Piano improvisation

Over the past couple of years, I’ve gotten into jazz in a big way. Recently, I came across Keith Jarrett, a jazz pianist known for his marathon concerts of fully improvised solo piano. His “Köln Concert” recording is particularly famous. I was delighted to find his music, because for years I’ve been improvising on the piano and occasionally recording myself. My playing is not polished by any means, but for me, that’s not the point. I liked how my playing sounded, as it often surprised me what my subconscious could come up with. As an unstructured way of exploring what’s possible, I find it a very freeing and underappreciated form of self-expression.

Here are a few recordings, some as old as ten years ago!

Emergent Music

There’s also a question ever on my mind about how music is created. In the traditional sense, music is composed carefully so that all the notes fit together in such a way that the final product is pleasing to the human ear. Music is about the whole, constructed with complete knowledge about all parts of the process. In this sense, the construction of music is very top down.

Setting aside the fact that so much of music is a collaboration of many people’s ideas, I’m curious about a different paradigm for creating music, which I call emergent music. Rather than considering artists who make decisions about harmony and rhythm at the global level, what if the resulting harmonies were the emergent product of local processes. For instance, what if each musician had a set of local rules that determine which note a musician would play as some function of what other musicians around them are currently playing? If you interpret that process widely, I’m sort of describing jazz, but I also am curious what kinds of music are possible under different (and perhaps very simple) mathematical rules. For example, what about a simple energy function for describing a musicians “harmonic alignment” with its neighbors? A series of interacting Markov processes for each player’s transitions from note to note? What kinds of rules might produce music we find appealing? I took a crude stab at these ideas, but there’s so much more to explore.