Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Strange Loop

Strange how ideas evolve. I started a few posts ago with an interest in a similarity between sequential passages in Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. This led to an interest in sequences that can keep going endlessly, which made me think of M. C. Escher drawings and a Vivaldi concerto that I love to mangle. I found an online cartoon that humorously depicts someone stumbling down an Escher-type endless staircase, but my stumbling Vivaldi recording has the disadvantage (and advantage) that it ends. (Because it spirals downward, one runs out of pitches.)

This looped me back to thinking about how I'd extended the Tchaikovsky Nutcracker sequence by looping it, leading to the most recent post which provides an mp3 that can loop seamlessly, seemingly forever. As an experiment, I listened to it continuously on my 45-minute commute home last night; mixed with snowfall at dusk, the melancholy minimalist music made for quite a companion; minimalist, but always going somewhere. As with most such experiments, much of the interest is in the effect on the listener. (Ultimately, that's true of all music!) I found my attention drifting in and out of the loopy soundtrack - one could say the "development section" of this "piece" was wherever my mind went.

One of my first thoughts: given that these 24 seconds are some of my favorites in the entire Nutcracker (not exactly one of my favorite works), what does it mean to jettison everything else and bask in the part I like? True, there's a lot to be said for letting context make the most of these moments, but I'm guessing just about everyone has had that experience of waiting for the good parts - (and sometimes the waiting is boring.) Whatever else one might say about the ridiculousness of listening this way, I was struck towards the end of the journey by the thought that I still found the passage beautiful. (That René Köhler sure knows how to summon gorgeous sound from his National-Philharmonic Symphony.) And it still sounded like it was going somewhere!

Anyway, this morning it occurred to me that I needed to find a way to combine the looping Tchaikovsky with the looping staircase, but, unlike the downward spiralling Vivaldi, the Nutcracker sequence reaches up - less than an hour later, I'd churned out this crude animation;

Sadly, although I figured out how to make the video above loop, there's always a hiccup when it starts again - whereas the mp3 version loops seamlessly in iTunes and on my iPod. So, you only get 2:47 of truly seamless infinity here, but that's probably enough for most of you.

UPDATE (16 years later, I finally got around to making a 30-minute looping version of the above! 5/07/24):

The subject heading comes from a concept developed by the great Douglas Hostadter.

1 comment:

Jesse said...

Hi Michael... interesting idea. I feel like I need to explore minimalism a bit more. You know, after a while, all this Brahms, Mozart, and (currently) French music can get boring. What if we looped the third movement of the Saint-Saens sonata?

On a slightly different note, I just started my own blog... we'll see how persistent I am with it. Though, since I have a link to yours on mine, I will likely become at least a semi-regular reader of yours and thus be somewhat inspired to write more posts in mine. Maybe one day I'll be afforded the time to ponder and pose as you do. For now, it's mostly about my current life's lot. If you want to check mine out, it's