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Planned Chance

My intent was to dive into Part 2 of my “End of Melody Episode,“ but by planned chance, I rolled the dice and came up with something completely different. Unplanned, but fated to be this way? Possibly.

Almost all improvisation is built upon a kind of planned chance. You set up the parameters—this theme, these scales, those chords, etc.—then…go. Does this make it ultimately…deterministic, fated to be more or less a certain way? Yes, more or less.

But also no.

Composers and musicians have for years experimented with various approaches to leaving parts or all of a given piece of music to chance. Why? You could make the argument that it’s simply the only way to make music in realtime. At least for humans. If computers are doing the work, then you can certainly get the same exact performance of a piece of music.

And of course, when we listen to any recorded piece of music, it’s pretty much the same every time—though even here there are variables related to the equipment you’re using for playback, the space you’re in, and, of course, you state of mind. Not to mention the fact that no two people hear the same piece of music exactly the same way.

Improvised Listening

In that case, every music listening experience, even if you’ve heard the piece a thousand times, is a new improvisation. You man know where the music is going, but you don’t necessarily know how it will affect you, how you’ll experience it. This is because time only moves forward and no moment is the same as any other moment.

Big deal, you say. But the point is, improvisation is the natural state of experiencing music for both the musician and the listener. And it doesn’t matter if the music is completely written, entirely left to chance, or the kind of planned chance that I play with in this episode.

It all does and doesn’t work out in the end.

Music Performed:

  • Completely Unplanned Improv 1
  • Partially planned Improv 2, with two stipulated parameters
  • Slightly more planned Improv 3, with more stipulated parameters
  • Improv 4, combining Improv 2 and 3

Music Mentioned

  • Wiltold Lutoslawski, I recommend symphony 3 and Symphony #4
  • Peter Saltzman and the Revolution Ensemble: Indeterminacy is, in fact, the title of this track and it provides an excellent example of what I talk about in the episode: planned chance, wherein within a larger design many elements are left to the discretion of the player (and that includes me, the composer.)
  • In reference to the above, and question of the difference between improvisation and composition,  please check out my track of the day blog post about another piece of music that incorporates both.


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