Earlier this year I was lucky enough to be invited to perform at AVM’s Cabinet of Curiosity: LIVE event at Two Temple Place, London. The brief was to create a composition in response to the John Ruskin Power of Seeing exhibition, specifically to the works on display in the great hall; the room where I would be performing. The works were of nature in many of its glorious forms, with a focus on mountainscapes, birds and trees. Ruskin, a victorian era writer, artist, critic and teacher, encouraged his students to first learn to recreate nature truthfully in their drawings and paintings, before then progressing to reinterpretation. This approach is a very common one across all fields, where students first learn to imitate before going on to innovate. I wanted to adopt an equivalent approach with my composition, using nature as a starting point. I selected several of my own nature-based photographs and converted them into ‘audio prints’ in ableton live, using Tom Cosm’s Image to Midi Converter. This tool converts images into musical information; dark parts of the image are loud, light parts are quiet; left parts of the image happen in time before right parts; higher parts of the image turn into notes that are higher than lower parts. The result is an audio print which is a literal visual representation of the original image. Below is one example used in my composition.
This initial process gives too many notes at once to be considered musical, so I removed either the louder notes, or quieter notes, and applied ‘note filters’ to reduce the amount of notes happening at any one time. I then worked through every phrase in every audio print, listening for interesting, evocative phrases. I found 25-30 of these musical nuggets, all of which were effectively created by nature; nature had decided the notes, the volume, the spacing, the melody. I used a selection of digital and analogue synthesisers and samples to bring different textures to the musical phrases, and then stitched the phrases together into the composition. I really enjoyed the polyrhythms that emerged as I did this as they created an organic feeling unbound by typical time signatures; something that I would never be able to write with a piano or guitar. Once I had the bones of the composition in place, I worked on a live performance of it with added improvisations, live mixing and pattern launching and a few analogue beats thrown in for good measure. Lastly, it struck me how wonderful it could be to add visualisations to the performance based on the images I had used to create the audio prints. I used Bob Jarvis’ excellent vizzable max plugin to do this. Below is the live performance of the composition, which I aptly named printed by nature. Hope you enjoy it!