Andrew R. Brown

Andrew R. Brown

Andrew R. Brown's work focuses on augmenting our creative intelligence through interactions with computer systems. He has published widely and won numerous research grants related this topic. His interests include algorithmic music, computational arts, music technology, creativity support systems, interaction design and music education. These passions have fuelled a range of digital arts practices in interactive and algorithmic media, with performance practices in laptop live coding and interactive music systems. These interests have also inspired an academic career including his current position as Professor of Digital Arts at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia.

Why do you make music?

I make music because I enjoy sound as a medium, appreciate the intricate multi-dimensional structures music can contain, and am impressed with music’s capacity for both cultural meaning and transcendence. Whether music is simply ‘evolutionary cheesecake’ or more essential to Being, it seems to me that music resonates with the human mind and spirit in profound ways and is therefore an important activity to be involved in. I interested to understand more about what it is to be musical, especially how to be a digital musician.

What music do you make?

Most commonly I make algorithmic music. This appeals to my interest in the unfolding of processes in sound. However, I’m also interested in gestural expression and timbral exploration which means my algorithmic musical practices often involve live human input. Specifically, my recent practices have been live coding and interactive music systems.

How do you make music?

I trained as a keyboard player and continue to connect with gestural, especially percussive, musical expression. My algorithmic expression is typically in code so I gravitate to computer music making, and to electronic music more specifically. Live coding practice has been a great vehicle for me to hone my techniques of succinct algorithmic expressivity, and the cyber physical interaction between the computer, coder and the environment that occurs in live coding is rich with complexity and challenges. In recent years, I’ve combined my loves for piano and algorithmic music in the development of software for improvised musician-machine duets that can be performed on two computer-controlled acoustic pianos. Moving forward, I am working on semi-autonomous systems for digital music interaction that use code, gesture, and sound as interfaces.

Is any of your sound-based work not ‘music’ as such and, if not, what is it?

Much of my sound-based work involves software and/or hardware development which I consider part of music making but not itself ‘music’. However, during these processes music occurs, typically in my imagination as I work through the musical affordances of the technologies I devise. In this sense, the development of music technologies has similarities with compositional and improvisational practices, and the skills of audiation are fundamental to any musicianship.

How do you describe yourself (e.g. are you a performer, a composer, a technologist, an engineer, some combination of these or, indeed, something else) and why?

I describe myself as a musician (amongst other non-musical identities). I try to avoid narrower definitions, such as performer or technologist, as they seem constraining and incomplete given the range of activities that contribute to my musical life.

What is the cultural context for your work - how are you influenced by music from other cultures or the other arts?

My music in quite deeply rooted in Western cultural traditions, especially their schemes of harmonic and rhythmic organisation. Within this envelope, influences are wide ranging and include classical, jazz, rock and pop, electronic and experimental genres. My influences from non-western traditions are not much more extensive than that found in Western musical culture in general. Influences from other arts are similarly modest, although I will admit to being intrigued with patterning processes in various visual arts, such as Islamic geometric patterns and minimal process art, and with pattern languages in architecture, design, and computing.

What skills and attributes do you consider to be essential for you as a musician?

In my view, core musical skills include critical listening, a sonic imagination, learned gestural patterns, music theoretic concepts, historical and contextual awareness, and instrumental / production skills in sound making. This is list consistent with my suggestions in publications on musicianship that music be considered from four perspectives; as sound, perception, gesture, and culture. The integration of skills and personal attributes in each of these areas is key to being a musician.

What are the distinguishing features of your work?

A key distinguishing feature of my work is a reliance on generative processes. Often this means that different instances of my works are deliberately distinctive; perhaps not radically so, but more differentiated than might be typical of interpretations of a score by a performer. Almost always my music making involves interactions with technologies that, through algorithmic processes, contribute more than might be often expected from a musical ‘instrument’. In my mind, the objective of my software designs is to enhance the musical agency of the technology within the human-machine partnership.

What do you understand by the phrase 'digital musicianship'?

The term digital musicianship implies a set of competencies and understandings that enable a musician to effectively navigate the contemporary musical context that is saturated by ubiquitous digital technologies. Attributes of digital musicianship would include awareness of the sonic capabilities of digital music technologies including computers, software, the internet, mobile devices, online services, and more. Attributes include the capability to harness this potential through creative and technical expertise. Also important is an understanding of the role of digital and electronic technologies to influence musical culture; including the impacts of music production and consumption practices. All musicians should have a degree of such digital musicianship, and a digital musician would be expected to approach virtuosity in one or more of these practices.

Do you have any other useful or relevant things to say about being a musician in the digital age?

The era of digital technologies is often depicted as one of rapid change. As a result, it can appear that the conditions of being a digital musician are like quicksand; without foundation and ready to overwhelm you at any time. However, there are points of stability, skills that once learned will stand the test of time. Some of these are very traditional area, like acoustics and timbral discrimination, and some more contemporary, like sound synthesis and digital signal flow. Keeping up with the new in digital music remains a challenge but it is made more manageable by developing a solid grounding in the fundamentals.