Indeterminate music happens when a musician creates a base melody, and leaves the rest to spontaneous chance and free flow of expression. Instead of the musician taking the driver’s seat, the musician surrenders to letting the music take the driver’s seat; take the musician wherever it leads. It was first practiced by John Cage and Brian Eno say some, but this type of creative expression has been around since the first music was created.
In the mid- and then late 1900s, it has been made into somewhat of a classification of its own. Indeterminate music, a “composing approach in which some aspects of a musical work are left open to chance or to the interpreter’s free choice”, according to Wikipedia.
With that, here is an attempt to create some form around it. First you have the music piece itself. This music can itself take on its own life and expression around its main themes – deter, detract, explore outside of its originating themes, chordal structure and basic musical patterns – and then later return to those main themes. In fact, the whole idea of “indeterminacy” means it does not necessarily need to return to the original themes. It just seems to help the listener connect to the music more effectively, to hear some semblance of familiarity with the musical score.
Systems based indeterminate sound seems to have its own characteristics and tendencies. It takes advantage of all the ways of changing an original score. These include:
A truly indeterminate music piece can not only deter off the main themes, but it also may modulate, reverberate, delay, compress, and distort at any given part of the music piece. This indeterminacy might have a connection with the concept of “chaos jazz” I’ve discussed in previous blogs entries on Kotojazz; e.g., Li Pui Ming’s style of jazz.
Chaos variations of known music scores have been a topic of intrigue at various times and places. For example, Diana Dabby an MIT graduate in electrical engineering sought to make the connection between music and math, including using “math to create new musical ideas.” Beyond that, using math to generate inspiration and far reaching creativity. “The principles of her work have now been used to create new dance “chaography” and even a chaotic remix of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,’ according to a 2013 article about her in t he Boston Globe (see “What a little chaos does for music”). Her works refer back to Ilya Prigogine’s “chaos theory” in physics and mathematics. The article says that in mathematics, “‘chaos’ is actually the result of a system that is evolving according to set rules”, even though it often does not appear that way. The reason chaotic systems seem so unpredictable and random is that they are “sensitive to slight changes in initial conditions, commonly referred to as the butterfly effect”. So too, the “butterfly effect” applies to music as well. These are the makings of the “nonlinear dynamics”, as explained in the article by Dabby’s associate and University of Colorado, Boulder professor Liz Bradley. Just as musical expression challenges people to explore their deepest most personal secrets, music will find its way to unleash all of it and more. So in this sense, it is a reflection of our self awareness and what I believe we refer to as spirituality.