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Disconnected, an Album of Algorithmic Sound Collages from the Web

I’m pleased to announce the release of Disconnected, and album of algorithmic sound collages generated by pulling sounds from the web.

I prefer to call this album semi-algorithmic because some of the music is purely software-generated, while other pieces are a collaboration between the software and myself. Tracks four and six are purely algorithmic, while the other tracks are a mix of software-generated material and more traditionally composed material.


The software used in the sound collage pieces (1, 3, 4, 6) was inspired by Melissa Schilling’s Small World Network Model of Cognitive Insight. Her theory essentially says that moments of cognitive insight, or creativity, occur whenever a connection is made between previously distantly related ideas. In graph theory, these types of connections are called bridges, and they have the effect of bringing entire neighborhoods of ideas closer together.

I applied Schilling’s theory to sounds from My software searches for neighborhoods of sounds that are related by aural similarity and stores them in a graph of sounds. These sounds are then connected with more distant sounds via lexical connections from These lexical connections are bridges, or moments of creativity. This process is detailed in the paper Composing with All Sound Using the FreeSound and Wordnik APIs.

Finally, these sound graphs must be activated to generate sound collages. I used a modified boids algorithm to allow a swarm to move over the sound graph. Sounds were triggered whenever the population on a vertex surpassed a threshold.

Disconnected is available for download from Xylem Records.


Interview with Jon Cates and Jake Elliott, Founders of Numbers.FM

Evan Merz: Why? Why start this sort of radio station right now? What was the inspiration?

NUMBERS.FM: The name of the station comes from those so-called “numbers stations,” shortwave radio broadcasts of people reading lists of numbers — probably encrypted dispatches to spies — that have been going on for the last 70 years or so. The messages in those broadcasts are encrypted using a technique mathematically provable to be impossible to decipher, so stumbling across one is an encounter with some human-generated but ultimately unknowable audio composition, something that really blows our minds and reminds us a bit of experiences we’ve had discovering experimental music and sound art.

More directly, we are inspired by our experiences on where
we do a weekly radio show from the perspective of our label Southbridge Slow Electronics. We are really into a lot of what happens on but also we wanted to pursue a more open and experimental format, such as those used on radio stations like WZRD, the Wizard, in
Chicago. We started to think of online stations such as rand()% (which was an automated station streaming realtime generative music) and Resonance. We also draw from our experiences with online platforms for Noise or Glitch musics such as furthernoise and microsound. As we discussed all this we imagined an actual “numbers station” that would also feature experimental shows.

EM: How does this project relate to Southbridge Slow Electronics?

NUMBERS.FM: Southbridge Slow Electronics is the record label we run, and also “Slow Electronics” is a genre we set out deliberately to create at the intersections of experimental Media Art and Noise. Many of the folks who will be performing and DJing on NUMBERS.FM are artists connected to Southbridge or who we’ve met through our long-term involvement in noise & experimental music scenes, i.e. here in Chicago. Also there’s a way in which Southbridge’s existence as both an experimental music project and a conceptual/media art project is something we really want to keep pushing with NUMBERS.FM, and create a platform for artists who have that same kind of sensibility.

EM: Can you explain slow electronics a little more?

NUMBERS.FM: Slow Electronics is a genre that we set out explicitly to define and produce within the record label Southbridge. It’s about playing “slow” noise music — records at 0.01% speed, sonic events that take a lifetime to ensue, processes that are too simple to codify but take too long to repeat — and also about “slowness” as an inversion of the claim to “power” in the genre Power Electronics, which we consider to be a theater of misogyny and fascism. So one thing we do is these Slow Electronics “remixes” of Power Electronics records — usually playing them slowly and/or backwards & thru other processing.

EM: My Pandora station for experimental music doesn’t work so well. Can a radio station like succeed when listeners all have such different views on what electroacoustic music is?

NUMBERS.FM: Pandora works great for music that has really mass appeal, where it’s possible to think “I’m looking for something light-hearted with guitars and lyrics about broken promises” (the kind of categories Pandora uses to sort its music catalog and relate tracks to one another) and still come up with something that two people could agree upon just by virtue of having a huge pool of listeners to draw from and pluck some consensus out of. But stuff like noise music, weird dance music sub-genres, sound art, etc. is much more niche and so individual voices, tastes and other quirks are all above the noise floor. So this kind of more bespoke, handcrafted — not to mention *live* — approach is much more natural to the kind of music & sound we’re all invested in.

EM: Going forward, how is going to change and expand?

NUMBERS.FM: Right now we’re figuring out our process, getting all the tech in place and documenting it for new DJs, and generally finding our voice. We have a handful of shows scheduled to start with that we’re totally thrilled about, and look forward to building that roster out as we go. We also hope to do some weird stuff with the station as a platform for our own mysterious encrypted broadcasts and we already have all the code for the station’s online platform (for the playlist/archive tools & and website) available openly:

EM: What else are you guys working on?

NUMBERS.FM: Lisa Slodki’s limited edition VHS videotape artwork on Southbridge is coming up next on our label. Lisa also works under the name Noise Crush with the band The Fortieth Day and under her own name with the band Haptic. She is a Chicago-based artist who has exhibtited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago with Haptic. She makes VHS tapes as individual “loops” with samples on them taken from her own and other sources. During live performances she runs a series of VCR’s through mixers in an analog video world! Her work is flowing and slow-moving video which has been referred to by reviewers as dissonant, hypnotic and haunting emotional states, so we’re really looking forward to that!

MusicBYTES Fall 2009

Last October Mike McFerron hosted another MusicBYTES concert at Lewis University. The bi-annual event featured a short program of video pieces, and was referred to as a mini-concert by McFerron. It took place in Ives Hall in the Orson Fine Arts Building on the Lewis University campus. McFerron presided over the concert, casually dressed in a brown sweater and jeans. After introducing the event, he kicked it off with a piece called Graveshift by Per Bloland and Arie Stavchansky.

Graveshift – Through a rain-streaked cafe window, surveillance of a street scene is digitally transformed into a fluid chaos comprised of paranoia, ghostly figures, and alterations of reality. Echoes of a forgotten song float above the milieu, now gaining and now losing coherence. It is an image plagued by distortion, but this distortion emerges from quietness, and recedes once again into the same.

Then we saw Confined 10-01-2 by Paul J. Bohelho and Russell J. Chartier.

That was followed by Made In… by Hsiao-Lan Wang and Benoit Granier.

Next up came McFerron’s Prelude to You Brought this on Yourself.

Prelude to You Brought this On Yourself is the result of the collaborative production of a play by George Miller, my colleague at Lewis University. In his play, Dr. Miller sets in context the true story of a young female high school student who suffered enormous ridicule and even physical assault for the sole reason that she was openly homosexual. The principal of the High School where this occurred justified the assault by explaining to the parents, “she brought this on herself.”

This composition is not a commentary on religion, media, politics, or homosexuality. Above all, it is not an attempt to glorify, condone, or condemn homosexuality. Instead, this work is a commentary on a society’s intolerance of a human voice seeking neither audience nor acceptance – only existence.

Written in 2008, this fixed media composition features singer Jillian Kelm.

Then NGC 1999 by Samuel Pellman and Miranda Raimondi.

And Becoming 3-2 by Evan X. Merz.

The second to last piece was flutter arrhythmias by Charles Norman Mason and Sheri Willis.

flutter arrhythmias was originally conceived as a site-specific three screen installation which enveloped the viewer on three sides. It was installed at the Islip Museum of Art, Carriage House in New York in 2008. It was inspired by sounds from the installation space: the train in the distance, the birds, and the combination of mechanical and natural sounds.

Finally, the concert closed with Boop Boop Beep by David Morneau.

Despite some brief technical difficulties, the short concert flowed smoothly. The program was a diverse, but even mix of well-traveled composers such as Per Bloland, and less familiar composers. The audience was a small group of around 100 Lewis students and local musicians.

Nowhere. by Nathan Edwards

Note: Be patient. The first few minutes are music only.

Nowhere. is a high-definition video presentation filmed across seven states over the course of seven months. It is inspired by the filmmaking of Ron Fricke and Godfrey Reggio in its employment of non-narrative structure, use of time-lapse photography, and observational technique.

I saw this project as a personal challenge to create a film with production values that are as comparable as possible to the works of the filmmakers mentioned above, even with a limited amount of funding and equipment. The film was shot entirely on a Canon HV20 digital video camera and features music that was recorded and mixed on my home computer and in the computer music studio.

The resulting film seeks to uncover where we find the greatest wealth of beauty in our habitat by observing the way we live and the how we affect the land we inhabit. Through its poetic structure, the viewer is allowed to question both the aesthetics and meaning of our environmental impact and discover where the lines between garbage and grandeur are distorted or ultimately realized.

Phono Photo No. 6

Guillaume Loizillon just posted Phono Photo No. 6, an online exhibition of images with music.


Connecting two writings : one with the light and one with the acoustic wave.
Sound doesn’t comment the picture and is not either its audible side. However, the connection between the two elements requires a rebuilding, a drift of the sight and listening.

A photography : in all the possible extension of the word
A phonography : sound recording, editing, mixing, synthesis…
A title : sometimes
One or more signatures
Minimal interactivity : clicking on the photography makes ear the phonography

Interview with Nolan Stolz of New Music Hartford

This week I interviewed Nolan Stolz about his upcoming concert, which features works composed simultaneously in a 60-minute time span. The concert is being sponsored by New Music Hartford, and is a benefit for the South Park Inn.

Nolan Stolz in the Recording Studio
Nolan Stolz in the Recording Studio

Listen to the ComputerMusicBlog interview with composer Nolan Stolz.


To donate to the South Park Inn before the concert on Sunday, donate through Nolan Stolz paypal account. To give to South Park Inn after the concert, visit

Merce Cunningham and Electroacoustic Music

Merce Cunningham passed away on Sunday, July 26th. Cunningham was known as a choreographer and dancer, but in this article, I want to review his work with composers of electroacoustic music. He collaborated extensively with John Cage, and also worked on a number of early movement-music interfaces. His ideas had a direct impact on the processes of certain electroacoustic composers, especially John Cage.

Cunningham’s work with Cage began relatively early in Cage’s career.

By the summer of 1948, Cage and Cunningham were well on their way to forming what was eventually called the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. They had been giving joint recitals since the spring of 1944, and much of Cage’s music of the later 1940s was triggered by the needs of Cunningham’s choreography. Their collaborations were already premised in the notion that music and dance should be created independently and only brought together at a late stage in rehearsals, this being made possible through micro-macrocosmic structuring. (Nicholls 2007, 42)

As their collaboration continued, Cage and Cunningham continued to explore the idea that music and movement need not have the direct relationship that was traditional. Cage and Cunningham showed that the only necessary relationship between music and dance is that they exist in the same space, at the same time. This idea fed into Cage’s thinking about an interconnected world, and led him to his anarchic compositions such as Reunion and Musicircus.

Cage’s use of simultaneity after 1962, on the other hand, does not require any common characteristic among the various parts. In Reunion, there is no given relationship among the various musics of Behrmann, Cross, Mumma, and Tudor (other than Cage’s inviting all of them).

Instead, Cage asserts here that it is the simultaneity of the various performances that constitutes their relationship. Rather than have independent parts performed simultaneously because they are related to one another, Cage here relates independent parts to one another by performing them simultaneously. This concept of simultaneity-as-relationship can perhaps be traced to the manner in which Cage was accustomed to working with Merce Cunningham. Beginning in the 1950s, the only relationship between Cage’s music and Cunningham’s choreography was that they took place at the same time and in the same space. As Cage put it in “Where Do We Go From Here?”: “Neither music nor dance would be first: both would go along in the same boat. Circumstances – a time, a place – would bring them together.” In these dance productions, the complete independence of elements extended to the lighting, sets, and costumes, as well. In Reunion, the same approach is taken to the four musicians who perform together. (Pritchett 1993, 154)

Cunningham helped many other young composers by commissioning new works for his dance company. Composers like Gordon Mumma and David Behrman had opportunities to create new interfaces and new performance situations for his dancers.

In Spring 1966 Tudor, Cage, and Cunningham invited Mumma to accompany them on a tour of Europe. They offered him a commission for a new piece (Mesa) and sought his expertise for their production of Variations V, a work in which the actions of Cunningham’s dancers activated sound through an elaborate system of electronic sensors. That summer Mumma left Ann Arbor to begin a collaboration with the Cunningham company that lasted eight years and led to numerous innovative works. (Miller 2003, 21)

Cybersonic and related technology has continued to play a major role in Mumma’s art. His MESA (1966) is a particularly interesting application of these ideas, in this case to a large concertinalike instrument called a bandoneon. Completed for his first tour with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, it was written for his fellow tour musician David Tudor, whose talents include bandoneon as well as piano. Mumma was able to rig both sides of the bandoneon with microphones and set the two outputs to modify each other as well as themselves. The results were distributed about the hall quadriphonically. An un- expected side effect of the phase-shift circuitry incorporated in this particular cybersonic console is the occasional impression of changes in “acoustical dimension.” The listener actually senses that the speakers are being moved or the shape of the room somehow altered. (James 1987, 375 – 376)

For David Behrman, the Cunningham commision was an exciting opportunity for a young composer to meet and work with some of his creative idols.

…in 1967, Cunningham commissioned David Behrman to compose music for Walkaround Time, a repertory dance piece based on Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass. Behrman used photocell mixers and recordings of himself walking around Niagara Falls on an icy day, or driving his Colkswagen Beetle, and of all the women in the Cunningham Company reading texts of Marcel Duchamp which described Large Glass. The premiere was in Buffalo in March 1968. As Behrman recalls, “Duchamp came up and took a bow onstage, and since I was the young composer who had been commissioned to do the piece, I was up there – it was a very exciting thing…” (Chadabe 1997, 101)

Cunningham was devoted to new electroacoustic music, and his devotion changed music. He supported innovators and iconoclasts, and he helped electroacoustic music reach new audiences. Cunningham was a terrific choreographer and dancer, without a doubt, but we shouldn’t forget that he was also an unmatched promoter of electroacoustic music.


Chadabe, Joel. Electric Sound: The Past and Promise of Electronic Music. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997.
James, Richard S. “ONCE: Microcosm of the 1960s Musical and Multimedia Avant-Garde.” American Music. Vol. 5, No. 4 (Winter 1987): 359 – 390.
Miller, Leta E. “Once and Again: The Evolution of a Legendary Festival.” Liner Notes from Music from the ONCE Festival. Visibility Music, 2003.
Nicholls, David. John Cage. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2007.
Pritchett, James. The Music of John Cage. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1993.