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Options March 1, 2012: The Long Now Foundation: Will Wright and Brian Eno - Playing With Time


In a dazzling duet Will Wright and Brian Eno gave an intense clinic on the joys and techniques of “generative” creation. Back in the 1970s they both got hooked by cellular automata such as Conway’s “Game of Life,” where just a few simple rules could unleash profoundly unpredictable and infinitely varied dynamic patterns. Cellular automata were the secret ingredient of Wright’s genre-busting computer game “SimCity” in 1989. Eno was additionally inspired by Steve Reich’s “It’s Gonna Rain,” in which two identical 1.8 second tape loops beat against each other out of phase for a riveting 20 minutes. That idea led to Eno’s “Music for Airports” (1978), and the genre he named “ambient music” was born.

Wright observed that science is all about compressing reality to minimal rule sets, but generative creation goes the opposite direction. You look for a combination of the fewest rules that can generate a whole complex world that will always surprise you, yet within a framework that stays recognizable. “It’s not engineering and design,” he said, “so much as it is gardening. You plant seeds. Richard Dawkins says that a willow seed has only about 800K of data in it.”

Eno noted that ambient music, unlike “narrative” music with a beginning, middle, and end, presents a steady state. “It’s more like watching a river.” Wright said he often uses Eno’s music to work to because it gets him in a productive trancelike state. Eno remarked that it’s important to keep reducing what the music attempts, and one way he does that is compose everything at double the speed it will be released. Slowing it down reduces its busyness. Wright: “How about an album of the fast versions?” Eno: “‘Amphetamine Ambient.’” http://longnow.org/seminars/02006/jun/26/playing-with-time/

Courtesy of the Long Now Foundation. http://longnow.org/

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