Home‎ > ‎Music‎ > ‎

A Sad Canticle

A Sad Canticle is a computer-generated tune I created using Ableton Live with a vocoder filter that gives a no-language/all-languages or Esperanto effect. Its title is a deliberate pun, alluding to the horrors being perpetrated in Syria. 

Here's a little background to this composition. I've been passionately interested in music for most of my life -- I started listened to (and playing) black American music like blues, R&B and soul in the early 1960s, progressed to jazz, particularly bop, post-bop and '60s free jazz, which lead me onto listen to modern composers like Debussy, Stravinsky and Bartok . From there I explored backwards in time to absorb the classics from Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert to Wagner and Richard Strauss. I've spent many nights at the opera and concert hall and am a regular patron of the Wigmore Hall. My tastes in popular music are eclectic but very selective, stretching from rock, bluegrass and country to reggae, as a glance at my Spotify playlists will confirm. However I haven't bought many records nor seen live performances of popular music for decades. 

I was once keen on new wave bands like Talking Heads and Pere Ubu, as well as dub reggae, but as for many people of my generation the era of hip-hop and dance music became a big turn-off: I was too old for raves and clubbing, and didn't find sufficient musical interest to just listen. However the last few years have seen a change in my attitude - though popular music is now fragmented as never before and the extraordinary animus between fans of the myriad different genres is pretty off-putting, I recently find myself attracted to a lot of the experimental music being produced. It feels as though, bored with the blandness of commercial pop, young musicians are rediscovering for themselves that fascination with pure sound and rhythm that was present in free jazz and other '60s "pop modernisms". The technology of music production has also advanced so enormously that people can now create on a laptop computer extraordinary sounds that once were the exclusive domain of the avant-gardists of Paris's IRCAM. Some of the sounds coming out of the dubstep scene and its million descendants, or from musicians like Beck, Liars, Jack White or Saint Vincent, are really very exciting indeed, recalling some of the spirit of Coltrane, Mingus, Coleman, Shepp and Albert Ayler.

As a keen practitioner of obscure computer programming languages I've also, since the early 1990s, been interested in computerised composition (read more about my efforts in algorithmic composition here) so it was pretty inevitable that I'd eventually buy myself a copy of Ableton Live (the tool of choice for much dance music) and start producing electronic music of my own. I'm all too acutely aware of the potential for ridicule in the spectacle of an old codger getting "down wiv da kidz", so I deliberately steer clear of attempting house, techno, dubstep and other beats-oriented genres. 

In any case I'm not really interested in getting people to dance  since there are quite enough people doing that already - I'm far more interested in playing with sound and rhythm for their own sakes and in disturbing various musical conventions. I've recently been experimenting with synthesised nonsense vocals that, because they so resemble real human voices, nevertheless produce an emotional effect that's devoid of overt meaning: I suppose if a label is needed it would have to be "expressionist", because I constantly find myself creating tunes that remind me of my outrage at certain current political events, as with A Sad Canticle. This music is a long way from easy-listening, but I do hope that you might at least be upset by it...