A MUSIC + RESEARCH EXPERIMENT
Build A Thing Of Beauty is available as a digital album online; the only physical release of the album, however, is an interactive musical sculpture known as the SCI★FI★HI★FI. Built in collaboration an electronics engineer (Peter Reid), metal worker (Mark Reynolds), antique format specialists (Aleks Kolkowski and Duncan Miller), and software coder (Owen Green), the SCI★FI★HI★FI is what its name suggests: a science-fiction inspired hi-fi system that can play seven of the most historically significant recording formats (Edison wax cylinder, 78 rpm disc, vinyl LP, cassette tape, compact disc, mp3 on hard drive, and streaming remotely from the cloud). It explores how playback technology changed the parameters of musical work at different moments in history: from two minutes of lo-fidelity mono sound on wax cylinder, to a streamed algorithmic remix that is unstoreable and infinite in length (see .
The pairing of Build A Thing Of Beauty and the SCI★FI★HI★FI is therefore intended to be not exactly a "concept album,” but rather an experiment exploring of the concept of albums as historical artefacts. How was recorded music valued before the advent of albums, and how might it be valued after albums are gone? The sculpture will be exhibited in select cities across the UK in 2019, and linked to a series of online videos discussing the economic and environmental costs of music (see “Videos.”)
Thanks to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for supporting this component of my work!
Machine Learning Remix
As part of the SCI★FI★HI★FI project, I collaborated with Dr Owen Green (University of Huddersfield) to create a machine learning remix of the "Build A Thing Of Beauty" album that is generative, unstoreable, and infinite in length.
The process works by constructing a naïve model of music as rhythmic patterns of similarity and difference at different time scales, albeit one that doesn't yet have any notion of interdependency between different voices in a song (such as pitch relationships, or rhythmic counterpoint). Each voice in the multi-track of a song is independently analysed using a small selection of machine learning (i.e. pattern recognition) and machine listening techniques to construct a 'map' that tries to estimate where the major sections, sub-sections, phrases and individual events (notes, drum hits) may be. This takes a while, so is done offline. At each of these musical time scales, the program makes a two-dimensional map that shows how ‘similar’ one chunk is to another. The algorithmic ‘remixes’ are then generated by taking the original song to be represented as particular paths taken through these maps. The original paths are warped and redrawn to produce new sequences based on the patterns of rhythm and similarity in the original. Owen's work was supported by the FluCoMa project (European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, grant#725899).
The Cost of Music
The “Cost Of Music” is a collaborative research project between Matt Brennan and Kyle Devine. It also involves a film collaboration with Graeme O’Hara and a fanzine collaboration - “Terrifying Miracle Of Recorded Sound” - with Jude Thompson.
Full findings, datasets, sources, and methods for the economic cost of recorded music of the research can be downloaded from the University of Glasgow here.
Full findings, sources, and methods for the environmental cost of recorded music can be found in collaborator Kyle Devine's forthcoming book, Decomposed: a political ecology of music (2019, MIT Press).
One Man Band Instrument
The instrument pictured above is the product of a collaboration between Brennan and David C. Frazier, an artisan blacksmith from Arkansas. Inspired by the homespun aesthetic of one man bands, Brennan and Frazier spent several weekends in a workshop on the south side of Glasgow building a one man band instrument out of a suitcase, a skateboard, and scrap metal. The resulting contraption was wheeled out for a series of unruly live performances where Brennan road tested the songs that he would eventually bring into the studio.
Matt sometimes writes books about music. His most recent book, Kick It: A Social History of the Drum Kit (Oxford University Press), was named as one of the Financial Times’ “Best Music Books of 2020.” His first monograph, When Genres Collide (Bloomsbury), was named as one of Pitchfork's "Favourite Music Books of 2017."