Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Generative Kayn

At the encouragement of fellow Roland Kayn aficinado Massimo Ricci, I had another look at the liner notes for Kayn's early vinyl releases, which are posted on his site. Despite my earlier comments on the paucity of material in English, there is some English explanation in each set of liner notes. It's pretty clear from the documents that Kayn developed a generative music systen, nearly twenty years before Brian Eno popularized the term with his speech at the Imagination Conference in 1996. Consider this description of Kayn's 1977 piece Makro, selected somewhat arbitrarily from the liner notes from Kayn's discography:

The concept for realizing the composition MAKRO involved the construction of combined control circuits, in an approach to the theory of the 'black box'…. Only the inputs and outputs leading into, out of and back into the box (circular relationships) made it possible to control internal processes probabilistically by means of external intervention, and to derive standard behavior from the dependency of the input and output signal.

The functions of the aggregates operating inside the 'box', combinations for instance of frequency divider, product modulator, flipflop circuit, amplified and reverberating machine, could not be regular with regard to direct manipulation. My idea was to impinge upon and test selforganizing systems on the basis of stimulus and reaction. The specific aspect of the concept was the generation of situations which had not been pre-programmed. In terms of control technique this meant that systems had to be invented which consist of a group of transference terms with points of intersection.

Wikipedia lists four different perspectives on generative music, and Kayn's seems to fit more in the biological/emergent model, in which an "ecology will perpetually produce different variation based on the parameters and algorithms used." He sets loose a population of circuits that acts indeterministically on whatever sound he introduces, one of the external interventions he mentions in passing. We can hear romantic orchestral music sometimes straining to get through, but his sampled sounds, uncredited, reportedly ranged as widely as the Hafler Trio. Most importantly, his systems are self-organizing, with a goal to generating music that isn't pre-programmed.

Kayn used his circuit aggregates to remove his ego from the compositional process, similar to the creative forces that drove John Cage into his more well known version of chance operations. Kayn ended up in electronics, perhaps because he didn't have a sympathetic performer like David Tudor to help realize his instrumental visions composed from bizarre graphic symbols and considerable performer latitude. Rather than inspiration from Zen, however, Kayn found his muse in cybernetics, an engineering discipline with computer applications more ready to hand which gave him the electronics background for his acoustical experiments. It would be interesting to know how Kayn adapted to the digital era, whether he was able to create the same runaway pack of circuits in software, and what processes differentiate his enormous suites of electronic works. Hopefully his papers will land in some university archive, where interested parties can discover more about the origins of his otherworldly music and where he can get the credit for generative music that he deserves.

The image is from the Institute for Sonology studio at Utrecht University around 1977, when Kayn composed his Makro project there. It is taken from the liner notes for the vinyl album Makro, cited above.

1 comment:

Mark Waxler said...

I have been fascinated with electronic music since I learned about it in college. Great insights! Thanks.