Presence – A Sibling to the Generative Meditation

In the Winter of 2018/2019 I began work on an installation project known as the Generative Meditation. A drone based work realized in in Max/MSP, the basic concept of the patch was to calculate a fundamental frequency based on the current time and date. Days of the week were represented with just-intonation scales that included ratios up to the 13-limit. Years after having completed the work, the philosophical questions posed by my approach in Generative Meditation have continued to fascinate me. For example, if the patch were to be run in a time before human calendars it would make no sound at all, as there would be no data with which to run the algorithm. Would this “silence” count as part of the piece? Similarly, if the patch is turned on thousands of years from now, the fundamental produced will be beyond the range of human hearing. Does this mean that the piece is over? While I cannot provide definitive answers to such questions about my work, my pondering of them has led to a new installation environment. At the moment I am calling this new installation Presence.

In some ways Presence is a more mature and flexible version of Generative Meditation. The fundamental frequency of Presence is determined using essentially the same algorithm as in the Generative Meditation. However, Presence also adds a set of data for musical generation: the current weather conditions. For example, the temperature is mapped to the tempo of rhythmic elements, and the wind speed is mapped to the panning of certain sound sources. Because there are an increased number of data points with which to power the patch, Presence is more flexible than its predecessor.

Further flexibility is added by the inclusion of seven sound sources in Presence as opposed to the three that were presented in the Generative Meditation. The number seven was chosen to symbolize the seven days of the week. The sources are: a 32 partial additive drone, instrumental samples, natural sounds processed through a resonant filter bank, a Karplus-Strong synthesis dulcimer, an FM organ, a drum synthesizer, and a live signal from a non-fixed-pitch instrument with an effects bank.

The number seven is also reflected in the tuning system used in the piece as the two scales used in Presence are set in seven limit just-intonation. During the daylight hours a Lydian/Mixolydian scale is used with the ratios: 1/1, 9/8, 5/4, 7/5, 3/2, 27/16, 7/4, 2/1. During the night-time hours a Dorian scale is used, with the ratios: 1/1, 9/8, 7/6, 4/3, 3/2, 27/16, 7/4, 2/1. Tying the choice of scales to the time of day and limiting the tunings used to only a handful of ratios of the seven-limit creates a more inclusive, and less arbitrary pitch system than that of the Generative Meditation.

That said, the days of the week do influence the choice of pitches within the two scales. Part of the patch receives the name of the current week day. Each individual letter A-Z, numbered 1-26, is transposed to modulo 8 arithmetic such that the resulting pitch-class sets fit within the diatonic/modal pitch structure used in Presence.

I am listening to the patch right now as I write this post. Although I am not including any audio examples at this time, I intend to provide some in the very near future. Thank you for visiting my website and I hope that you will get to experience Presence soon.

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