Music at the Edge of Chaos

Fracas by Shawn Bell, 2020

NetWorks is a music-generating system and a body of work based on Network theory, Complex Systems Science and the Honing Theory of creativity (Gabora 2010). NetWorks uses a hierarchical, scale-free network to generate music that can range from orderly to chaotic. At the ‘edge of chaos’ it generates patterns that exhibit emergent complexity through coherent musical development at low, mid and high levels of musical organization, and often suggests a sense of direction through goal seeking behaviours. …

In general, the sounds chosen to manifest the musical patterns discovered by a network attempt to reflect the mystery and wonder that virtually unlimited diversity can come from such simple models of complexity. When mapping patterns to sound, every effort is made to preserve the integrity of the patterns rather than obfuscate them with complex synthetic textures or other effects that are readily available during mixing.

Shawn Bell

Darwin Tunes

To investigate the role of consumer selection, we constructed a Darwinian music engine consisting of a population of short audio loops that sexually reproduce and mutate. This population evolved for 2,513 generations under the selective influence of 6,931 consumers who rated the loops’ aesthetic qualities. We found that the loops quickly evolved into music attributable, in part, to the evolution of aesthetically pleasing chords and rhythms. Later, however, evolution slowed. 

MacCallum et al, Evolution of music by public choice.

Automata through the ages

So I was reading Descartes and I noticed that he mentioned the idea that fellow humans might be automata:

…were I perchance to look out my window and observe men crossing the square, I would ordinarily say I see the men themselves… But what do I see apart from hats and clothes, which could conceal automata?

Descartes, Meditations part II, 1641

He even speculated as to whether talking automata might be invented. He thought that they might be, but they wouldn’t have reason so wouldn’t be convincingly human. I was curious what examples he had of automata in the 17th century to inspire these ideas. It turns out people were pretty clever with clockwork-style automata long before computers were dreamt of.

Peacock automaton given to Catherine the Great, 1781
Dulcimer playing automaton presented to Marie Antoinette, 1784

Here is a current approach to musical automata with a slightly different aesthetic:

AUTOMATICA – Robots Vs. Music – Nigel Stanford, 2017