As I did with his previous album, I’m going to let Guy Birkin explain this to you first: “The Mathematica in the title refers to the algorithmic processes and number sequences that are used as the basis for the melodic parts of the music, and also to the programming language that is used to code the algorithms and generate the sequences. Tintinnabuli is Arvo Pärt’s compositional method. In this project the method is coded in Mathematica and programmed to generate harmonic parts by transforming the melodic parts.” You see, in this generative music project, melodic parts (M-voices) are created using algorithms based on stochastic methods and integer sequences, and the harmonic parts (T-voices) are created using algorithms that transform the melodic parts, based on Pärt’s method. Okay, I copied that off of Birkin’s site, too. But let’s set the heavy math aside. This release is the result of three years of work from Birkin, and while the math and the concept are typically heady, the music is–for the greater part–quietly pleasant and, I would suggest, best suited for background listening. I like how Birkin has chosen to represent his mathematically rigid constructs in small, bright tones like chimes or bells. Their softness and fading resonance nicely offset the comparatively straight lines coming out of the crunched numbers. In some tracks Birkin lays in rise-and-fall, pad-like elements that provide a break to the bounce of the chimes. Overall, the created harmonies linger and soothe, and the dynamic motion of the tones as the mastering moves them around the space acts almost like a binaural effect. Simply, this can be a pleasantly meditative release. I say “can be” because I do find the second track, “2b-G” almost too shiny, for lack of a better word, for my liking. I prefer the softer, warmer tones at play in “4e2”; they convey a deeper emotion without drawing attention to themselves. Also, there is a stretch of rough sound in “5d-f” that chucks a wrench into the otherwise calm flow. I’m sure that for Birkin it’s a matter of mathematical proof of concept. It does show that range of the idea and the sound itself is big and textured and interesting, but Guy…it’s like I was just getting comfortable and drifting off and you roughly shook me. Tucked in here are two tracks I really enjoy, pieces where Birkin shifts into a slightly higher gear and ends up with a sound that’s close to retro electronica, and is just a lot of fun. “9f3” and “10b7” are energetic and feel like straight-up analog synth constructs. If you’re not hearing a little echo of your favorite old T-Dream track in “9f3,” you’re not listening closely enough. And “10b7” sounds like Birkin mixed Ray Lynch’s soda-pop effervescence with Steven Halpern’s chakra-cleansing tone-scale-runs for a pure of dose of soul-deep feel-good.
I find Tintinnabuli Mathematica to be far more accessible than the last Birkin release I reviewed, Symmetry-Breaking. Perhaps it is the nod to and influence of Pärt, whose work largely employed quiet, reverent passages, or perhaps it is the quality of the math-driven harmonies. Either way, Birkin has created a beautiful work, the easy grace of which belies its scientific genesis. It is very interesting in an up-close listen, but do take the time to set it moving quietly in the background; it’s just as good.
Available from Runningonair.