Indra is a new software platform for real-time music composition for live performers. A conductor at a central interface manipulates broad musical parameters such as density, pitch and volume, which are translated into notation for an ensemble reading from tablet screens. This software is revolutionary in its integration of traditional, improvisatory and aleatoric performance practices.
Indra is a new way of performing music. Live musicians perform from a score generated in real-time on tablet screens, while a conductor guides the form and texture of the music from a central computer.
A live performance of Spring Flow using the Indra software system featuring violist Kallie Ciechomski and two percussionists–-Mike Perdue and Jude Traxler–-with live electronics performed by the composer. (October 18, 2016)
The first composition using Indra was a chamber concerto for viola and ensemble entitled Spring Flow. It was composed by Drake Andersen in 2014 for violist Kallie Ciechomski and Ensemble Sans Maitre, and was premiered on May 31, 2014 at Tenri Cultural Institute in New York. It was performed in a new version for viola, percussion and live electronics in 2016 (scroll up for video).
Listen to the premiere performance here:
“Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net that has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each “eye” of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in all dimensions, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars of the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold.
“If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring.”
– Francis H. Cook, Hua-yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra
(University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977)
Indra is a new model for performing music. A composition within Indra comprises a database of phrases, gestures and sounds which can be combined in different ways, as in an aleatoric score. The conductor controls the general shape of the piece, but the precise succession of gestures is determined by a statistical process.
Scores with sections of guided improvisation or indeterminate passages often include extensive instructions and rules for performers to read and remember, and can be awkward to notate. Indra’s “instructions” are integrated into the software architecture, so performers have nothing to learn except the music. The conductor creates and changes the “rules” via a simple interface, and the result is automatically and instantly incorporated into the music the performers see.
Aesthetically, Indra builds on the most important work of the composers and researchers of the past fifty years. In many genres and styles, the primacy of pitch has been replaced by an emphasis on newly-privileged parameters of music. This system emphasizes non-pitch parameters like timbre, resonance and ensemble texture through the selection mechanism and conductor’s interface. Nonlinear organization of musical material has been a preoccupation of both New York School composers like John Cage and Earle Brown and European serialists like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez.
While Indra represents a system for music performance, it is not in itself a composition. It might be better described as a new template for the composer’s score. New music written for the system is fragmented, and then reconstructed in live performance, much in the same way that a jazz player might generate a solo on the spot using a wealth of memorized licks.
Indra is flexible and can be adapted to a variety of compositional contexts and performance applications. Musicians using Indra can perform alongside musicians reading traditional notation, improvisers or even electronic instruments and sounds. Musicians can easily transition between reading composed gestures and improvising within a single composition. Even preexisting compositions can be fragmented and remixed or “re-composed” using the system.
Performances using Indra are intended to integrate seamlessly into traditional venues and concert programming conventions. The ensemble reads from tablet screens on music stands, and the conductor faces the ensemble, with his or her own tablet screen and interface, in addition to a master score if desired. Performers will see notated gestures on their screens, in addition to dynamic and textural indications. The conductor can also send instant text messages to performers if more precise instruction is required.
In preparation for the performance, composers should provide performers with a list of all possible gestures in the database (for their instrument) so that the musicians will not be sight-reading the gestures.
The Indra system was programmed using Max/MSP. Image files of the score are stored locally on performers’ tablets, which are accessed via a graphic interface in the software. The communication protocol between the conductor and the ensemble is UDP (User Datagram Protocol).
The basic functionality of Indra is as follows: the software on each musician’s computer continually and randomly selects musical gestures which are placed in a queue. The gestures are selected at intervals of time based on the approximate amount of time it would take to play them, in a constant flow. Information from the conductor’s computer updates filters on the musicians’ computers, which either accept or reject gestures from the queue. For instance, if the conductor has selected a high threshold of resonance for gestures for a particular instrument, only gestures which are resonant will be selected to display on the screen as notation for the performer to play. This filtering process is fast enough that the performer only sees a steady stream of gestures, and has no indication of the decision-making process.
In many genres and styles, the primacy of pitch has been replaced by an emphasis on newly-privileged parameters of music. Indra organizes compositions around non-pitch parameters like timbre, resonance and ensemble texture through the selection algorithms and conductor’s interface. In other words, Indra is specifically designed to allow the conductor to audibly shape ensemble relationships in real time, from polyphonic mosaics to sustained unison harmonies.
Approaching and organizing large amounts of data is one of the fundamental concerns of our time. Research in the fields of quantum mechanics, biological networks, systems theory and network theory has advanced our understanding of complex systems and nonlinear relationships. Instead of narrative, linear or hierarchical principles of organization, compositions using Indra are animated by stochastic processes. Stochastic processes are defined by the interaction between known conditions and a random source, with results which cannot be determined despite known initial conditions. Nonlinear and indeterminate organization of musical material has been a preoccupation of both New York School composers like John Cage and Earle Brown and European serialists like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez.
Related is the statistical saturation of a variable, rather than its certain presence or absence. We find this technique not only in the freely atonal works of Webern, Schoenberg and Berg, but even in the music of Wagner and Schumann. In earlier music, the intervallic set is indistinguishable from the motive and therefore is only with difficulty abstracted from its own rhetorical meaning. The saturation technique does not require an intervallic set to be motivic (as in Beethoven), but rather deployed linearly (and occasionally vertically) to saturate a texture with a particular harmonic effect.