[ISEA94] Paper: David Clark Little – Composing with Chaos: Applications of a New Science for Music


In this paper I will give an overview of the new Chaos Science, and show were it may be of some application to composers, with examples chosen from my own work. Basic new concepts such as ‘fractal’, ‘fractional demension’ and ‘strange attractor’ are explained; mathematical monsters such as the Cantor Dust, Koch Snowflake, the Julia and Mandelbrot Sets are graphically reproduced. Examples of Chaotic dynamics are given: Lorenz’s model of fluid behaviour, Verhulst’s model of population growth, and Hénon’s analysis of the multiple celestial body problem. Several new compositional techniques based on chaos worked out by the author are presented: computer algorithms, analogue electronic music generation, projection of graphic design into melodic curve, and formal considerations (such as metric structure and instrumentation).

Examples are chosen from the following works. Harpsi-Kord for harpsichordist and tape applies the iterative principle to sampling techniques. A series of studies for a computer-guided pianola were made in 1988 using a feedback algorithm. In 1989 I wrote The Five Seasons for 6  percussionists and tape, which integrates fractal structures and techniques derived from chaos dynamics. Brain-Wave sets up a self-regulating improvisatory situation fora group of recordplayers. Mod iFications for marimba & tape was composed using a principle I call statistical feedback in which groups of musical elements are subject to chaotic serialisation.
Finally, Hyperion’s Tumble for tape (in ISEA94 Concert programme) was composed by using chaotic algorithms and computer-based synthesis.

  • David Clark Little (1952, USA). After receiving a BS in chemistry, he studied harpsichord and composition in the Netherlands. He has been a finalist and prizewinner in several composition competitions, including in the USA, Germany, France and Greece; and has
    been given many grants, for example to attend festivals and workshops in Germany, Holland, and the Soviet Union; and has received many commissions for compositional work. Since 1988 he has worked on compositional methods using the computer and based on the new “chaos science” and “fractals”.