Making music with algorithms

‘Noise from the Middle East 2’ at New York University Abu Dhabi Discuss this article

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© ITP Images

Most know that music and maths are interconnected and that those inclined towards music are often very good at math and vice versa. But did you know that there is a host of musicians out there using complicated algorithms to make music? Time Out investigated and found such artists, and you may not be too surprised we found them on New York University Abu Dhabi’s campus.

November is ushering in some unusual tunes on campus. The bass will be pumping throughout Saadiyat Island on November 4 as the university hosts a full on rave on its East Campus. But don’t expect glow sticks and body paint, ‘Noise from the Middle East 2’ is offering high brow electronic music.

Later in the month, the new arts centre features music created by a computer that simulates the experience of playing the video game Tetris by the Tacit Group. If you think you’d enjoy the collision of music and video games, this performance is not to be missed.

Rave reviews: Noise from the Middle East 2

NYU Abu Dhabi Institute’s ‘Noise from the Middle East’ series puts regional electronic music in the spotlight. Highlighting electronic dance music, hip-hop, trance, and experimental electronica with local influences, ‘Noise from the Middle East’ is the second edition of a micro-festival that promotes ground-breaking artists from the region.

This mini-marathon showcases four inventive and talented artists; Iranian musician Fari Bradley, Egyptian Yara Mekawei, Mutamassik (aka Guilia Loli) and Muqata’a and Basel Abbas of Palestinian sound and image collective Tashweesh, to produce a special evening sound performance.

Time Out caught up with Fari Bradley to learn how she started her musical journey.
Can you briefly describe your ‘sound art’?
Fari: Sound art happens within a carefully considered context. My sound art will happen as part of a sculpture or installation usually within a gallery setting. ‘Noise of the Middle East 2’ is focused more on experimental music rather than sound art, however, I enjoy doing both.

How did you get into electronic music?
Fari: In terms of listening, I had my mum’s record collections and listened to the experimental music that made it through the pop charts on UK TV and radio. In terms of programming it, I probably learned it through sewing and knitting as a teenager. I learned algorithmic thinking and how to follow schematics following patterns.

Would you say your background is in traditional music?
Fari: I have played piano since I was nine-years-old. I also played tenor saxophone, which first requires learning the clarinet. I got my GCSE in music at 14-years-old and was one of the 100 children who sang in our school choir. We took it quite seriously and we sang a lot of classical and folk pieces over the years in four parts: tenor, bass, alto and soprano.

What would you say to someone who thinks they do not like electronic music?
Fari: You use the internet every day, use it to find some that you like. Electronic is not really a genre of music it’s more like a branch (classical versus electronic), it has hundreds of sub-genres. There will be at least one you will enjoy if you open your mind to it.

What is your contribution to ‘Noise of the Middle East 2’?
Fari: I’m performing on stage with some hand built instruments and specialised electronic ones, and giving two lectures and workshops.

How does diversity contribute to modern music?
Fari: A good deal. Music is like a language. If you don’t have many voices speaking up, it will not grow richer.
Free. Nov 4, 8pm. East Plaza, The Arts Center at NYUAD, Saadiyat Island, www.nyuad-artscenter.org.

Tetris as music: The Tacit Group

Tacit Group is an audio visual performance group founded in 2008 to create music using algorithms. The group uses an accessible, audience-friendly approach and presents repeated simple tones, complex effects and playful 2D visuals (Tetris, jigsaw block-slider puzzles, animated Korean/other words and characters) in a retro-gaming style.

Time Out sat down with co-founder Jin Won Lee to learn about the Tacit Group’s computer music.

What exactly does the Tacit Group do?
Jin: Tacit Group is an audio visual performance group formed in 2008 to create work centred on algorithms and audio visuals. Algorithmic art is focused on process more than outcome. We create mathematical code, systems using principles and rules, and improvise performance on the stage using the systems. During our performances, systems are revealed visually and sonically, so that the audience might hear using their eyes. A great example of this is the way sound is visualised in ‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch.

Visuals are integral to the work of Tacit Group as we are all composers and media artists. We hope that by showing not just the finished piece but the process of the chatting and/or gaming which generates it, we involve our viewers more intensely and break the conventional divide between performers and audience members. Also, none of our works is ever complete. We continually update the underlying systems and draw inspiration from their computer programming practice. As artists of this era, the Tacit Group discovers artistic possibilities in technology.

Where did you get the idea to turn video games into live music?
Jin: Algorithmic art is not about the final results of the work. It is about creating a process or system and is minimalistic. However, this method is difficult for some to understand so we searched for a way to make the philosophy of the algorithmic art easier for people to understand and decided to have it take the form of a video game that everyone knew.

One day, we were playing Tetris and realised the game looked like a musical score. Gamers play and the music is produced depending on how they play it. This game reflects the unique nature of the algorithmic art which has rules and coincidence, and predictability and unpredictability coexist.

How do children react when they see your performances?
Jin: They are always very excited, not only by the notion of computer’s making music and visuals, but also by the concept behind it. They sometimes scream if a player does something wrong resulting in ‘Game Over’. Tetris is also a game children are still so familiar with.

How do you create your work?
Jin: We try not to have a border between music and visual. We start off with a small idea which can be music, visual, or just a couple of lines and everybody starts making something in their own way. Someone composes, someone draws, someone writes, someone programs. Since all members are capable of making music, making visuals, and coding, no one has fixed roles so there is a lot of flexibility.


Tacit Group performing ‘Drumming’


‘Analytical’


‘Six Packmen’

Free. November 11-12, 8pm. The Arts Center at NYUAD, Saadiyat Island, www.nyuad-artscenter.org.

By Liz Totton
Time Out Abu Dhabi,

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