My last post, Prediction, was a postcard recording that I think of as music without composition and without performance. And yet, I did make it. I chose which modules to use. I made a patch, the set of wires connecting modules together. And I played with the patch until I discovered something I found interesting. I was looking for patterns that would change in ways that might surprise and delight the listener, but without being predictable. Hence the ironic title. It would be a stretch to use the term ‘composition’ to describe this activity. I don’t look at this as a creative act on my part, either. I was exploring and listening. I found something I liked and recorded it. I did not have those sounds in mind, with any specificity, when I started out. I was not composing or creating anything.
Neither was I performing. After I set the patch going, I let it continue without doing anything other than just listening. This can take patience and discipline. It is easy to start feeling bored, wishing for some change to happen, and then start twiddling a knob or two. That impulse has to be resisted, or something great might never come to pass. I could just as well ruin the sounds as make them more interesting. This implies that I bring aesthetic judgment to bear in the process. I recognize this to be true, but I admit to being unclear about my aesthetic criteria. That is a question for future reflection.
I prefer to participate by exploration and listening, as opposed to performing or improvising. It seems to me that, until I achieve more clarity about my aesthetic criteria, improvising is hazardous. To improvise with the synthesizer means to involve myself in instantaneous decisions. It risks easily going awry. Meaning that all of a sudden I’m rather displeased with the sound and confused about what to do. It’s better to explore and then let the sounds unfold.
John Cage once made a remark to the effect that there is a type of music that is not performed, and that with this type of music mistakes are impossible. The electronic circuits cannot err. They follow natural laws. They possess no aesthetics. And yet out of their activity can emerge very striking sounds, when listened to. These sounds bear a similarity to other natural sounds, like water in a downspout or thunder. I go exploring for sounds and love the joy of finding them. I don’t make them.
Sometimes I do feel like playing around and improvising. But that is something different. I am much more ambivalent about improvising than I am about exploring. I feel that I have more skill in the latter than with the former.