Umanía

Article

Senderos para el 2000 · Revista hablada y escrita (Vol. III), Paralelo Madrid, 1996.

All creative musicians end up falling into a trap sooner or later. Sometimes they put a product into their trolley that is already on the shelf (there is a large variety: golden section, fractals, Markov chains, etc.), other times they create their own products.

When I talk about falling into a trap, I am not referring to something fatal, like stepping on something that snares you and greatly endangers you or, in the worst case, gives you a passport to a place of no return. What I mean is that you allow yourself to be tempted (enchanted) by the mermaids' song in the form of thought mechanisms that, although in theory far from the intrinsically musical - what, by the way, if anyone knows, is the intrinsically musical? - have an enormous potential for unchaining sound processes.

A brilliant and successful trap - so much so that it still continues to be used nowadays - was serialism. Perhaps the explanation resides in the congruence of its method with the task of the pen and stave musician.

I must confess that I have recently, and willingly, been the victim of a trap, a "Utrap". In conclusion: the number U trap.

For those of you who do not know and are curious, the number U is Turing's universal machine (for further information: R. Penrose, The Emperor's New Mind, Chapter II, 1989). For those who do not wish to complicate matters, it isn't important. You may carry on living perfectly well without knowing anything about the blessed machines.

The concept was introduced in 1935-36 by the English mathematician Alan Turing. We are not dealing with physical objects in any way but rather elements of abstract mathematics. They are virtual machines, algorithmic manipulations of ones and zeros on the basis of other ones and zeros. The starting algorithms are very simple but their consequences are immensely complex. Suffice it to say that general modern computers are Turing's universal machines.

The use of algorithms, something which is in fashion today thanks to the computer way of life, dates back to the Greek period (300 B.C.). An example is the Euclides algorithm to find the maximum common denominator of two numbers.

But let's get back to the number U. One day I came across this unique binary number: almost 5,500 ones and zeros that, translated to decimals, give an enormous number of 1,600 digits.

My first feeling was of astonishment, my first reaction of movement, and I quickly got down to the job in hand.

The most simple operation, and most ingenious too, was that of literally transcribing the decimal number to musical pitches. What a silly thing to do!, I thought at once, the most I will get is a monotonous string of 1600 notes (50 bars of four-four time each crammed with 32 demisemiquavers, for example).

Monotonous, and certainly "decatone", that is to say that as human beings have ten fingers, there are only ten digits, which means we have to discard 11 and 12, that is not use two of the twelve possibilities that we receive from our ancestors as chromatic legacy.

C and B were in luck, as I arbitrarily decided that the scale would go from C sharp (0) to B flat (9). From that moment C and B have disappeared from my life. I don't miss them. Up to now I haven't felt the slightest displeasure.

Then I went on to process the binary number. The ones and zeros provided me with shifts between upper and lower octaves, dynamics, timbres, etc. From this first approximation Usession was born, for piano, flute, saxophone and double bass, all of them virtual. Two other pieces then arose: Variations U, for various indeterminate instruments, and u flu for fru, for a quartet of recorders and two virtual pre-recorded flutes, both fruit of new algorithms on the number U. There are more on the way.

This time I have fallen into a good trap. "U" manifests itself like a rampant virus, even though it is at present under control. I still haven't discovered an antidote, but do I want one? And what if I am a prisoner to "Umania" till the end of my days? Oh well. You've got to die of something.