Eno, Wright, Generative Systems

Posted back in 2002 about the Long Now Foundation – created by Stewart Brand to think about the very distant future of humanity. Their flagship project is the construction of a clock to last 10,000 years, which will chime once per century.

The foundation recently hosted a conversation between musician Brian Eno and game designer Will Wright (The Sims, Spore). Haven’t heard the whole thing yet, but the first half hour was fascinating — Eno and Wright mostly discussing generative systems — complexity arising from simple rules. Eno reminisces about the first time he heard Steve Reich perform a pair of tape loops — an inflection point in Eno’s career.

Reich took two identical 1.8-second audio segments and created identical loops out of them, strung them through two decks, and played one slightly slower than the other. Gradually the two segments went out of phase with one another, giving rise to complex and beautiful relationships. The pieces come back into sync 30 minutes later, and the piece ends. Objective correlative: Near the end of the work day, I watched sadly as the J-School hauled its last remaining reel-to-reel tape decks out to the electronic recycling bin, their usefulness behind them.

Wright talks about the Game of Life as a generative system giving rise to complex relationships from a base of a few simple rules, correlates to the Chinese game of Go, which also has very few rules but tremendous complexity. Eno demonstrates a version of “Life” that generates music from the ongoing relationships in the same game.

The conversation is downloadable as MP3 or Ogg/Vorbis, and is accesible through the SALT podcast.

Surfing around the longnow site this morning, arrived back at the homepage to find the face of my boss (Orville Schell) gazing back at me – no escape!

Eno has released a CD, Bell Studies for the Clock of the Long Now, which I haven’t yet heard. Still listening to Eno almost nightly, putting Miles to bed. It’s almost impossible to burn out on them.

Music: Gilgamesh :: Extract

One Reply to “Eno, Wright, Generative Systems”

  1. Ah, eno. And mr. fripp, frankly, because during those contemplations of generative structures as a wellspring of music they interacted rather a lot. The visceral, or if you will musical, appreciation of basic number theory, especially the theory of divisibility — the wellspring of progressive rock song structure. Fripp (well, crimson, with bruford) pays special attention to relative primes (the basis of polyrhythm).

    Here is a poem in a from invented at Carnegie Mellon University long ago. The form is derivative of haiku: three lines. The form is three words, one line each. Generally the lines are A, then B, then synthesis of A and B. Could be thesis, anthesis, synthesis. Could be category, constraint, example. Etc. da da DA.

    So, a poem in that from about creativity:


    A fine example, gone large (or perhaps just strange) is electricsheep.org.

    Burrough’s cut-up technique is related.

    And as for thela hun genjeat…. well, I had this post in mind that started, “Ah, mr eno. And mr. fripp….” but it went on forever so I truncated it and made this instead.

    (It’s difficult to burn out on eno because he has lots of tricks up his sleeve. He conciously seeks out generative techniques that make music that holds structural interest at many scales — fractalish. rasputin or something :-))


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