Ben Peers — Organised Compact Design


Accompanying information to the recordings of the Ben Peers is limited to a description of his creative method. Peers is concerned with generative music (that is, he writes not so much the music itself as the software code to create it), and he represents the algorithmic school within that movement. This trend was very popular at one point, but has recently lost ground with the emergence of neural networks and machine learning. The difference is that a neural network is based on the material of already created works, while algorithmic generation is based on some formal principle, albeit using an element of chance.

Ben Peers uses second-order Markov chains to create music. The essence of this mechanism is that each next note (or percussion) is determined according to a probability matrix depending on the previous two. For example, the matrix can be set so that after C and E with probability 0.2 the next note will be top A, with probability 0.5 bottom A, another 0.1 (that is 10 percent probability) for F and the remaining 0.2 for G. Generate a random number from 0 to 1, see in which interval it falls (so the chances of the lower A being hit are 5 times higher than the chances of the F being hit, and so on) and choose the next note based on that.

To implement this maths Peers uses the popular Max/MSP music environment, which has been used for years by Autechre, for example. In fact, the musical comparisons with the British duo cannot be avoided either. Both the sound palette and the structure of Peers' compositions are very similar to what Autechre did in the XXI century. There is, however, one significant difference: Sean Booth and Rob Brown, with a few exceptions, like the 'Oversteps' album, carefully purge everything human from their music and deliberately avoid the usual harmonies, but Peers' music sounds quite 'human'. All the notes and chords are strictly in tune, and the drums, with all their complexity and aperiodicity, still sound rhythmic.

There is an almost perfect compromise between complexity and unpredictability on the one hand, and a certain subjective 'musicality' on the other. Intricate, but not abstruse, beautiful, but without clichés. The important question Peers does not answer in the release description is how much hand-editing went into the creation of Organised Compact Design - how many generated parts he ended up with in the 35 minutes of music. Be that as it may, the experiment is clearly a success; for once, a work that emphasizes the principle of creation rather than the content (i.e. it's not so much music as contemporary art) can be listened to for pleasure, without having to look at the 'manual'.


Ben Peers

Author: Nick Zavriev