Cybernetic Music/Roland Kayn/Feedback Systems/AI

Hello! I couldn’t find any post about this and I thought to start one. It’s my latest project to search for as much information as I can on this subject and to find important work from composers who worked on Feedback Systems and Cybernetic Music. Of course the prominent composer here is Roland Kayn who is so far ignored in the history of experimental 20th century music and I think it’s time that more people get to know his works and philosophy. I’ll post here a few resources on this subject for people who might be interested.
First this work from Roland Kayn:

The website of the Roland Kayn estate:

And an interesting essay on his work:

Further, composer Eliane Radigue, who is recently getting a lot of attention for her work, has also worked on Feedback Systems. You can listen to her works here:

Todd Burton’s youtube channel has lots of inspiring Feedback Patches:

“La Synthese Humaine” goes deep into the world of Feedback with a Serge system and it’s a good introduction for what “Cybernetic systems” are:

And finally you can find my own project experimenting with different Feedback Systems here:

I hope it’s useful for people interested in entering this wonderful world of creativity! Cheers.

23 Likes

Generative music might be the cybernetic music descendant?

1 Like

cybernetic, algorithmic, generative are somehow overlapping terms used in different periods and contexts.

1 Like

Generative or algorithmic music does not include feedback patching necessarily. It’s more like programming of a computer to do things that the composer thinks that they sound good or follow creative programming ideas to produce each and every detail. The main difference is that Cybernetic systems have a degree of chaos that gives them endless possibilities and unexpected results and actions that can never be repeated again. At least that’s how I understand them at this point. Please read the links, you’ll find out more about it.

1 Like

Nice patches on your Youtube channel. Thanks for sharing.

1 Like

Fantastic thread idea. I’m a big fan of Roland Kayn especially but documentation seems to be very scarce about him. Does anyone have any book recommendations related to him or the scene he was involved with (or his collaborators, I’m thinking especially of Jaap Vink)?

A friendly nod to the YouTube channel of La Synthèse Humaine, who experiments with these ideas in relation to Serge systems:

(edit: just saw the mention up in OP, nice!)

6 Likes

Check the first link on the OP from the estate of Roland Kayn. It has all available bibliography. Not a lot of material, but there are a few interesting things. The most interesting is the 2nd link on the OP. I found out about Kayn from Jaap Vink who worked on the Institute of Sonology in Utrecht (where I live). The institute is now in Den Haag. La Synthese Humaine was the reason I started experimenting with the Serge system and not with my regular eurorack system. I’ve watches a lot of video’s on youtube about the cybernetic theory as well. It’s not about music but there’s a strong bond between modular systems and electric circuits with feedback systems…

2 Likes

Excellent, thank you. Yes, the bibliography is frustratingly thin on the Kayn front. In terms of cybernetics as a theory and history, there is a much deeper literature. I highly recommend N. Katherine Hayles’ How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (1999) as a great starting point:

Thank you @ThanosF for the videos you’re producing. I’ve been enjoying them.

5 Likes

I’ve been really excited about this topic as well! I got into Kayn and Vink through Jim O’Rourke, and have been digging all of the recent works on Kayn’s bandcamp page, where his daughter is releasing a ton of stuff that O’Rourke has been mastering.

I have been experimenting some, but my setup is pretty small, and it’s mostly the Mannequins stuff. I have managed to set up some small neural networks to ping filters—its so crazy when your system starts making its own decisions—super inspiring.

I’ve also found this page helpful—for a closer look at Mr. Vink…

http://www.telesoniek-atelier.nl/ta_relay_03.html

Anyway, I’m excited to follow this topic!

5 Likes

Thnx for the book suggestion! There’s indeed much more literature in cybernetic theory. I watched many youtube video’s (I thought that would be easier) and I have to say that it wasn’t very useful for composing music. It’s great to have a theoretical background that can inspire a different compositional approach but I would much rather have some musical examples. A Kayn patch for example would be amazing to have.

Wow this link about Jaap Vink is an amazing source of information! And now I realized who’s behind it: Hans Kulk. I worked with Hans in his incredible Willem Twee studio with test equipment. I had no idea about his connection with Jaap Vink though at that time, nor I had any idea about Cybernetics of course. Anyway, thnx for this one! And indeed the bandcamp page for Roland Kayn is really rich, listening right now and probably will buy lots of his works. It’s amazing to have all these available at such a high quality!

3 Likes

I’m pretty fascinated by this stuff, been watching La Synthèse Humaine since he started posting on MW and Serge FB group. The theory of Cybernetics is something I never really learned much about but the main takeaway that I have gleaned is that it varies from generative music in that the former uses chaos and the latter uses random. Random has an absence of pattern, and it’s up the user to pick out the patterns they like, whereas chaotic systems will develop patterns on their own through feedback with all of the parts.
What I’d be interested in is discussing how to set up chaotic feedback systems using specific pieces of gear. Even after watching La Synthèse Humaine I still don’t really understand what is happening with the interaction of the modules used, and I have a few of the same Serge panels as him as well, lol.

Woah that’s a small world!!! I love Vink’s Compositions so much.

As for the Kayn bandcamp, I particularly recommend ‘A Pan Air Music’ and ‘Sound-Hydra’——but it’s all so good.

2 Likes

Shout out to Frozen Reeds and Jim O’Rourke, who seem to have kicked off a massive increase in interest / awareness of Kayn these last few years through sheer force of will.

David Tudor’s systems of home-made electronics would seem to fit the bill of this thread: lots of complex feedback routings and chaos.

5 Likes

The first time I encountered cybernetics in music was through Brian Eno. Reading Stafford Beer’s ‘Brain of the Firm’ informed his post Roxy Music work and got him thinking about feedback loops with tape.

https://www.moredarkthanshark.org/eno_int_waves-nov12.html

I think there is a lot of enthusiasm for cybernetics now in the modular synthesis context, but Eno has never really approached it that way from what I can tell.

Regarding Jaap Vink, there are some nice diagrams in the booklet of the Recollection GRM release of his work that hint at some of the signal paths he used, although I’m not entirely sure what they mean.

3 Likes

Have you seen my video’s? See my OP. I’m following his patch ideas and go further away to find musical results. You first make a drone (for example VCFQ output>input). Then trying to insert chaos (using the TWS or the VCM) into the other inputs of the filter and take it from there. RES.EQ can also be useful by inserting certain frequencies that feedback into the system.

1 Like

Yes, good timing! I was listening yesterday to this work from David Tudor. I need to find more info about this too.

3 Likes

:thinking: Wait, just because something has a feedback system that doesn’t make it a cybernetic patch. The main premise of cybernetics is to allow for a system to autocorrect itself. It’s explicit in the name of the field. The control is mainly achieved by way of feeding back information from the environment to the system, in a similar way to how humans work, which was the main idea behind Wiener’s theory.

So in order to have autocorrection the system must first have a goal.

Plugging your reverb to feed back on itself isn’t cybernetic at all. A reverse envelope shape stemming from an envelope follower, reducing your feedback before it goes above a certain threshold, that is a cybernetic patch.

Also, while we’re at it, chaotic doesn’t mean random, or non repeating, and algorithmic and generative are not the same thing. We’re mixing terminology here.

For example a generative patch can be algorithmic, and it can be chaotic, but not necessarily. Check the Logistic equation (documented on the Doepfer site and elsewhere) for a good basic understanding of a simple Chaotic system which can easily be patched on a small case.

17 Likes

About Jaap Vink, I’m trying to find his GRM album somewhere, it’s sold out at the source. Is there anywhere we can find a photo of the booklet?
About Stafford Beer, I watched this video and it’s very interesting, but not really useful for music composition. Thnx for the link though, I’ll read it.

2 Likes

this:
REGRM018 digitalbooklet.pdf (888.8 KB)