OTOPLEXUS: Sound and Complex Behaviour

Tokyo, 2009-2011 [NOTE: This page relates to the ongoing ideas discussed in the Otoplexus main page.]

New: MASSES AND PARTS [2018] - further exploration into multi-oscillator synthesis now online here.


Sound work based on ideas drawn from the study of complex systems (self-organisation, emergence, networks) and inspired by the sound of natural phenomena. All material generated electronically. Originally conceived for 7. 1 surround sound. Inspired by the work of Iannis Xenakis.

For further related ideas check out the Systema Naturae pieces here.

1. Concret Sferics_02:29 > This minature was composed from computer generated stochastic textures and cut-up recordings of radio atmospheric signals (Sferics). Inspired by Iannis Xenakis' classic tape piece Concret PH from 1958.

2. Crickets [excerpt] > The synthetic stridulations of crickets, gradually oscillating in unison. The inspiration behind this texture was my experience listening to fields of cicadas, frogs and crickets in the Japanese countryside.

3. Kazan [excerpt] > Hyper-Volcanic Soundscape. Inspired by the forces of nature, real and imagined, Kazan is built from layered noise generators to create a dense chaotic soundworld evoking the intensity of a storm.

4. Genetic Drift [excerpt] > Built around a 2-dimensional agent collider. Each independent agent [oscillator] inherits the frequency value of another agent it collides with. Dominant pitch values gradually emerge, creating shimmering chords that move through the population. [See Masses and Parts for further development].

5. Black Wrath [excerpt] > A 2-dimensional agent collider helps to create an apocalyptic landscape of comb-filter meteoroids and granular acid rain. A noise generator emulating Xenakis' Gendyn progam is extensively used here to create dense layers of sound.

6. Bug Boids_03:48 > Bug Boids uses Craig Reynold's 1987 Boids algorithm, which models the behavior of flocking birds. It was combined with a granular synthesis engine that manipulates the sound grains through space.

• Project Notes [Tokyo, 2011]

For the past 18-months I've been researching collective improvisation in 20th Century contemporary music. Through this work I've begun to engage with the study of complex systems as a set of conceptual as well as practical tools for the understanding and creation of collective musical textures and structures.

Collective improvisatory situations in which individual musicians function as dynamic agents obeying simple rules or simply responding musically in ways which when amplified through the multitude of players creates evolving dense textures of sound. This is particularly applicable when the number of performers is large enough to rupture the conventional channels of musical communication between players, setting up instead musical situations in which sounds appear to swarm and move as improvised sound clouds. This realization has led to the creation of ‘Otoplexus’, a multichannel electronic composition that deals with complex system.
Otoplexus is an 7.1 channel electronic sound composition that has been inspired by complexity theory, multi-agent systems and the notion of a mass forms composed of many interacting parts. The title comes from the Japanese word Oto meaning sound, and the Latin word Plexus meaning a network or interwoven mass. It's been created for an acousmatic, loudspeaker environment. Otoplexus combines algorithmic as well as edited sonic material that together create a range of dense, dynamically changing sound textures.

Otoplexus: Sketches and Ideas. Click to enlarge image.

• Some thoughts on complex systems in contemporary music [Tokyo, 2011]

Despite the challenges of defining complexity theory, it is generally agreed that a complex system is one composed of many interacting parts or agents. These agents interact locally according to a simple set of rules, allowing the emergence of system-wide changes over time. Such systems are evident in nature (insect behavior, ecosystems, human brain, immunity system etc.) and technology (the Internet, economy, power grids, transport networks etc.). Today complexity theory and the study of multi-agent systems is being applied across a range of disciplines.
Such a systems-approach to structure is found in the work of a number of composers, musicians and sound artists. In 20th Century contemporary music, the stochastic methods of Iannis Xenakis that deal with probability models is well known in pieces like Pithpoprakta (1956) Metastasis (1958) and electronic works Concrete PH (1958) and Hibiki-hana-Ma (1962). American composer Curtis Road pushed these ideas towards the development of Granular synthesis – clouds of sounds composed from a multitude of tiny sound grains. Other modernist composers of the time such as Krzysztof Pendereski (Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, 1960) and György Ligeti (Atmosphères, 1961) were concerned with sound masses in which dense textures were created from a field of individual instruments playing simultaneously. In America the work of Terry Riley, (In C, 1961) and Steve Reich (It’s Gonna Rain, 1961) - music based on repetitive structures and phase processes - helped inspire the emergence of generative art and music by people like Brian Eno. For Eno, such generative approaches to art represented a paradiagm-shift; from an engineering model to an agricultural one. Music didn't have to be constructed in some fixed form, but be allowed to grow over time. Developments in jazz and collective improvised music produced similarly organic, evolving textures of sound. From the large-scale cacophonic ensembles of Sun Ra, Alan Silva, Alexander Shippet and The Global Improvisation Ensemble to performance pieces like John Stevens’ Click Piece (1972) in which players are instructed to perform short sounds, producing a field of ever-changing sonic activity.
Artists and musicians continue today to engage with complex systems to create work that brings together art and science. While the study of complex systems develops, artists will no doubt continue to engage with new ideas emerging from the sciences. Ideas that remain relevant to the complex, interconnected world we live in.