Music For Shuffle

Sketch #02

Since I did the first sketch back in January 2011, the project was on ice for a bit as I moved from London to San Francisco. Now to get back into it. Over the past few months, I’ve started to do these on the bus to and from work. It’s getting to be a nice little hobby.

Download the MP3s here (6.5mb)

First thoughts

The more regular 4/4 structure shows the seams between phrases a bit more than in #01; not sure it works as well. But the polyrhythmic type stuff in the bassline and morse code-like pattern show a bit of potential – phasing things of different lengths in a Reichy way helps break regularity but provides decent scaffolding to hang harmony from. Anyway. All worth exploring.

Making as thinking

I did a bit of reading up on aleatoric music, modularity, chance and so on. John Cage’s Silence comes in at the top of the list; there are tons of brilliant essays in it. A quote from his autobiographical statement has stuck in my head: “I don’t hear the music I write. I write in order to hear the music I haven’t yet heard.” Lovely stuff.

I get a similar (extremely amateur) wisp of that feeling when I’m writing these little sketches. There’s no way to really know how it’ll all fit together until it’s playing in iTunes, and I enjoy that little moment of excitement when I play it back randomly for the first time.


Again, just messing around with shape, line and colour. Still loads to explore.

What if I could do this with video clips? I doubt it’d work in everyday software like iTunes. It might need a custom app, which I’d like to avoid doing, although the brilliant David Singleton has started sketching up a little web-based app. Nice! Loads of potential there.

It’s all been done before, obviously

There are tons of composers who’ve been playing with these ideas over the years too. Apparently, musical dice games were all the rage in Mozart’s time. Each number of a die is associated with a phrase; you roll the dice, get a list of numbers, then paste the respective phrases together into a little minuet. Brilliant.

More recent aleatoric pieces include Boulez’ third piano sonata and Stockhausen’s Klavierstücke series. Then of course you have a heap of Cage’s work based on the I Ching. Brilliant, brilliant stuff, obviously. But – well, I hate to say it – it’s difficult. Probably prodigiously difficult to play, and difficult to listen to. I much prefer reading about it than listening to it.

It’s a shame that all these fascinating compositional techniques got so tied up with sober, demanding, high-art atonality in the mid 20th century. I wish Burt Bacharach or The Kinks could have had a play too. Maybe the recording industry machinery got in their way. Anyway, now the idea of music as a product has been brilliantly broken by the internets, hopefully we’ll see more and more pop artists experimenting with form and structure way beyond the bog-standard 3-minute radio edit.

Lots more sketching to do.