The Listening Machine is an ambitious project to generate automatically a continuous stream of music based on the activities of 500 Twitter users in the UK, from May to September 2012. The work was commissioned by The Arts Council in the UK for The Space, a pioneering public service joint venture between the BBC and The Arts Council to run between May and September this year, providing free access to the arts for anybody with a computer, smartphone, or Internet-connected TV.
Composer and cellist Peter Gregson worked with designer and programmer Daniel Jones and The Britten Sinfonia to put the work together. I caught up with Peter to find out more about how this work was conceived and put together.
“Producing six months of potential music is a daunting task!” he told me. “The challenge was to create a piece that can be played continuously for six months, recombine itself in any way and not sound random or repeat itself, whilst still retaining its innate musicality… it requires patience, coffee and a system.”
The resulting work is enormous in scope, and Sibelius played a key role in ensuring the project was completed on time. Peter said, “The Listening Machine ended up with 69,000 discrete audio assets in it, and with only six weeks to pull the entire project together, the most important tool from my point of view was a smart way to simple way to produce the scores for Britten Sinfonia to record in time! A lot of the work was mocked up with samples in order to be totally sure it would work in the algorithms, and seeing as I was still writing material at 6am on the morning of recording sessions, familiarity was key, too! I’ve used Sibelius since I was at school, and it’s a staple part of my creative workflow – the only shame was that it couldn’t help me get to bed on time!”
It’s a quite fascinating project, and worth checking out. To hear The Listening Machine, please visit its web site.