Emergent Music And Visual Music: Inside Studies
Part One: The Book
by Ronald A. Pellegrino



Imagine the notion of music as a multifaceted crystal. Each of the virtually infinite number of facets represents one possibility of the immense range of qualities that music embodies and projects. The power of your attention - how you direct and focus your history, desires, and intelligence - creates the light that attracts a receptive facet, thereby moving the crystal to align that facet with your point of view so as to set in motion a creative loop. In the field generated by such a loop, it´s impossible to tell whether the light is reflected off the facet (your light) or emerges on its own, through the facet, from the depths of the crystal (music´s light). It really doesn´t make any difference which view is taken if the object of the exercise is a ticket to the realm of the sublime.

The key to starting the emergent music engine is to create or to discover an environment, an algorithm, or a system configured to promote self-organization. Such a creation or discovery will help you break free of your programs - all those long-term memories that push you aside and compete with each other to steer your course in all that you do. Breaking free of your programs is critical for generating conditions that reveal the potential for experiencing the greatest number of facets. A closely related way of considering the process is to imagine that you can magically shake loose all those facets, and then place yourself, the composer, as a seed crystal in their midst to discover what new forms of music will emerge from that creative exercise.

In these studies visual music is one facet of what emerges from a deeply considered notion of music. As such, visual music is a form of emergent music. The operating principles that give rise to emergent music work equally well in all the performance arts.

The complete package for Emergent Music And Visual Music: Inside Studies comes in four parts - Part One: The Book, Part Two: The DVDs, Part Three (soon to be released): The CDs, and Part Four (eventually to be released): The Works of Other Artists in the Field. This item, Part One: The Book, is designed to lay the theoretical and historical groundwork for Part Two: The DVDs. Also it is intended to serve a number of other purposes as listed below:

1. To clarify the notions of Emergent Music and Visual Music.

2. To generate a feeling for and insight into the experimental process that drives the evolution of the electronic arts of sound and light.

3. To serve as a basis for visual music studies for any interested parties including practicing artists and students, in or out of academia.

4. To provide background theoretical and historical information that fleshes out the context for the material on the DVDs, Volumes 1 - 4.

5. To function as a guide providing insight into the thought and technical processes represented by the sound and light material on the DVDs.

6. To be of value as a standalone monograph on the realtime approach to composition, an approach that both serves to further an individual´s development and to reflect the current state of that development.

7. To articulate the principles of realtime composition, an aesthetic position that integrates composition and performance in the electronic arts of sound and light and that applies equally well to other performance media.

In most cases the presentation of the material in this book is relatively informal, as if I were having conversations with friends, colleagues, or other interested parties at a cafe, over lunch, when they were making a visit to my studios, when they approached me after one of my concerts, or via email. I prefer this conversational style to what I was obliged to use for my first two books. An Electronic Studio Manual (1969) was initially one-third of my doctoral dissertation project, so the delivery was formal for academic purposes. The Electronic Arts of Sound and Light (1983) was published by Van Nostrand Reinhold, a company that specializes in reference books and distributes globally, so it was also more formal in its presentation. This go-around I'm choosing a publishing vehicle that encourages freedom of expression and avoids the impediments of bureaucratic formalities.

The presentational form of the package is like a record of a combination of visits over the years to my studios and to my public presentations. The materials are collections based on my personal preferences, ways I prefer to hear, to see, and to explore. What´s included has also been shaped by the somewhat limited nature of the recording systems, specifically the video and DVD recording systems.

The studies can be used to get a sense of the rhythm of exploration in the performance context. The studies can also be thought of as a guided tour through the sound and light possibilities of my particular visual music system configurations - hardware, software, and protocompositional designs. The conceptual aspect of the configurations should be viewed as electronic ragas - collections of melodies, rhythms, and tunings that I´ve honed over the years to make them available as realtime compositional material - material to be used in a fashion very similar to the traditional approach the North Indian musicians have to their ragas.

After my ragas are developed over time, often many years in the making, a performance process naturally comes into play. A particular performance process grows out of the nature of a particular raga. One of the protocompositional problems in working with the ragas is to discover their inherent voices in terms of tempo, inflections, rhythms, and micro and macro shapes. The final result of the process is an exercise in realtime composition, an exercise that relies on the principle of "tuning on-the-fly," that is, making adjustments to compositional variables according to the needs of the moment.

What struck me in the late 1960s, when I first came across the oscillographic images (Lissajous figures) of harmonious sound, was that here was a special case for beauty that appeals to theoretical scientists and at the same time is highly seductive to just about any-one who witnesses the marriage of sound and imagery. What scientists often consider beautiful is born of a special kind of internal logic in the connections between their theories and what their experiments in reality demonstrate. Since that discovery in the late 1960s, I have worked to find connections between sound and sight that work aesthetically for both the ear and the eye. That collection of sound/light connections constitutes the common ground shared by the ear and the eye. This is an emerging area of psychophysics full of practical as well as aesthetic applications. The virtual reality researchers are busy cashing in on the practical applications while the Visual Music Studies on these DVDs represent some aesthetic and instructive applications.

No map exists for this research. That´s the case because the eye and the ear, that is seeing and hearing, have evolved over the eons for different evolutionary purposes, and the research tools for exploring their common ground have only become generally available during the past forty years or so. Searching for the common ground of the ear and the eye is one of the electronic art games I've been playing for most of my life with no specific purpose in mind other than the pleasure it affords. An area of research I´ve found most fruitful is the exploration of the interaction of wavetrains with fundamental frequencies that are integer ratios; that exploration leads directly to my studies of the work of Pythagoras.

I´ve used the sort of material found on the DVDs in a variety of applications including discovering for myself and teaching others to hear and to see more deeply and with greater detail. In a nutshell, the process involves using vision to guide hearing and hearing to guide vision.

In the visual music studies the experienced eye will notice a few glitches passed along from the original analog video recordings (analog tape is notorious for dropout as it ages), as well as other types of anomalies that are characteristic of media translations and media transpositions. In my view, there´s much to be learned from studying relatively uncut, raw versions of the realtime compositional process in much the same way one would experience it sitting next to me in my studios or at my performances. The individual studies are various combinations of the sort of raw as well as more developed material you would expect to find in a composer´s notebook or an artist´s sketchpad.

With the advent of the internet I thought I would never need to write another book. My website seemed to be the perfect vehicle for passing along my work - what could be better than a globally distributed multimedia ebook? Then in late 2008 I decided that this present sort of a package is a far superior vehicle for distributing this information because it doesn´t have to contend with the current internet data throughput drag that many of us continue to experience. Plus, standalone and computer DVD players handle this data-intensive material with ease, and you can have a book in your hand in front of or away from the video pieces. Also, I personally find there´s a significant improvement in the quality of my attention when I read essays written in a book compared to reading similar material on a computer screen; others tell of a similar quality improvement.

The book and the DVDs are based on my personal experiences in the electronic arts of sound and sound since the 1960s; the personal historical references are best viewed in that light. Everything included has been the subject of countless private studio tests with an assortment of invited guests. It has also been the subject of many hundreds of my public performance field tests such as concerts and other presentations. In a sense, a significant part of the book can be considered a log of where I´ve been, when I was there, and what was on my mind at the time. It represents one approach to the electronic arts of sound and light, not the only approach and not necessarily the best for everyone, but certainly the only one I thought worth pursuing.

This package has been ten years in the making. The first steps were taken in the late 1990s when I recorded the laser animations to video, and that was not done initially with this project in mind. For unknown reasons, at that time I felt compelled to commit my laser work to a storage medium; that was a change of heart after a lifetime of arguments to myself and others against recording my laser work. I was also working on a large number of writing projects for my website during the latter half of the decade of the 1990s and, as I said above, I was convinced I'd never get involved in writing another book. However, in mid-2008 when I woke up to the inevitable fact that the clock is ticking down, I decided to pass along some of my great old synthesizers around which I built studios since the late 1960s. In the process of selling those instruments on eBay, I discovered that there's a generation or two of artists around the world who find of great value what those instruments represent. Yes, they love the hardware, but they seem equally fascinated by what it has done and what it can do for thinking as well as art making. Email exchanges with artists from all over the world were sufficient motivation for me to tie up all its loose ends and complete this project. I pray it´s of value to the field.

To view selected sections of Emergent Music And Visual Music: Inside Studies, Part 1: The Book, click on one of the following:
Chapter 1, Emergent Music
Chapter 15, Visual Music Flavors

Click Here to buy the book or other parts of Pellegrino's projects