“Ian used to spot the riffs,” says Peter Hook. “We’d jam; he’d stop us and say, That was good, play it again. We didn’t have a tape recorder then: imagine! He spotted ‘Twenty four hours’, ‘Insight’, ‘She’s lost control’—all of them. If it hadn’t been for his ear, we might have played it once and then never again. You didn’t know you’d played it half the time. It’s unconscious, but he was conscious.”
—Jon Savage, “good evening, we’re joy division,” liner notes to the Heart and Soul compilation
The generative process and the curatorial process: you need both, and it’s hard to fit them in the same skull. All that inspired writing that, once you dig into the drafts, turns out to have come from an inspired editorial pairing; all those singers and guitarists that could never do it apart as well as they had done it together. The only means that I’ve found to replicate it solo is time: wait long enough and your work becomes a stranger’s, and will accept the hatchet. But it’s vexing in music especially to know that things go so much quicker with multiple people involved, and to never be able, at this age, in this regional economy, to get multiple people detached enough from the rest of their lives to practice on schedule.
I’ve been playing with the algorithmic drummers in Logic, and not having kept up in recent years, I have to say they’ve gotten pretty good. There’s a decent aleatory component to the pattern generation, which I assume means that they trained a neural network on a lot of real drummers playing MIDI kits. The product does behave like a real drummer, albeit a fairly inattentive real drummer that doesn’t pay much attention to its surroundings and perhaps hasn’t had the best songs on its playlist that week; but the great advantage is that it frees the human involved to be wholly curatorial. You tweak the sliders and the mechanism generates, generates, generates till it blindly hits something that works, not necessarily at all what you had in mind; and you grab a snapshot before it washes away. What matters is that the generative process come from outside. Which means, I guess, that desktop-sized AI has gotten good enough to work around a certain kind of loneliness.