo changes
and rubati). A machine such as the player piano is perfectly capable
of solving this contradiction.
In the final movement, the first few seconds of the piece are subjected to a microscopic enlargement and presented as a slowly descending sound mass.
Kris De Baerdemacker (1972): 3 Studies voor Player Piano (1999)
A little group of four notes is repeated - identically or in mutation - and grows to a long chain, with a constant rhythm that is imitated in the other voices. A bit later, on top of this drone, a little rotating three-note motive brings the music to its first climax. Without pausing, the motives circle around a single note, while in the other voices new strands are constructed towards a second climax. The music stops when the remaining voices reach a unison.
The Intermezzo is a short, expressive piece. First a cluster is slowly
built, and the piece concludes with a melody. As the piece evolves,
the cluster becomes thinner and more fragmented, while the melody turns
into huge chord blocks. Nothing remains of the original melody but the
A whimsical melodic pattern is continuously repeated, while its dynamic and rhythm are subjected to minor variations. In the course of the piece the pattern is eliminated or combined with a new melody. Now and then, it is heard on its own again. Tempo accelerations terminate the various sections of the piece.