Chance and randomness can be a really good way to find new sounds and generate new ideas. But some composers decided to go even further and hand over most of the compositional decisions to chance.
Composing by Numbers
Composers have been using rules to help them compose since the 15th Century. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and John Cage both used randomness and chance to create musical works, throwing a die and using the result to direct their next actions.
In this process chance decided where the pieces would go.
At first this might seem like it would just create one big complicated mess, but the processes often give a lot of control to the performer and can lead to completely new and exciting sound combinations.
Letting The Sounds Be In Charge
Cage was interested in the beauty of sounds ‘as they are’, so by handing over all of the compositional decisions to chance he was able to allow the sounds to sound all on their own.
The sounds just play without any human influence, just like the sounds of nature.
“[…] to have no purpose at all […] puts one in accord with nature, in her manner of operation.” (John Cage)
Why not try using chance to help you compose your own pieces?
- Take a series of sounding objects or recordings and write their names down on to individual pieces of paper (or sticky ‘post-it’ notes).
- Pop all of these strips of paper within a box (or a hat)
- and then draw these sounds out at random.
- As you take the individual pieces of paper out, place (or stick them down) in sequence onto a larger piece of paper.
- You now have your final score.
Either perform the piece live or use this score to create a piece within the Compose With Sounds software.
Chance Advice: For When You’re Stuck
In 1975 the composer Brian Eno (along with his friend Perter Schmidt) created a stack of cards to help jog and inspire the minds of composers who were stuck. The idea was that a card would be randomly chosen, and that on this card would be a tip or idea that might encourage the composer to think about their problem in a new and different way.
Eno called these: “Oblique Strategies”. (There is a website that provides an online version here).
We recognised this as a great idea and created our very own Composition Tips chance advice tool.
You can also use the Listening Challenges and Composition Tips widget to generate random tasks or suggestions to help you with your own pieces. If you are stuck while composing, why not use these chance tools to provide you with new ideas?