Brian Eno is famous for his generative approach to composition and in this talk, Composers as Gardeners, he talks about how he arrived at this idea. The main jist of it is that he was influenced by the book The Brain Of The Firm, The Managerial Cybernetics Of Organization in which Stafford Beer talks about what we call today Emergent Behavior
What happened in Stafford’s work was that he was talking about organization and how things organize themselves in this new way. And there was one sentence in the book which I think I still remember, he said ‘instead of trying to organize it in full detail, you organize it only somewhat and you then rely on the dynamics of the system to take you in the direction you want to go.’ And this became my sort of motto for how I wanted composition to be.
This all reminded me about a video interview with Curtis roads in which he talks about a book he was reading on landscape gardening being really about composition.
What I find inspiring about what Eno is his discovery of the “talent to surrender”
And another way I can translate that is to say it’s a repositioning of ourselves on the control/surrender spectrum…What we’re not so used to is the idea that another great gift we have is the talent to surrender and to cooperate. Cooperation and surrender are actually parts of the same skill. To be able to surrender is to be able to know when to stop trying to control. And to know when to go with things, to be taken along by them. And that’s a skill that we actually have to start relearning.
Steve Reich had a sort of orthogonal idea of Music as a Gradual Process in that he would design a generative process that would operate by itself.
Musical processes can give one a direct contact with the impersonal and also a kind of complete control, and one doesn’t always think of the impersonal and complete control as going together. By “a kind” of complete control I mean that by running this material through the process I completely control all that results, but also that I accept all that results without changes.
When looking at performance that involved generative elements i always saw this as a lack of control (and perhaps imagination). Now, instead, i see it as the skill of going with the moment, sort of like surfing on a giant chaotic wave.