# Discussing Chance and Probability in Composition

Having a live players background I discovered the possibilities of chance and probability in composition only recently. Now I am interested, what you think and how you use it.

The other week I got my first Turing-Machine embedded in an Ornament&Crime module and I love it. A Benjolin with expansions for gates and voltage is on order now.

Up to now I used my Ultra Random Analog from SSL more or less as a sophisticated S&H only and to modulate sounds. But with the Turing-Machine using scales and quantisation I started to generate rhythmical and musical patterns, which by chance change a little over time and I had so much fun listening to the ever evolving music.

Being new to this party of chance and probability, it would be great to learn and to discuss ideas, concepts and experience with you.

Not a keyboard player, but a gitfiddle player, and enjoyed these types of tools starting with Band in a Box and Karma.

With modular, I had mucho fun using the old-fashioned method mixing various CV generators into a matrix mixer, with switches, logic modules, and quantizers. These new TM and O_C modules are interesting. Nowadays Iām content with mixing the various algorithmic sequencers & MIDI processors that the iPad offers. Being able to save those elaborate setups is nice.

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This link seems interesting. Will check this out soon.

I remember when the octatrack got an OS update bringing trig conditions. I avoided it for a long time.
Sure enough, I find that when I first caved and updated to get trig conditions, it made me lazy. I no longer put effort into making an interesting composition, I let the algorithm do its thing instead.

After a while I began to hear that the chance or probability was exactly that. Chance. This suits some styles of music better than others.

So for me, a little goes a long way. And for some styles of music, I wouldnt use chance/probability at all.

Having a condition such as true on the 8th cycle of 8, does help extend the normal elektron sequencer length beyond its four page paradigm.

Edit: Iām a drummer, so I tend to like patterns of things. Even the ārandom bitsā arent random, its a call and response relationship between other band players.

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I played with Karma on my Kronos for some time. Got the editor software too, but found it was not as immediate as I hoped. Was a lot of construction work to do, to get it the way I wanted.

this is great, iām worried/hope Wolfram Alpha is going to control the world within 50 yearsā¦ great that they let you download MIDI.

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I donāt really use it. Was stoked at first when it came around, figuring āNow I can make never ending organic and evolving loops until the end of time.ā

Not so, though. Chance and probability are by nature just that, you trust chance and probability rather than precision, because once you hear that perfect combo - which very well can be found by using these tools - thatās the one youāll want to pursue anyway.

I use it sometimes to find ways to build the stuff I want, it gives me ideas, but I donāt trust my final composition with it because for me, itās not all that interesting to leave these kind of things to chance and probability for a final track.

However, I sometimes approach these features as modulation sources, and then it works for me. So say on the Deluge, I can write a four step track but each note can be a C, F, G or C+1, and one or two are fixed. Thatās like harmonic modulation within control, and I can appreciate that from time to time. Also, slicing up a loop thatās just variations on itself, but with subtle stuff going on, and then triggering a random slice from that loop, makes it less repetitive while still staying within the realm of compositional reason.

But overall, if these features disappeared from the world for whatever reason, I wouldnāt miss them all that much, no matter which instrument Iām using that apply it right now.

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Definitely. Havenāt used it in years and much prefer working with smaller individual blocks rather than 1 global system controlling everything.

Got a link for the Benjolin with expanders?

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Here we go ā¦
Benjolin + Morcom + Enigma by After Later Audio

They are also available at typical shops specialized on modular systems

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Well, what I am after is not untamed chance and probability, but to have it in a way of Don Buchla that chance and probability can be a part of the composition. Doing this I try not to go vangard

Example: The other day I let two Turing-Machines play in parallel as a smooth bass-line and plucked lead. The machines shared the basic clock and pitches from a scale, which I had reduced to about 3-4 notes building a chord.

I learned something at once. If both Turings create rhythm and melody, most of the time there are too many notes to have a motive of pattern, which can be identified as pleasent. But after setting the probability to make small changes in the Turing pattern to about 4 beats only, setting my bass-Turing to a lower speed and using a short length for the shift register, and using for the bass the melodic output only, I got a smooth wandering bass-line and a lovely interesting lead voice playing above ā¦

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Yeah, that sounds great, thatās how I approach these features on the Deluge as well.

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Recording chance and probability then picking out the good parts
and then using and looping that can be a good method if you donāt want it constantly changing and never repeating

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This is my mindset exactly. The magic in unplanned events and breakdowns comes from all the other players vibing off it and successfully following/leading the call and response. These arenāt ārandomā, they are non-verbal communications realized in a performance setting. This is rad when it comes together. This is no randomized arithmetic thrown at a musical passage. I donāt care much for ārandomā generation and almost never use it whether it be patch generation or pattern generation. To me it is without context and as a result it seldom fits the rest of the tune.

Random? No thanks, Iāll just program or play a new breakdown. To me itās a feature as much as the color of the power cord is advertised as a feature on the box.

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Interesting topic. I find probability and that it can be applied incrementally to tracks really useful and use it on the Digitone often.
I like to think it can introduce an organic feel to electronic music.

Whenever I use chance modifiers I tend to make them very deliberate rather than just to have differences over time. Iāll set up a chain of events (that talk to different sounds depending on the platform) that generally start with really soft ghost notes as to not just yell out to the world that the result is % random and build up to subtle, yet long formed, variations in a pattern that add a taste of unexpected movement without dosing the whole track in it or making it too apparent.

Everything has itās purpose though, sometimes a single hit of a bongo sample in a 64 step loop having a low value chance to hit can really elongate a pattern without it sounding too crazy and algorithmic, and having that hit be in conversation with other tracks, even if the part it is referencing is not chanced, can bring the ear to shift focus to a different part of a loop for a little bit, breaking up the monotony of it all.

Probability (x:n rather than x%) I use in every song though, especially on elektron boxes. 64 steps can only do so much in any genre of music, so itās nice to make it longer without actually adding more steps.

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I never use probability and also agree with you about having certain hits happen every fourth bar or whatever. Makes it waaayy easier to program more intricate, long lasting beats without having to leave the first page

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I often use the random LFO to modulate the volume of my high hats a bit. That works well on my M:S. And I like the random panning feature in Abletonās drum kit to get the high hats moving around a bit. But Iāve learned that manually setting the velocity of my hats works best for getting my beats to bounce, and then a touch of random modulation keeps them feeling loose.

Iāve found a couple of uses for adding randomization to a whole track, but as others have pointed out, Iāve also found itās best to record that and sample the bits that work.

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Yes, for modulation give me random all day. I like to use sample and hold LFOs set to HOLD mode on decays of hats and kicks on my rytm. Volume would be nice too, but we only have one LFO.

For drum beats and melodic content I do not like leaving that up to chance.

Skinnerbox has some nice random pattern generators for MaxForLive that I use quiet often when I am not in the mood to compose actual music but just want to do sound design (check Packs von Skinnerbox | Ableton , there is also a free version of Sting)
So I dont think using random generators is a bad thingā¦most of the iconic acid-basslines were probably done by mindlessly pushing the buttons of a 303 anyway

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The other day I recorded the tune, which I had mentioned above and may be that someone dares to listen to it. Itās at least, what I tried to describe.

The recording is raw and not processed (well a little reverb on the plucked voice) and a demo only, how a bass-line and a plucked lead-line evolve over time ā¦

What do you think ā¦ it was a first try and there is much room for improvement, of course ā¦