Sonic Code Sessions in Berlin: Generative music at the intersection of sound and technology

Every other Tuesday at SPEKTRUM in Neukölln, a small group gets together to explore the intersection of sound and technology. The self-organized meet-up, called the Sonic Code Sessions, attracts people from diverse fields to create what is broadly known as “generative music.”

Photo by Arian Bozorg

 

A post for Omnified by Arian Bozorg

 

Every other Tuesday at SPEKTRUM in Neukölln, a small group gets together to explore the intersection of sound and technology. The self-organized meet-up, called the Sonic Code Sessions, attracts people from diverse fields to create what is broadly known as “generative music.”

“It’s a mix of programmers, musicians, sound artists or neither of those, just people who want to come closer to make sound or music with software or technology,” said Carlo Cattano, one of the organizers.

The Sonic Code Sessions began in 2016 with a very simple philosophy: to collaborate on new projects and music sessions. But as the sessions have evolved, the group also added talks on the music-making process as well as performances from artists passing through Berlin. One of these artists was self-described “cyborg musician,” Onyx Ashanti, whose 3D printed sensors attached to his hands and muscles captivated the whole room, according to Cattano.

The term generative music was made popular by Brian Eno in the 1990s and describes a form of music making that is created from systems. Early forms of generative music used phasing of tape players, such as Steve Reich’s “It’s Gonna Rain” from 1965, where he created a system in which two tapes played a sample from a preacher heralding the end of the world, at different speeds, slowly falling in and out of sync.

 

 

Technology has opened up this form of music to infinite possibilities, which is what the Sonic Code Sessions explore. “Nowadays it’s very exciting because there’s a lot of information and micro controls that you can program to receive inputs from another world,” said Cattano. These inputs can come from anywhere, including “proximity sensors or infrared cameras or temperature, pulse or touch sensors.”

In this way, said Cattano, listeners can “hear” data: “There are people sonifying browsing cookies to give awareness of how many cookies are shared when you are browsing a few pages and it will sound like hard tech rave coming from just the cookies.”

For another one of the organizers, Achilleas Sourlas, it’s important that this kind of music-making is accessible. Both a computer scientist and composer, Sourlas said in developing generative music apps, he aims to “make something user-friendly that allows a regular person to use it without spending a lifetime learning [generative music].”

 

 

Noise and experimental music might not be everyone, but this form of creating allows for both sonic harmonies and dissonance.

“The main thing that people use this technology for and the main outcome is this kind of noisy, glitchy, experimental environments,” said Cattano.

As a lifelong musician embracing the dissonance in some generative music came as a new challenge for Cattano.

“As a musician we’ve been trained to play in harmony, to play in time, and rhythm,” Cattano said. “So sometimes it’s very hard to attend noise concerts and experimental experiences because it’s a bit aggressive.”

Cattano adjusts his methods to work for him, such as programming a drum that randomizes every four bars to keep him from getting bored in the studio, or working on systems that play perfect chord progressions.

“I create utilities that are very specifically made for harmonies and augmenting my performance instead of trying to create weirdness or new fresh sounds,” said Cattano.

Sourlas creates his generative compositions in a similar way: “you can get the program to generate a stream of events and you can intervene and shape according to your taste.”

This kind of music making holds a special place in Cattano’s heart, particularly when it comes to live performance.

“You can never make the same performance twice because you can never have the same combination in this random structure or complex algorithm,” Cattano said. “Of course, you can give the same feel but it’s very hard to play the same song twice. In my view of music it’s very romantic.”

If you’re interested in hearing more generative music, check out Arian’s Spotify Playlist

 

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