Musical Ideas
Notes by Tia Kimberk

Quote graphicEvents in our surrounding world are formed by coherent patterns of material and energy which are driven by natural forces. We tend to experience these events as discontinuous objects or processes. In contrast, the music is intended to provoke the listener to imagine events in the world as a series of unique and independent (discrete) patterns which occur sequentially and continuously in a variety of forms, at different times, and at different orders of magnitude and scale. Like many familiar processes in nature in which small independent elements become organized into larger entities, the music is intentionally combinatorial. Short musical sequences are generated independently of one another, then spontaneously combined to create larger structures and forms." - John Holland

John Holland's music is often based on extra-musical ideas which are related to science and nature. The ideas are concerned with an understanding of our part in the universe, such as evolution, time, or even how we listen to music. His music informs us about ourselves and our larger context in nature. He achieves this by composing music using some of the same basic principles inherent in nature. In particular, by creating music from a sequence of separate independent musical patterns, allowing us to connect these patterns in our brain and give them a central intention. In nature the central intention is survival in the short term (a separate independent pattern) followed by similar patterns in different variations. There is no long term plan. Nature does not explicitly connect these patterns or variations. However we do, putting the patterns together as a way of organizing events in our mind and giving them meaning.

John Holland's music, like nature has no intention, no long term plan. He originates a sequence of separate, independent, musical patterns, mimicking the evolutionary process in nature. We experience ourselves and our surroundings in a new way as these musical patterns come together in our mind. Since we cannot expect what will come next in the music, we have to listen carefully to decode the patterns and ultimately to decipher their meaning.

In his conventionally notated works, the composer writes-out every detail of the music. In his other works, Holland collaborates with either the musician or the computer. He provides the human player with a musical structure or set of boundaries, including the number of sounds to be played (each number representing a pattern), overall duration, and a set of ideas (often extra-musical) which inspire the player to explore their unique musical strengths and abilities. The musician supplies the musical texture, contributing their own creativity to the musical ideas. Likewise with the computer, Holland programs the overall structure, while the computer selects the musical details.

See Integer Music and the Collaborative Form

Read Interview with John Holland by Robert Godin (1990).