Ian Baxter
Sound Artist






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Installations - The variety of a system is the total range of its outputs: Cardew, Cybernetics and the Great Learning

This work looks at Cardew's ‘The Great Learning – Paragraph 7'(1969) and Brian Eno's analysis of this piece as an example of a ‘cybernetic self regulating ‘network (Eno, 2004). Eno's analysis hinges on seeing Cardew's instructional score - which boils down to beginning by singing with any note you like, then proceeding by singing any note you can hear and if not - as a kind of algorithm, a set of instructions used to generate a certain result.

Eno observed in his essay that such instructions should result in a rich random dischord slowly moving toward a drone selected from an ever narrowing reservoir of notes. However, Eno's reading of the work shows that the difficulty of following the simple instruction of ‘singing any note you can hear' leads to considerable variety in the performance and a far from predictable result:

“ … new notes are always being introduced into the piece regardless of any intention on the part of individual performers to do so….at one extreme it is quite feasible that a tone-deaf singer would hear a note and, following the primary pitch instruction to "sing any note that you can hear," would "match" it with a new note. Another singer might unconsciously transpose a note into an octave in which it is easier for him to sing, or might sing a note that is harmonically a close relative (a third or a fifth) to it. A purely external physical event will also tend to introduce new notes: the phenomenon of beat frequency. A beat frequency is a new note formed when two notes close to each other in pitch are sounded. It is mathematically and not harmonically related to them. These are three of the ways by which new material is introduced.”

Instead of singers, this installation renders its sounds electronically via a patch written in Pure Data software. The software is assigned with several voices which having ‘sung' a note, ‘listen' to the current output of the system to define the next note they will sing. Cardew's simple algorithm is now being used to generate an electronic work and how the fallibility of human beings, an essential element of Eno's analysis of how the piece works, is transposed to the fallibility of machines.