Five Studies on the Brain for Digital Piano (1994)

Five Studies on the Brain (music by John Holland) is based on five texts excerpted from Gray Areas, A Treatment Of Cognition by artist Gail Wight.*

No. 1  Possibilities

No. 2  Sedimentary Thoughts

No. 3  Synaptic Transmissions

No. 4  Facsimiles

No. 5  Perceptual Change

In this text-generated work for digital piano, the music is derived from the text alone. The specific texture and structure of the music, including pitch, dynamics, and rhythm are formed from numeric values of the text, such as the number of words in a sentence, number of characters in a word, and numeric value of each character, including spaces and punctuation. The text is input into the computer and converted to musical information by a special translation program. The program then outputs the musical information in the form of MIDI data which controls the digital piano.

The music is generated by a set of algorithms that contain the instructions for realizing the music. The software combines the simplest elements of musical texture (pitch, dynamics, duration, speed, rhythm, articulation, etc.) with basic structural elements (continuity, repetition, variation, and chord structures which are derived from the melodic flow of the music). Occasionally, melodic ‘themes’ are incorporated within the music. In some pieces, the themes are generated by the computer with a theme generator program, while in others they are freely composed. The themes are input into a database where they are selected and modified automatically by the computer when the program is active. Some random variability is introduced in the program to provide structural coherence.

* Gail Wight teaches in the Department of Art and Art History at Stanford University, where she directs the Experimental Media Arts program. Gail is a media artist working with issues of cognitive science (neurology, philosophy, artificial intelligence, and linguistics). With special permission by the author.