Carl Stone Discusses Electronic Music at HMC

Carl Stone, a composer and professor of media information at Chukyo University in Japan, spoke about the intersection of music and technology at Harvey Mudd College Nov. 13, integrating a few short performances into his lecture.

Stone’s talk, titled “Between the Studio and the Lab,” was part of the Dr. Bruce J. Nelson ’74 Distinguished Speaker Series.

“This semester’s Nelson Speaker Series speaks directly to the Harvey Mudd College mission by highlighting the strong connections between the arts and the sciences,” Dean of the Faculty Jeff Groves said. “Stone’s talk was particularly memorable in that we got to hear him perform some of his fascinating electronic music.”

Stone’s interest in electronic music started in high school, after which he attended the California Institute of Arts. While there, Stone was given the job of transferring LP records to cassette tapes. He said that since the job required him to run the three transferring machines at once, he was immersed in “interesting musical collisions,” which influenced his musical aesthetic and compositional point of view.

Stone spoke about how the rise of computers has removed the constraints of human ability and instrumental mechanics on music.

“In the digital world, the stranglehold between pitch and time is eliminated,” he said. “Using sampling and resampling, we can separate pitch and time, to raise and lower one and not the other. There are no practical limits on what we can do—no limits to storage or algorithms.”

HMC math professor Michael Orrison said, “Personally, I find the idea of wrapping a musical idea around a mathematical idea to be fascinating. All too often discussions about the relationship of mathematics to music seem to focus on only mathematical descriptions of musical phenomena or musical compositions. In Professor Stone’s talk, I felt like the tables were turned.”

As Stone explained, musical time can be applied to “epic slowdowns.” He spoke about Norwegian composer Leif Inge’s “9 Beet Stretch,” in which Inge takes Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and stretches it to 24 hours. Stone said that he had the idea to slow “9 Beet Stretch” down by the same ratio, producing a composition that lasts for 494 hours, which he called “9 Beet Stretch Stretch.”

He then played “a microscopic look at a musical moment,” three-fourths of a second of Beethoven’s work in a few minutes, which sounded like one continuous tone with some minor variations.

Stone also played an improvised piece for the audience. He wrote computer programs that could communicate with each other and pull audio from his computer, mixing and modifying the music using algorithms. The result was a mix of noises ranging from pieces of classical music to car noises to something that might be played in a science fiction movie.

Carola Purser HM ’13 said, “He improvised a piece for the audience using what looked like a computer algorithm that completely jumbled sound bites and then combined them. Is that composing? I’ll have to listen to more electronic music. Maybe that’ll help me decide.”

At the end of the lecture, Stone gave his forecast on where music is headed.

“I think the body, instrument and musical conveyor will converge, and we will have things like bone conduction of sonic delivery,” he said.

Stone said that there are already orthodontic pieces that transmit sounds through the jaw and into the body. He also referred to the use of flexible materials as loud speakers, developed by Chinese scientists using carbon nanotube films.

“We might also see the collision and integration of acoustic media with the world, and I can hardly wait,” he said.

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