Chimney (2016)

Chimney is a software Digital Musical Instrument in which the control on the temporal evolution of the piece is delegated to a computer agent, an algorithmic random walker. Chimney allows the composer to control only the musical material of a piece, leaving its evolution to an algorithmic agent whose decisions are unpredictable. This redistribution of responsibilities results in a compositional shift that causes the roles of the composer / performer to overlap. This work is aimed at raising questions about types of encounter between human and algorithmic agents in new music creation. Traditionally, computer agents have been relegated as tools to serve the performer. Chimney propose a view into a more equal redistribution of the roles of the two agents as the musician-part of the control over the composition is reduced to (i) selecting the musical material to be played during the execution; and (ii) deciding their likelihood of being played temporally closer to each other.

The walker autonomously roams throughout a virtual space following a specific statistical distribution modelled on an adapted version of the Perlin Noise. The musician can interact with the composition by adding to the virtual space pre-recorded sonic material. These sound sources are displayed as circles that can be resized, repositioned, or deleted in real time by the musician. When a new circle is added to the canvas, the system sets it in idle state and mutes it. As the random walker enters a circle, the amplitude of the sound connected to that circle increases. The maximum level is reached when the walker is at the centre of the circle. Player interaction is then reduced to deciding the sonic objects, and their likelihood of being played. Under these conditions, the musician cannot organise the temporal structure, which is entirely controlled by the algorithmic agent.

Our initial investigations with Chimney suggest that delegating some initiative to the machine produces a set of creative reactions and feelings that are at times similar and at times richer than simply constraining the interaction possibilies. For instance, the musicians that performed with Chimney, even if they could control every other aspect of the performance, lacked control of timing, which fundamentally changed how the performance was structured.

  • Ideation
  • Design and development
  • Raul Masu
  • 24/5/2017 - Queen Mary University of London - "XXV" for Chimney and cello, performed by Raul Masy and Naomi McLean
  • 25/5/2016 - COOP 2016 - Trento, Italy - "Alinearity" for Chimney and trumpet* performed by Raul Masu and Riccardo Terrin
  • 12/7/2015 - International Society for Improvised Music - Château-d'Oex, Switzerland - "Alinearity" for Chimney and 10 string electric guitar, performed by Raul Masu and Fabio Morreale