Glass Mantras (On Anagrams)

It’s glam hour!

There have been days, quite a few years ago, when I spent hours with the glamorous art of making anagrams – rearranging the letters in a word or phrase to form new constellations. Anagrams of words, names, phrases, shaping them into existing or nonsense words, names and phrases, sometimes into something vaguely resembling poems. Last week, on an impulse, I started writing anagrams again. And before I knew it, my brain was back in anagram mode. Here’s one result of this impulse, followed by some thoughts about the anagram process.

a meek glass mantra

let’s make anagrams –
man’s talk games are
smart! a glean makes
glam an art. ask, seem
smart: an eagle mask.

salt maker, sage man,
make “art” mean “glass
tear”. man, make glass
lakes! anagrams met
a slang stream. make
a slang maker’s team.
a meta-slang maker’s
garment: a seal mask.

melt anagram’s sake:
a meek glass mantra
melts – ask a manager,
a maker: slang mates.
let’s make anagrams
an art. make me glass.
grant me a seal mask.


Algorithmus

I create anagrams the following way: I write down the word. I pick a few letters and form a new word which I write down next to the original. Then I cross out the letters in the original and repeat the process with the remaining letters, then repeat it again until all letters are used up. When I find a particularly interesting word I’ll often repeatedly start by first crossing it out of the original and work with the rest until I find a fitting way to shape a phrase around it. When I feel like I explored most permutations I may even add another word to create more options, and begin again.

Glamour Shit

There are words that are ideal for making anagrams. With four different vowels and a range of soft and hard consonants, “Algorithmus” – the German word for “algorithm” – is one of them. A good anagram word or phrase has several potentials: First, ideally, it is interesting in itself and has meaning to the person who’s taking it apart. In my example there is also the self-referential aspect that got me interested: the fact that the word “algorithm” in itself refers to a process of taking input data and working on it in a formalized way to create a different output. The same goes for a meek glass mantra.

iGhost Mural

Then there’s a semantic potential: new readings, hidden meanings that can be teased out and made explicit. Or, to put it in a more pragmatic way: meanings that can be generated from its parts, that the original word can be enriched with, from now on to be resonating with it. I often look for anagrams that have some kind of connection to the original – an ironic reading, a profound or mock-profound response to it, a funny remix, and so on. The process can also be used just to find new words, concepts and ideas.

Goliath’s Rum

Another aspect is the mental process that anagrams set in motion: I find that their creation stimulates the brain in such a way that it starts to constantly generate variations, even in the background. New permutations, or new words that can be formed from parts of it, creating an itch to see what can be done with the remaining letters. I feel that the state in which the brain almost can’t stop looking for new meanings gives me a glimpse into its nature: I can see and feel it at work – constantly looking for meanings, trying to make sense, recognising patterns, finding ways to read the world.

Got mail rush?

And finally, rewriting the original word or phrase again and again quickly gives it an insisting, mantra-like quality. Writing as restocking, only to cross it out again, almost meditative in its Sisyphean repetitiveness.  Reloading it, only to explode it in yet another way. My relationship to a word, a name, and its meaning, changes through repetition as much as reordering.

A girl’s mouth

Automatic anagram generators have their uses, but many of the above qualities are lost when generating a list and selecting favourites. The process has its own rewards, and different anagrammers will find different anagrams.

For me, just like an ear worm or a line of poetry that I can’t seem to hear enough times in a row, permutations of a word can lure me in, get me drunk on their layered potentials and tickle my mind for days before releasing their grip on me. It’s a benevolent intoxication that I’ll willingly submit myself to any time.

Raoul G. Smith


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A Deep Dream of Music

A couple of weeks ago Google revealed its Deep Dream algorithm for image recognition and generation and subsequently released the source code. Unsurprisingly, browser-based applications have immediately been created and a lot of weird images are starting to pop up all over the place.

Many musicians have wondered what might happen if such an algorithm were applied to sound. I immediately thought of Scrambled Hackz (2006) by Swiss media artist Sven König. König programmed a software that analyzed music in real time and then replaced it by matching samples from an extensive library. Here‘s him explaining the concept in a short video. No machine learning at work there, but comparative analysis and matching of samples with fascinating results.

Deep Dreaming visual interfaces for music 

While I don’t know what a musical Deep Dream would sound like, it was a close call to at least apply the algorithm to the software interfaces that represent the processes us musicians work with. Think of it as ghosts in the machine, the promise of liquid audio finally fulfilled. Or as interfaces straight from a Jeff Noon story – “Bass Dust” comes to mind, where said dust is being collected from the wings of a rare beetle and smoked as a musical drug.

The resolution of these images is pretty low for now but some can be clicked to enlarge.

An Ableton Live set with visitors

abletonlive

Part of a Max patch giving birth to a white noise toad…

max

Logic’s piano roll, liquefied, with cymbal hits for eyes…

logicpianoroll

… and its Sculpture synth. Talk about physical modeling.

sculpture

Here’s a waveform that was turned into a weird centipede…

rx_wave

… and the same track displayed as a spectrogram, the 2D view somehow collapsing into a 3D landscape. This is not Aphex Twin’s hidden images, it’s a glimpse into a sonic netherworld where hellish wolves lurk in the fire.

rx_spectrum

Finally, in these pictures the furry and tentacled visitors emerge into the physical world, all across my current pulp.noir setup…

pulpnoir

… and turning Blast Unicorn into a scramble of limbs, scales, snouts and eyes.

blastunicorn

Imagine a music transformed beyond recognition by alien forces…

… becoming an alien force itself, so strange that it shapes the very world from which it emerged. Transforming the tools, shaping them according to its needs. Patterning air in vibrations that have never before existed, transforming us musicians, listeners and humans if we allow it to – so we can grow a dozen new ears with which to hear, and a hundred quirky legs on which to dance in ways we’ve never imagined before.

This is what a100ql is about. Subscribe via RSS and make sure to sign up for the email newsletter where I share further thoughts and exclusive materials related to the blog once or twice per month.

A Beginning (again)

Welcome to a hundred quirky legs! My name is Tobias Reber and I’m a composer and musician. My personal website is at tobiasreber.com and I’ve been blogging at tobiasreber.tumblr.com for a couple of years using “a hundred quirky legs” as the blog’s headline. I intend to start writing more regularly again and change the direction a bit, and for that reason I’m giving the blog its own proper place on the web here. I want this to become less of a news site for my personal work – for that purpose I will keep the renamed Tumblr as part of my website – but more of a place to write about my evolving thoughts on composition in the age of computation, as I’ve occasionally done on the old blog.

In addition to this site I’m also starting a new email newsletter where I plan to write more informally no more than once or twice a month (maybe less – this is an experiment, really, and I’ll see what feels right), riff on things that come up while working on projects or with students, and also link to and comment on interesting media related to the topics of the blog. I’d love for you to join me! You can subscribe to the blog here and sign up for the email newsletter here.

Until very soon!

Tobias