The first draft for the following text was done as a preparation for a presentation I thought I was going to do in Berlin in June. I have touched on these and related issues in other entries (such as this one) in this diary, so I may be repeating myself… The discussion below is held with refernece to a piece such as this.
If we make a generalized definition, only for the sake of discussion, of ‘improvisation’ as not thought out in advance and of ‘composition’ as thought out in advance, what the computer produces in terms of sound must be categorized as ‘composition’. The computer does nothing by itself, it has no intention in doing and no urge. The reason it does anything at all is because I told it to. I programmed it to produce sounds when I play into it. Much like the printed score which also will not sound unless some extra effort is put into it. Roland Barthes, in his essay ‘Musica Practica’ Barthes, 1977 writes about Beethoven, specifically the Diabelli Variations, that
[...] the operation by which we grasp this music can no longer be either performance of hearing, but reading. This is not to say that one has to sit with a Beethoven score and get from it an inner recital; it means that with respect to this music one must put oneself in the position or, better, in the activity of an operator, who knows how to displace, assemble, combine, fit together; in a word who knows how to structure. [pp 153]
Without any other comparison, this is a good description of what I am doing when performing this kind of music. I’m operating my own composition by means of improvisation. I’m operating or playing (in all senses of the word) the structures generated by the combination of the acoustic and electronic sounds. It isn’t the saxophone nor the computer I’m playing, it’s the composition/improvisation of these two that constitutes the structure that is being operated. This dynamic field between composition and improvisation and the possibility for ‘opening’ or ‘freedom’ within these concepts is what I find interesting.
Improvisation and composition represents two modes of temporality and it is in the connection between these two modes that the use of the computer becomes significant. The atemporality (composition) of the design and programming of the software and the synchronized temporality of real time performance and live processing. The computer allows for a sort of reflection upon reflection, or, to borrow the terminology from Matts Leiderstam; an erroneous mirror reflection.