Words to Music
Text-Generated Music for Digital Piano

Recording of Words to Music is available through: Spectrum Music (781-862-0088) Price is $15.00

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Words to Music
Album Cover

Notes by John Holland

The music for Petty Circumstance (1993) is based on the correspondence between Johannes Brahms and Richard Wagner. Four letters were exchanged in the summer of 1875 when both composers were at the height of their artistic powers. While Brahms represented the conservative musical position of the times, Wagner was identified with the extreme avant garde.

Five Studies on the Brain (1994) is based on five texts excerpted from Gray Areas, A Treatment Of Cognition by artist Gail Wight.

The music for The Observer is the Observed (1990) is based on six texts by visionary artist Donald Burgy. The texts were compiled by the composer from a larger work combining photographs of the cosmos and statements by the artist on the physical nature of the universe entitled Context Completion Idea #1.

The music for The Hamadryads (1992) is based on a text written in the nineteenth century by Marian Evans (George Eliot). The text confronts the issues of aging in the form of a romantic tale. The original title of the work is A Little Fable with a Great Moral.

The Extent of Space (1996) is based on a text by artist Ron Wallace. The text examines our relationship to space at increasing orders of magnitude.

Reflections From Behind the Plate (1994) is based on 12 idiosyncratic statements by the American folk philosopher and baseball Hall of Fame catcher, Yogi Berra.

In these text-generated works for digital piano, the music is derived from the text alone. The specific texture and structure of the music, including pitch, dynamics, and rhythm are formed from numeric values of the text, such as the number of words in a sentence, number of characters in a word, and numeric value of each character, including spaces and punctuation. The text is input into the computer and converted to musical information by a special translation program. The program then outputs the musical information in the form of MIDI data which controls the digital piano.

The music is generated by a set of microprograms which contain the instructions for realizing the music. The software combines the simplest elements of musical texture (pitch, dynamics, duration, speed, rhythm, articulation, etc.) with basic structural elements (continuity, repetition, variation, and chord structures which are derived from the melodic flow of the music). Occasionally, melodic 'themes' are incorporated within the music. In some pieces, the themes are generated by the computer with a theme generator program, while in others they are freely composed. The themes are input into a data base where they are selected and modified automatically by the computer when the program is active. Some random variability is introduced in the program to provide structural coherence.

1. Petty Circumstance Nos. 1-4 for Digital Piano (1993)

text: The Brahms - Wagner Correspondence

2. Five Studies on the Brain Nos. 1-5 for Digital Piano (1994)

text: by Gail Wight from Gray Areas, A Treatment of Cognition

3. The Observer is the Observed Nos. 1-6 for Digital Piano (1990)

text: by Donald Burgy from Context Completion Idea #1

4. The Hamadryads Nos. 1-4 for Digital Piano (1992)

text: A Little Fable with a Great Moral by Marian Evans (George Eliot)

5. The Extent of Space Nos. 1-8 for Digital Piano (1996)

text: The Extent of Space by Ron Wallace

6. Reflections From Behind the Plate Nos. 1-12 for Digital Piano (1994)

text: 12 Idiosyncratic Statements by the American Folk Philosopher and Baseball Hall of Fame catcher, Yogi Berra

Notes by Amy Robinson

The human mind looks for patterns as a way of making sense of the world. Patterns which we confront repeatedly become reinforced in the brain as meaningful relationships. Words are recognizable patterns of sounds or written symbols which are combined to form spoken and written language. Musical language is composed of patterns of musical elements, including pitch relationships, rhythm and dynamics which have evolved to signify meaning through ideas and emotion.

In Words To Music John Holland transposes the elements of human language to those of musical structure and texture, uniting different forms of expression and meaning in the creation of a new musical idiom. Rather than a direct translation, the texts serve as a springboard for a new form of music based on the natural patterns and rhythms which underlie language itself.

As we listen to the elements of the text become musical language, we begin to experience a vital connection between the natural rhythm of events and human understanding. We recognize the importance of patterning as the basis of human recognition and the making of meaning.

In the opening piece, Petty Circumstance, we hear familiar patterns in the themes of composers Brahms and Wagner, interwoven with musical patterns and sequences which are completely new. The patterns of musical structure and texture express each composer's tone and personality, as well as serving as a connection to musical history, expressing the cultural flavor of the times.

The central selections of Words To Music, including Five Studies on the Brain, The Observer is the Observed and The Extent of Space are the core and essence of this work. These selections leave musical history behind. Based upon texts largely composed of information about natural phenomena, these musical pieces express the relationship between natural patterns and rhythms and the evolution of our perception and awareness. Musical patterns generated from the text emerge, repeat for a short time, and transform into unfamiliar forms. We no sooner recognize and become familiar with one pattern before we are called to attention as it recedes, evolves and forms new musical relationships. Always anticipating, we are drawn into a process of continuous, attentive listening. In this state of heightened awareness, these relationships touch within us places of deep emotion. We journey far from recognizable roots, each selection presenting to us music which is truly new.

The final selection, Reflections From Behind the Plate, eases us back to familiarity with imbedded sequences of a slightly altered Take Me Out To the Ball Game paying homage to baseball legend Yogi Berra. We are gently set down not quite where we began. We arrive expanded in the understanding of musical language and its deep seat within us.