Monday, March 20, 2006

The GommoG is the Music?

Rather like the palindrome he uses as his moniker, Gordon Munro is a strangely presented person. Introducing himself as a mathematician turned electronic musician, I feel myself recoiling as I prepare to settle in to another math-heavy talk. The link between music and mathematics has always been present and most people, however knowledgeable, will understand that music can be seen as a set of mathematical relationships. (Whether or not that is desirable is another matter). The emergence of computer based music and software has further forged the link between music and maths, for better or worse.

This, it seems, is where Gordon Munro steps in. The first piece which he talks of is entitled EVOCHORD, which stands loosely for "evolving chord". It is a generative artwork which involves visual and sonic representations of genetic algorithms. As Gommog himself states "Evochord is an installation in which a genetic algorithm tries to evolve a harmonious chord." (

Yes, genetic algorithms - as in x and y chromosomes, evolution, Charles Robert Darwin, survival of the fittest, etc. In Evochord, "what is seen and heard is the single most consonant chord of a population of 100 chords inside the computer. Consonance is measured according to a version of a formula from William Sethares" (ibid). The chords mutate over time at varying rates, just like genetics in nature, and Gommog states that his is "hoping to find interesting chords". Rather than simply restating that which is already available on the web, I would suggest you go to the source (Gommog's website) and check it for yourself here if you want to know more.

While I can appreciate the significance of generative artworks, I must admit that I wasn't enamoured with Evochord - both during Gommog's short lecture and the full length version which appeared as part of Project 3's Street Cinema program in the Adelaide Festival of the Arts. The overall effect of Evochord is a mild, toneless combination of sight and sound the likes of which you probably haven't seen before.

When we experience Evochord, is it the phenomena of mathematics we are appreciating? Is it the genetic processes involved which we are meant to internalise and take on board? Is it just hearing a bunch of sounds which correlate to an image and a mathematical formula? The simple answer is that the theory is behind the piece is actually much more interesting than the actual piece. To appreciate this piece fully, a theoretical understanding of genetics and genetic processes would be handy.

For me this brings into question the whole realm of Sonic Art. I feel like there is a borderline, if you like, between artistically motivated projects and technology driven projects. I'm not sure. Is there a difference between technological phenomena (feats of programming and technical ability) and artistic practice? Are they both Art? Clearly there is a place where they co-exist and interrelate.

Gommog's Evochord is an interesting case. It seems that new technology is adding countless possibilities to sound, and they can’t all be good. Otherwise my scribbles from year 3 should be hanging in a gallery somewhere. Comments welcome.


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March 23, 2006 2:52 PM  

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