3 September 2010

Geek's Corner: Chris McCormick & Squeakyshoecore

Australian Chris mcCormick is a prolific talent - at the age of 8, driven by a desire to make video games, he began to learn programming and found his way into music in his mid teens. Since then he has made software instruments, computer games, iPhone apps and a variety of music-related software.

His recent album Squeakyshoecore reflects this multi-disciplinary approach - it's a collection of acid tunes made in GarageAcidLab, a custom patch he wrote for the open source visual-patching software Pure Data. These songs were produced algorithmically, with the software generating pleasing patterns and Chris manipulating various effects and controlling the overall mix.

He is keen to explore software interactivity, and has spent the last 3 years developing Infinite8BitPlatformer, "a persistent 2D multiplayer platformer universe where you can create your own levels and items, chat, explore levels, and collect items made by other people", which is now close to a final release. In the future Chris aims to meld algorithmic music and gaming into a "collaborative, distributed, real-time, loop-based, game-like, music making environment."

Chris cites IDM artists including Squarepusher and algorithmic devotees Autechre as influences, but has also been inspired by the DIY punk ethos of Fugazi and Perth's local music scene.

Pure Data's creator Miller S. Puckette influences the software side of Chris' work, as do Roman Haefeli and Frank Barknecht whom he met during his time working on the RJDJ iPhone app. If you don't know about this app, it's best described as an interactive music environment where the music changes according the iPhone's surroundings, reacting to sound and movement.

"Working for RjDj in London was a great experience too, and convinced me that one day music-as-software will be normal in the mainstream, although that day is probably a long way off. They didn't hire me to make algorithmic music (I was hired as a software developer), but I felt motivated to work on that stuff in my spare time while I was working there."

Another insight into algorithmic modeling came from videogames, specifically Eric Chahi's Another World.

"When I read an interview with him which described how the technology works, I realised something profound about it, which is that the technology he created was as functionally beautiful "under the hood" as the resulting game was. Code that looks and feels good is probably going to produce a better result than code which is ugly."

Chris describes his primary motivation for approaching music algorithmically as laziness:

"I don't have a lot of time to make music, so in order to spend my time more efficiently I found that if I wrote algorithms which mimicked my style I could spend more time doing the fun stuff (jamming) and less time doing the hard stuff (composing)."

"If you make your own tools, like I do, then I think the options can become close to limitless, sometimes paralyzingly so, and you need to restrict yourself in order to produce something sincere."

With Squeakyshoecore he resticted himself to acid and synthesized garage beats and will go on to apply the same philosophy to drum and bass.

Chris describes algorithmic music as being created in a similar way its conventional counterparts, albeit with a more rigorous mathematical structure imposed.
In fact he uses the four steps of the hypothetico-deductive Scientific Method when creating algorithmic art:

1. Observe the way in which the piece of art is created manually.
2. Come up with a hypothesis about how it is created, e.g. find
patterns in the methods used.
3. Come up with a predictive, or algorithmic model which codifies those
same observed methods.
4. Test the model to see if it creates art similar to step 1.

"Then you iterate and recurse on these four steps and subsets of the
four steps, until you come up with something compelling."

In keeping with his roots in the DIY aesthetic, Chris hopes that algorithmic composition will democratise the role of the composer, and serve to enhance, rather than elide that role.

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