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Sphere on Spiral Stairs



I have been working the last few years on music defined by the social behaviors of ensemble groups. This began with birds grouped by species and mood. Vocalization densities were profiled within a behavior network of inter-species relationships. That work is discussed in Generative Ecologies and Audio Walks. Although a goal was for bird interactions to sound “natural”, the primary motivation was to create experiences both musically and dramatically interesting. Although the desire to sound “natural” suggested a behavioral approach, its larger motivation was to explore behavioral interactions with pitched instruments and other sonic palettes.

String Centet is a piece for live improvisation which utilizes bird flocking for the spatial grouping and animation of several groups of interacting 5-string electric violin voices. Each flock is distinguished by register, tonality, vociferousness, and speed. Interactions within flocks and between flocks express and reveal these behaviors, forming both small and larger-scale dramas within an overall "species ecology". These groups voice flock-specific phrase variants, much like the way that birds of a given species have recognizable calls, though varied in context. Some flocks are represented by more consonant, harmonious phrases and others by more dissonant challenge-like phrases. The development and balancing of these behaviors, with stochastic sensitivity to actors’ spatial and temporal proximity is the work's primary compositional effort. Achieving both a “natural” and a dramatically satisfying experience - like life on a coral reef - is the goal of this compositional process.  

Added to that dynamic is the interaction of a live performer. The live performer improvises with the ensemble, and alternately "perturbs" or reinforces different behavioral dynamics of the flocks. by articulating its own behaviors interpreted by pitch-detection and note velocity. The improviser adds unique musical material and may affect the overall dramatic shape of the performance in this way. 

The work’s custom software is event-oriented, affording real-time interaction from live performers as well as inter-flock interaction.  A special proxy object is used to interact with ensemble actors' through live analysis of performers' pitch register and density. It is an immersive piece for performer and violin flock ensembles, exploring a behavioral approach for creating a “living” music with instruments. It doesn't learn (e.g. machine learning) but can be thought of as a specific type of aural behavioral AI.

String Centet binaural recordings

Recordings of the String Centet "ensemble" that performed with live violin at Ircam Forum @ NYU 2022.

String Centet downloads for 8-channel octagonal surround (August 2022)

I've often enjoyed the seeming sense of ensemble that birds create with other birds in their activities. The next two works attempt to create settings with similar species-specific interactions, but in this case, using 5-string electric violin instead of recorded bird vocalizations. These files are compressed 8-channel .wav files for download. They were played at the 2022 Burning Man UNPOP Festival.

"Morning Water"  - 9:19 minutes - 252MB compressed

"Evening Forest" - 7:00 minutes - 185MB compressed

String Centet excerpt Ambisonic download

String Centet is a spatial work. That is, all voices are positioned and animated in 3D space. This affords an immersive experience adaptable to any speaker geometry or spatial encoding technique. This excerpt is encoded as 3rd order Ambisonic file for download. The file is a compressed 16 channel (Ambix 3rd order) wav file.

String Centet 3rd order AmbiX download - 545MB compressed

Bill Parod


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