Brad Garton: The Books Of Music, Dreams, And Memories
Written by Caroline Montgomery
The title was vague and the description even vaguer. Music, books, dreams, memories, computer generated sounds? What do all of these have in common? Bwog didn’t know either, so we sent Caroline Montgomery to report.
On wednesday night, I traveled over to the Italian Academy, not really knowing what to expect. To be honest, I was sort of expecting Ivy League EDM, based on the description of Brad Garton’s work. Brad Garton is the Director of the Computer Music Center here at Columbia. He is currently researching modeling and enhancement of acoustic spaces and modeling of human musical performance on various virtual “instruments.” He is also responsible for the development of RTcmix, a real-time music synthesis/signal-processing language.
Once I was in the room and surveyed the crowd, I knew I was not there for fancy EDM. The audience size was approximately 50, as was the average age in the room. In the dimly lit space, an typical Macbook desktop was projected on a screen and Brad Garton sat next to it, propped up on stage.
Professor Garton introduced his work as “book things,” explaining that while on sabbatical from Columbia in 2001 he felt he had to write a book (he thought that is what professors did while on sabbatical). He proclaims that he is not a very good writer (although his work suggests otherwise), but he likes to read, he likes music, he likes computers, and he likes to listen to music while he reads, so he decided to invent a new type of book. Professor Garton wrote a short book, called My Music Book. It is made to be read on a computer and most impressively has a soundtrack, which is algorithmically-generated, that follows the story.
This concept was a little hard to grasp, until Professor Garton began to read the first chapter of My Music Book. To set the scene, this is a book about Garton’s life and his career in music as a composer. The opening scene takes place during the summer. He is watching his daughter play. The music in the background is light. Birds are chirping and there a sound that is similar to water lapping up on the shore playing. The narrative shifts towards questioning life. The sounds also shift to a deeper and more thundering sound, with drums that seem to reverberate throughout the room. The narrator then looks at the pros of life and the soundtrack becomes light again, but louder. And it continued to grow louder until it reached the top of the arch, coinciding with Garton’s explanation of what he thinks the arch of life is. The chapter ends and it is silent. The end of the chapter is greeted with a roaring applause and Professor Garton smiles, clearly giddy that his work is being so warmly accepted.
Professor Garton took a second sabbatical in 2007, so he wrote a second “book thing,” called, The Book of Dreams. This book is a recount of several dreams he has had throughout his life. The Book of Dreams is, technologically, the new and improved version of his first book. He introduces graphics, little squares, that dance alongside of the text to the music.
Garton’s most recent book is called, Memory Book. He explained that technology finally caught up with him, so this book was able to be developed for a tablet and has the most advanced interface. Not only is the interface advance that music is too. Garton “All of the sounds (except one) [in this book] are generated in real time from a small set of sample-recordings I made of my Steinway piano.”
The performance ended, but I wanted more. Kid Cudi once eloquently wrote, “this is the soundtrack to my life.” Unfortunately, he didn’t have the technical capability to actually write a soundtrack to his life, but Brad Garton did and it produced something quite extraordinary. After this performance, I immediately rushed home and downloaded all of Brad Garton’s work and I suggest you do the same.
All of Garton’s books and the applications needed to support his books are available for download on his website, http://music.columbia.edu/~brad/
Image via Brad Garton’s website