Mark d’Inverno, a musician – who also holds a Chair, is Director of Research and Enterprise, and runs a research group called ‘Music Circle’ at Goldsmiths, University of London – writes about the launch of his quintet CD ‘Count On It’ at Pizza Express on Nov 1st:
I first met guitarist François Pachet – who as well as being an incredible musician and composer now directs Sony Computer Science Research Labs in Paris – back in 2009. I was putting on a workshop in Germany bringing together technologists and artists to think about the relationship between “creativity” (whatever we might mean by that…) and technology. What light could technology shine on the nature of creativity and how could we think about new technologies for enhancing human creativity?
I remember that at this workshop François was always playing with other musicians. Every opportunity to play in any kind of jam he would. We started to jam together and got to know each other through this and sharing a few dinners together talking about music. I was fascinated by his ideas and when I got an invite from him to come to Sony in Paris I came over and I was immediately struck by his research. Here was someone who really understood music, performance and technology in a profound way. There really are not many people like this. So-called “art” produced by technology is pretty uninteresting a lot of the time – or maybe interesting but only once or twice – here though, was someone exploring technology in markedly different ways in order to enhance his own musical creativity in performance and composition. The question seemed to be: how much autonomy could you give a machine and still keep the improvised solo alive emotionally with the human touch?
He came to Goldsmiths and played a machine he had created called “the continuator” with me on piano. (VIDEO ABOVE). The continuator is an incredible device that has the emotion of a human soloist but is able to express lines that are simply not possible for a human being to play.
Over a glass of wine later he said. “You know everyone speaks about creativity but no one knows what it is. Why don’t we actually write an album’s worth of tunes together and record the entire process? If the album is any good then we will actually have real information, real data about the creative process.”
So we did write the album. I took a sabbatical from Goldsmith’s in London and lived and worked in Paris. Over many sessions we wrote tunes together and recorded these sessions on video. We found that all of the internal musical decisions that you make when writing a composition on your own now had to be explicated in a way that made sense to the other person – either through spoken language or by playing phrases to communicate ideas for a developing composition.
We referred to the idea as “the human continuator”: one person would have an idea, the other would then develop it, providing different options from which the other could then make selections. Perhaps the most difficult part of creating work such as compositions or plays or whatever is that you have to keep changing hats: you have to be a creator and generate stuff one moment, then become an editor in the next and decide what stuff to keep. If you are too much the creator you might produce a lot of material of low quality but if you are too much the editor you might feel nothing is good enough and fail to produce anything.
The process worked well I think because it meant one of us being the creator and the other the editor then swapping roles. During this whole process some interesting questions emerged for us. For example, does having two people working on the same canvas (in this case the typically jazz format of a lead line and a chord sequence) lead to the creation of better songs? Does the fact that there are two of us generating ideas that we both have to like mean that we can produce songs that we couldn’t do alone? I guess we’ll never know but I believe that many of the songs would not or could not have been written by either of us individually.
Another question was: were we getting closer to any understanding of what the creative process is, and especially of the collaborative creative process? And if we could produce some analytical analyses of this process, might it help us to think about how to design computing software that could act as our creative collaborator? We began to consider the creation of an intelligent musical agent that would suggest ideas stylistically consistent with material we had previously written; an agent that would provide exactly the right kind of feedback to challenge and energise us and make decisions about alternatives we had generated. If it were possible, might it draw out better content than any we could produce alone? Every Lennon wants a McCartney. If only…
These investigations are -incidentally – part of larger research projects we pursue at our respective institutions. François’ work is essentially about content generation through different “continuator” processes and is called Flow Machines. My work at Goldsmiths is called Music Circle: we are researching how to design systems that enable people wanting to learn any kind of creative practice (e.g. learning to play an instrument) to form an online community, focusing on “feedback” from other practitioners or from computer agents.
The story of how we put a quintet together to perform the songs we’d composed, goes back a long way. It was the wonderful Sue Edwards who first gave me trio gigs in the Royal Festival Hall foyer over 20 years ago when it was a really happening place for jazz musicians. The sheer joy of some of those gigs led to a trio album called Joy that to my surprise got great reviews in the national press and picked up an award all leading to airtime on national radio.
Again it was Sue who helped form my latest trio. “ Hey Sue, who should I play with?” She said “Winston Clifford of course”. So I phoned Winston and said “Hey Winston, who should I play with?” and he proposed Larry Bartley immediately. The first gig we did together was just incredible – the three of us felt that something special had happened – and I have been playing with them (though not as much as I would like) ever since.
Choosing the sax player for the quintet was easy. I was lucky enough to play with Ed Jones at my first ever London gig after moving here in 1989 and for the next 20 years I’d follow his bands wherever they played in London. He is simply the most exciting sax player in London and has been for 20 years. He is an absolute joy to work with.
We have also invited the saxophonist Gilad Atzmon to join us for a couple of numbers at our launch. François met Gilad in London a few years ago and showed him his work; he immediately became a fan. Gilad is an incredible musician and we really want his feedback on the compositions and to see how he interprets them at the album launch at the Pizza Express launch on November 1st.
I hope more than anything that the compositions reach out to the listener in some way. We genuinely wrote tunes that we both love; never getting carried away with virtuosity in melody, harmony or rhythm but rather trying to strip a song down to its core. Our influences are wide ranging including many jazz composers and others influenced by pop (we have both worked in a variety of bands over the years). The people that come to mind are Petrucciani, The Beatles, Michael Bublé, Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans and Michel Legrand.
It’s been an incredible pleasure composing and working with François – he always relishes new challenges and is never satisfied with what he has done – and I hope we continue to collaborate on many more songs and albums.
Mark d’Inverno (piano), François Pachet (guitar), Ed Jones & special guest Gilad Atzmon (saxophones), Larry Bartley (bass), Winston Clifford (drums).
November 1st. 1 30 pm. BOOKINGS