Monday, 24 April 2017

Go and listen to a pure chance music concert.

Duration: no less than 15 minutes, no more than an hour.

Effect: refreshment and revelation.

A pure chance concert is free of cost. Seating, or standing room if you prefer, is usually available. Travel is not an issue, but imaginative venues can be found. Pure chance music can be rhythmic and repetitious or arrhythmic and ever changing, or of course a mixture of the two. Try a seaside venue for distinct timbres; voices, often young ones with high frequency screeches panning quickly across the audio field and deep thundering bass tones when water brakes against the shore followed by the percussive rolling of thousands of pebbles.

If that venue is unavailable try a more urban environment, one may discover a complexity of pedestrian footfalls and a wealth of mechanical sounds emerging into the sound field from every direction.

You may be thrilled by an ear shattering climax or be hypnotised by a single rhythmic tone, the joy of the experience is that everything is possible. While there may, or may not, be similarities between performances there can be no formal replay. Recordings of pure chance works are increasingly popular as "field recordings", but you may find these lack the spontaneity of the live event.

Should you worry if you find structure in a pure chance performance? It is difficult to avoid making connections, the mind plays little tricks adding its own references and memories when the attention wanders, but that can happen in any concert. Just refocus. After the event you could discuss the performance with a friend or friends, though listeners of pure chance music often have radically different views about their experience.

Does listening to a pure chance music inform you about music in general? Should it be a course of study in music colleges and universities? All experiments in the philosophy of everyday life will prompt these types of questions, don't expect any academic rewards when you formulate your answer.

Please be aware that some concerts are not of the pure chance nature, if you find yourself in an auditorium with the paraphernalia of amplification, programme notes, scores and stands it is likely that degrees of control are in place. An entrance fee is a certain indicator that you are in the wrong place, just walk a little distance away from the venue and try again.

With thanks to the wonderful world of 101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life by Roger-Pol Droit.

Sometimes finding the correct format to express an issue takes longer than collating factual material. So it is when one explores the relationships and differences between "pure music" and what must be its opposite, pure chance. So it is that I offer my thanks to the wonderful world of 101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life by Roger-Pol Droit.

Having read through the Webern lectures it was almost inevitable that one had to follow the historical argument through to Boulez and his writings, and almost equally inevitable that the questions arising from pure chance would lead to randomness, indeterminacy and chance. The acid test of how different the outcomes are can be heard by simply comparing works written within a few years of each other

Have a friend play both for you so you are unaware of the composer, and use the slow movement of the 2nd example at around 8'15".

I have included this image from the I Ching, for those unaware of its history or its use by Cage here are two useful sites:

An English translation of the introduction given by Richard Wilhelm

A wiki account of Music of Changes. There is also a PDF file of the fourth book available:

I shall give the final word to Nurtan, in a recent exchange of posts we traded ideas on randomness, and put together some musical material to test the ideas. He put forward this view:

Fortunately, we have raised some …very fundamental questions in the musical aesthetics. I
cannot think of a work where the most important note, chord or rhythm is what is expected. In all cases, it is the unusual, unexpected, innovative series of musical utterances that imparts originality and interest in a piece. How do the composers find that? Is it a logical process or a random
process followed by culling out the chaff? Really, John Cage's dice, and other toys are not necessary, the brain is a powerful enough computer to generate a series of random processes and sorting the results out to get the "best " result; or at least what we think as the best for that moment.
Of course there are very conventional rule based, well ordered passages that provide a breathing space for the next emotional utterance. I think this is an important aspect of music - i.e. before you make your listener jump out of his/her seat the composer has to provide a bridge or a respite,
or a repetition of the previous sentence to draw attention to the unusual when it comes. If a composition lays out a root progression according to an accepted pre-existing root progression and composed strictly using a well-recognised or recognisable rhythmic or melodic devices, in my opinion, that would not be a complete composition - it would be just passage work to
prepare for the next leap.