Robotic Dances
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  • Robotic Dances
    for Computer-controlled Synthesizers

    Sets 1-6, Nos. 1-16 (1990)

    Notes by Amy Robinson

    Robotic Dances is a musical representation of the history of humankind's search for self-knowledge, beginning with the re-creation of biological function. From the dawn of higher consciousness, self-modeling has been the means employed in our attempt to know ourselves.

    As the name suggests, Robotic Dances spans the history of robotic inventions from the earliest and most primitive mechanical and electronic devices, to the most current and complex artificial 'intelligent life forms'.

    Combining musical elements including pitch register, rhythmic structure, tempo, and timbre, each musical section models the patterns and character of a specific robot, the product of a particular culture and time.

    The opening sets of Robotic Dances superimpose discrete tonal patterns, mirroring a robot's individual components. Each pattern forms an independent identity, simple and distinct. The musical patterns function as a whole, conveying the cultural flavor and historical context of each invention.

    As the music progresses through each section, individual patterns increase in intricacy and begin to lose their separate identities in service of the whole. This reflects the increasing complexity of humankind's understanding and ability to model biology. Incorporating sounds reminiscent of wind current atop a steeple, the ambient sounds of early sci-fi thrillers, or the rhythm of a mechanical clock, the composer continually reminds us of each robot's place in human history, and the culture from which it emerged.

    We are continually made aware of the co-evolution of organism and environment. Patterns of tidal motion combine with the pace of movement across the ocean floor, a spell-bound audience interacts with a celebrity performer, and limitations impose themselves upon the pace of our movements and activities as we move through a daily routine in the enclosed space of our homes. At once humorous and insightful, the rhythms and patterns of the music intrigue and delight us. We recognize in them both the distinction and connection between ourselves and the outside world.

    Throughout Robotic Dances we are treated to an historical survey of evolving musical instruments, including strings, winds, keyboards, percussion and electronic sounds. In conjunction, we witness the widening of musical expression, as human beings expanded musical forms and ideas.

    The finale of Robotic Dances, 8-Legged Microbot, is a super-human-paced invention whose rhythms and tempo echo the exponential rate at which we approach the ultimate in human self-knowledge, modeling of intelligence itself.

    Robotic Dances

    Set 1 Nos. 1-2

    1. Mechanical Dog
    2. The Temple Doorman at Alexandria

    Set 2 Nos. 1-2

    3. Rooster Atop the Great Cathedral at Strasbourg
    4. Cherub Playing a Trumpet on the Main Spire of the Frauenkirche, Nuremberg

    Set 3 Nos. 1-3

    5. The Dancer
    6. Turkish Figure Before a Chessboard
    7. Six-Legged Microbot

    Set 4 Nos. 1-3

    8. Steam Man
    9. Robotic Mouse, Bell Labs 1952
    10. Electro, New York World's Fair 1939

    Set 5 Nos. 1-3

    11. Undersea Mobot
    12. Orbital Robot
    13. The Piano Player

    Set 6 Nos. 1-3

    14. Celebrity Robot
    15. Home Robot
    16. 8-Legged Microbot

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    Inquiries
    Realization for Computer-controlled Synthesizers (1989) (enhanced 2009)

    Books 1 and 2

    Notes by John Holland

    Knowledge is 'the holding in the mind of an idea.' Our tendency to question and to know is satisfied by our ability to think and communicate. The ability to represent and manipulate ideas in the mind is based on language and is the hallmark of human intelligence.

    Inquiries Books 1 and 2 is derived solely from text. The content of the text is comprised of two sets of questions which represent the depth and scope of human inquiry. Questions in Book 1 are of a general nature, while those in Book 2 are more specific and complex, modeling an increasing depth of human inquiry.

    As we listen to the computer-generated sounds, we attempt, as is our nature, to look for patterns and familiarity within the music, which are, at first, new and unfamiliar. These pieces are composed of various musical patterns generated by letters of the alphabet, one linked to the next. Each pattern becomes a musical form, grown as words from letters. As we recognize these connections we are filled with a sense of discovery and newly aquired insight. Reflecting the path of human knowledge, the unfamiliar becomes not only familiar, but revealing.

    Inquiries is a journey through the foundation of human understanding. The structure of Inquiries unites humankind's search for knowledge with its expression in human language. Creating innovative music in the form of ideas, Inquiries models both the manner and the means by which we attempt to know ourselves. Inquiries brings to its audience a musical experience which resonates with that part of our mind and spirit which is deeply and uniquely human.

    The music for Inquiries Books 1 and 2 is based on a set of fundamental questions in nature which have yet to be clearly defined, or which have continuously defied explanation.

    Books 1 and 2 each contain ten questions which have been associated with a musical system. Written scores contain an arrangement of integers and a question. The integers are determined by the letters in the alphabet which spell out the text of each question.

    In the original version for keyboard synthesizer, a player is asked to create music based on the number of sounds represented by the integers. Musical events may consist of similar or contrasting patterns, melodic or rhythmic patterns, ascending or descending patterns, shaped phrases and gestures, etc. In the present realization for computer-controlled synthesizers, a computer program reads each integer and generates a musical event corresponding to that number of sounds. The computer selects from a variety of musical algorithms, or microprograms, which are based on simple elements of musical structure and texture. The music is then output to various synthesizers.

    Events in our surrounding world are formed by continuous patterns of material and energy which are driven by natural forces. We tend to experience these events as discontinuous objects or processes. In contrast, this music is intended to provoke the listener to imagine events in the world as a series of natural patterns which occur continuously in a variety of forms, at different times, and at different orders of magnitude and scale.

    The questions from which the music is derived:

    Book 1

    1. Is space empty?
    2. Why are there different languages?
    3. What is resonance?
    4. How are planets formed?
    5. Why does light travel so fast?
    6. How did life begin on Earth?
    7. What is the origin of music?
    8. What is memory?
    9. How does the brain network information?
    10. What is the longest known cycle of activity?

    Book 2

    1. What exactly is Gravity?
    2. How does the brain make comparisons?
    3. What is the underlying force which governs all changes?
    4. How are electricity and magnetism related?
    5. What is the age of the Universe?
    6. What is the smallest amount of time required to make a change?
    7. How are photons generated?
    8. Why is a neutron heavier than a proton?
    9. What causes a new species to arise?
    10. What cosmological cycles influence the Earth's climate?

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