Polymeter Sleeve Notes

“Polymeter” is an album of virtual solo instrumental performances. They’re mostly piano pieces, along with a couple of guitar pieces. They sound uncannily similar to human performances, but they aren’t. On the contrary, they are algorithmic music, pure applied mathematics. The compositions are generated by elaborate networks of polymeter modulation. This sounds complicated and will need some explaining. But the most important point is that these are compositions I didn’t write, in any usual sense of the word. I created systems of rules, and the compositions emerged from those rules. The rules that generated these pieces can be conceptualized as kinetic sculptures that produce intricate non-random patterns of musical interference. The resulting patterns repeat themselves over long periods, measured in hours, days, or in some cases years.

In order to create this album, I had to write my own MIDI sequencer from scratch, because commercial MIDI sequencers lack the necessary degrees of freedom. My sequencer is also called Polymeter, and I started writing it in 1994. I used a relatively primitive version of it to create my earlier techno and electro releases, but the rapid evolution of computer technology made my original software hopelessly obsolete by the 21st century. Like its immediate predecessor “Akoko Ajeji,” this album was created using a much more sophisticated version of my sequencer. It took me many years to learn the programming skills I needed to modernize my sequencer, which is one reason why such a long hiatus occurred between my older and newer releases.

I think of myself as a cyborg. The technologies I create and collaborate with are extensions of myself, in the same sense that Marshall McLuhan referred to media as extensions of man. More generally, all modern people are cyborgs. A person using a wearable vacuum has temporarily turned themselves into a vacuuming cyborg, just as a roofer nailing down a roof with a pneumatic nail gun is temporarily a roofing cyborg. Similarly, driving a car obliges you to infuse your consciousness into a machine, in order to gain increased autonomy. You and the car bring different capabilities to the union: the car provides brute force, and you provide decision-making. Car are rapidly encroaching on the decision-making, and soon won’t need us.

Music has always co-evolved with technology. A piano is obviously a machine, as anyone who has looked inside one can recognize. Modern brass instruments require sophisticated metallurgy and couldn't have been built before the industrial revolution. Even the equal-tempered chromatic scale was revolutionary in its day. Yet today baroque music, and even renaissance music harmlessly coexist with jazz, rock and techno. Romantics will insist that there's a "natural” way to make music. I contend that piano players are cyborgs, that modern life is fundamentally unnatural, and that in order to expand our musical horizons we will increasingly use technology to access the countless hidden worlds that lie beyond the limitations of our meat.

The new degrees of freedom I’ve created don't reduce anyone’s existing freedoms, because creativity isn’t a zero-sum game. Everyone is 100% free to not use my methods. Cybernetics has made many jobs obsolete, but musical performance isn’t assembly line work. Kurt Vonnegut’s "Breakfast of Champions" notwithstanding, musicians will be some of the last people to be replaced by machines. Nor are my methods a shortcut; on the contrary, creating and mastering new technology is painstaking work. My motivation is that collaborating with machines allows me to realize my dreams, and express myself in ways that would otherwise be impossible.