Tuesday, January 26, 2021
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Mick Sussman: The Rosenberg Algorithmic Music Generator: Selected Works, Vol. 1

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Artist: Mick Sussman
Title: The Rosenberg Algorithmic Music Generator: Selected Works, Vol. 1
Format: CD + Download
Label: The Sublunar Society
As a music-loving programmer I love scientific artwork concepts like this- the idea that music can be auto-generated out of rules and patterns ad infinitum and without intervention. Thankfully devoid of the “who needs composers now?” hyperbole that might sometimes be attached, here we get 19 curated outputs from Sussman’s new music generator. Every track seems to have been named by pulling two random words from the dictionary and sticking them together.

All of them are strictly between 3:36 and 3:57, and all of them sound like frantic 1980’s 8-bit arpeggiators set on random settings with short drum machine percussive sounds underneath. Were it not for the polyphony of more than 3 tracks, I’d wonder whether a BBC Micro could have created this.

Does it work? At times yes. Patterns, rather than genuine randomness, is clearly an important part of this generator, and when the patterns align into something that feels comfortable- as it does in “Spherical Sameness”- it’s strangely enticing. “Italicize Mellow” has a curious baroqueness to it.

At other times, not so much. Some of it, like the ironically named “Finitely Kindhearted”, is too frantic and too relentless. Perhaps factoring in more of a sense of peak and dip, of adding and subtracting layers throughout the course of each piece rather than just embarking on nearly-four-minutes of relentless bleeping, might have yielded something more palatable than the barely listenable “Abstention Prance”. “Burble Exponent” has the component parts you might find in some Venetian Snares or Aphex Twin tracks, but help to explain in sonic terms how you really can tell the difference between their work and something truly randomised.

And for a 2018 work, the decidedly lo-fi nature of the musical output (and the accompanying artwork) seems an unnecessary move. A processor as cheap as a Raspberry Pi is capable of generating CD-quality sound through things like VST synthesis, so there’s no technical reason why this couldn’t have all been constructed with the same concept but a more modern sound.

For 365 days up to the release of this album, the label were releasing a single track from the project every day, and one disposable three-minute-work each day is arguably a more fitting use of this output than a ‘proper’ album. Ultimately, it’s one of those releases you might cherry-pick for a couple of the more successful tracks, and while it’s a concept you might enjoy, it’s not a release you’re going to frequently sit down and listen to as a complete 63-minute work.

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