Composing music that changes endlessly

NEW YORK • Composer and ambient-music pioneer Brian Eno once wrote that he considers it possible that "our grandchildren will look at us in wonder and say: 'You mean you used to listen to exactly the same thing over and over again?'"

With his newest album, Reflection, released on Sunday, his seventh album in the past seven years, he is making his boldest attempt yet to create what he has described as a third category of music, generative, to join the two that people know now - live and recorded.

Using algorithms and increasingly powerful portable technology, generative music, he argues, will allow listeners to hear music that creates itself anew all day, or night, long, changing according to time, mood, weather or other variables.

The traditional album version of Reflection is a 54-minute single track that, much like the ambient music Eno, 68, has been making since the late 1970s, uses looping meditative passages that change with slow variations.

But an app-based version of the project, available on iTunes, creates what he calls "an endless and endlessly changing version of the piece of music," playing from the algorithms he fine-tuned while listening over weeks to the music the system created.

As a futurist, he has often accompanied his music with political pronouncements. And with the new album, he posted his thoughts about the end of 2016 on Facebook, in a widely shared post.

In it, he theorised that the tumultuous political developments of the past year might not mark the beginning of a period of decline, but the end of one that he believes has been underway for 40 years, marked by concentration of wealth and the growth of an ideology that has "sneered at social generosity and championed a sort of righteous selfishness".

"Last year, people started waking up to this," he wrote, adding: "I think we underwent a mass disillusionment in 2016 and finally realised it's time to jump out of the saucepan. This is the start of something big.

"It will involve engagement: not just tweets and likes and swipes, but thoughtful and creative social and political action too."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2017, with the headline 'Composing music that changes endlessly'. Print Edition | Subscribe