By placing all its components in continuous variation, music itself becomes a superlinear system, a rhizome instead of a tree, and enters the service of a virtual cosmic continuum of which even holes, silences, ruptures, and breaks are a part.
— DELEUZE & GUATTARI, A Thousand Plateaus
Aragorn23 is an experimental musician based in South Africa. His current work focuses on modular synthesis, algorithmic and generative composition, and the use of the body as an instrument.
Aragorn23 grew up in Johannesburg and started composing electronic music in the mid-1990s.
While he initially focused on relatively conventional compositional techniques and genres, he is currently interested in more generative and algorithmic processes. Most current work is developed and performed primarily on a modular synthesiser, with a focus on incorporating gesture and movement so that composing becomes a process that is dynamically negotiated between analogue circuitry, motion sensors and human movement. Other work, using the programming language SuperCollider, explores the sonification of non-musical datasets like genomic sequences, climate models, real-time environmental data, the stock market and personal activity logs.
Aragorn23 releases music under his own name and as Asqus. He was one of the organisers of the Edge of Wrong, a collaborative project between South Africa and Norway that provided a platform for experimental musicians across borders through annual festivals and numerous other events from 2006-2018.
Here's a video of Aragorn23 performing live with a 3d motion/gesture control setup.
assorted projects, experiments and performances
Click on any project to read more about it
THIS EARLY PIECE employed data sets obtained from a local university sleep research department. Using Flash and a Nord Modular G2x, I generated real-time audio and visuals based on different states of consciousness (including sleep, meditation and hallucination) using variables like muscle toning, alpha-beta-theta-delta wave mixing and rapid eye movement.
THIS COMPOSITION EMPLOYED, as its raw material, various ecological collapse datasets: rates of species extinction, deforestation statistics, anthropogenic climate gas emissions and so forth. This material was used as the inputs for complex systems models that informed the stability and non-linear perturbations of rhythmic and tonal objects; these objects formed an assemblage with an aural output that was at once representational but also, in an application of the philosophy of the speculative realist movement, directly affective, attempting to afford a sense of natural complex systems as objects in and for themselves.
WRITTEN IN RESPONSE to the 2014 Ebola outbreak and performed at the edge of wrong, this Supercollider-based work used the genomic data of the most thoroughly sequenced Ebola variant to generate its core musical structures. The epidemiological data from the outbreak, including the spread, contagion ratios and mutation of the virus over time, as well as resultant deaths, was then applied to the time domain of the composition, resulting in a direct audio experience of the alarming spread across populations. The piece also employed LiveCoding techniques – an approach whereby key aspects of code are written and modified live during performance.
INSPIRED BY The Invisible Committee's essay of the same name, this piece consisted of multiple streams of stored and live personal data modulated via custom-build hardware and transposed into the sonic domain. The performance of the piece, also at an edge of wrong event, included the use of real-time pulse monitoring, temperature and humidity sensing, light sensors, liquid heat sensors and a LeapMotion controller for touchless gesture-based manipulation of sounds. Data was simultaneously transposed into the visual domain via Processing, allowing for a tightly coupled audio-visual experience of the growth and complexity of so-called 'Big Data' in contemporary society. Cellist Dawn Carter collaborated on the performance of this piece.
RECENTLY I have been working extensively with the Kinect motion sensor and LeapMotion gesture controller for live work, mapping a wide range of bodily movements and hand gestures to multiple instrument and effect parameters of loose Supercollider sketches. My aim here is to create an environment where performance consists of the realtime exploration of movement controlled aural spaces yet does not allow for mastery of these spaces, which continue to hold surprises and which sometimes far exceed the amount of fine control and maneuverability available to the human body. I perform these pieces live as Aragorn23 and Kenneth Angerhand.
THE BJORKLUND RHYTHM INSTITUTE project spans an ongoing series of releases of generative compositions that make use of the Bjorklund/Euclidean sorting algorithm to product rhythmic and melodic musical structures and represents my growing interest in music that is data driven, unrepeatable, emergent and/or only partially controllable. So far I have released two EPs in this series, both of which are available for free on Bandcamp.
The first is euclidean haecceities, a set of four short piano sketches. The second is obscure metals, a collection of rhythmic percussive pieces that is intended to elicit the otherness of early anthropological recordings of ritual music.
Notably, both releases represent snapshots of the abstract musical spaces from which they emerge; they are a small subset of a near-infinite set of similar but unique variations that are added to every time the code that produces the compositions is executed.
AS AN ARTIST, I enjoy composing music that is singular, unrepeatable and unpredictable. Because of this, I employ algorithmic processes for much of my work, writing software that transforms data and movement into sonic parameters.
For sound of the eye I wanted to push this one step further by allowing listeners to algorithmically compose their own music using images of their eyes. As each human eye is unique, differing in colour, patterning, brightness and so on, each composition is also different, varying in key, tempo, time signature, volume and various other aspects. Once a composition has been generated, it is lathe cut onto a one-off 7" vinyl single.
In the age of digital media and mass surveillance, where retina scans and mp3s are the order of the day, I offer this small work as a provocation, using personal data for creativity instead of control and eschewing the digital in favour of the analogue.
You can read more about the project here.
FOR THE 2017 EDGE OF WRONG FESTIVAL I performed a percussion-based composition intended as a political response to the fifth anniversary of the Marikana massacre. The piece, in stocks, was created using recordings of mining operations as well as various sampled indigenous instrumentation. The structure of the composition was algorithmically generated using datasets of the fluctuations of stock price and production volume from the South African platinum mining sector.
digital, CD and vinyl editions
Click on any release to listen to it and read more about it
My debut album, released on CD in 2007 (and now long out of print) and comprised of works composed between 2000-2006. Early experiments with algorithms as well as field recordings and analogue synthesisers. Visit this release's Bandcamp page for information on how each track was made.
A hidden track from the end of The Great Peppermint Cure. A loose, kosmische-style jam on some dusty old analogue gear. (Skip to 5 minutes in to hear the beginning of the track.)
Available on 7" from Bladud Flies.
These short piano sketches were created using Supercollider and the Bjorklund sorting algorithm*. The sketches play differently every time the Supercollider code is executed, so this EP represents a static snapshot of four out of a potentially infinite number of variations.
Euclidean Haecceities represents my growing interest in music that is data driven, unrepeatable, emergent and/or only partially controllable. It was composed/programmed in the cold winter mornings of early December 2015 in Groningen, The Netherlands. Euclidean Haecceities is due to be released by Bladud Flies in late 2016 as an algorithmic 7", where every copy contains an unique variation of two pieces.
Click here for more on the Bjorklund/Euclidean sorting algorithm, which is most often referenced in relation to percussive music.
Where does the identity of a piece of music reside? Is it in the order of the notes? The cadence or rhythm? The sense or feeling it connotes? If each performance is a variation from a supposed original, how much variation can a piece undergo before it becomes something else?
In these works I have attempted, through a range of algorithmic procedures, to locate the limits of recognition of several pieces of music - some well known, some obscure - by three contemporary composers. Think of them as explorations of the threshold zones near which a composition is neither still itself nor yet something entirely other.
These piano sketches are not, strictly speaking, a collection of performances or remixes of other people's compositions; nor, however, are they my own. Their authorship is as liminal as their identity - a bringing into conversation of Glass, Messiaen and Pärt with Thue-Morse sequencing, Bjorklund sorting algorithms and constrained randomness, as well as with my own creative whims. In a few cases I have also brought the pieces into contact with each other, allowing them to rewrite each other's phase spaces and distort each other's topologies.
Finally, what is captured here is unrepeatable. These are static snapshots of constantly transforming musical spaces - compositions that vary, subtly or dramatically, every time they are played. Neither models nor copies, let's call them anagrams.
Available on 12". Contact me via the site to purchase.
The golden ratio (1.618033988, represented by the Greek letter φ) is used to determine the relative timing of the notes in this algorithmic piece.
Available on 12" via Bandcamp.
It is hard to comprehend the full scale of the horror of factory farms, where every second innumerable creatures of land and sea are cruelly slaughtered after living lives of unspeakable misery. When I view footage of factory farms, what affects me more than the images are the sounds: the cries of loneliness, fear, pain and madness. In these algorithmic piano pieces I want to respond to these sounds, to call back even if my voice cannot be heard.
Using publicly available research data I have mapped the sonic environments of cows, sheep, pigs and chickens and transformed them from soundscapes of suffering and death into something else. Analysing the acoustic dynamics of the distress calls of each animal, I have located the musical keys within which they speak. I have also captured the aural density of their environments - the decibel levels and amounts of variation - and used this to control various dynamics within each piece. Finally, I have calculated how many cows, sheep, pigs and chickens are killed every second worldwide and used this to control the tempo of the compositions. Every note you hear for the pieces Sheep and Cow indicates five deaths; for Pig it is ten deaths; for Chicken it is a hundred.
These pieces are for my friends of fur, feather and scale. Until all of us are free, none of us are.
The theme of the 2018 Edge of Wrong exploratory music festival was 'Ectopias', eliciting the idea of the outside, danger and unfamiliarity. Drawing on this, Chantelle and I developed an improvisational soundscape for MS20, Eurorack modular synthesizer and theremin - an aural hypnagogic desert landscape that we slowly traversed over 20 minutes. As the piece drew to a close my cellphone alarm started beeping loudly - a strangely happy accident that drew the dream to an end and pulled us back into reality.
Recorded live at The Bioscope, Johannesburg on 27 April. All sounds generated live on analogue synthesizers. Video available here.
All sounds by Chantelle Gray and Aragorn23. Audio and video recorded by Morten Minothi Kristiansen. Cover image by Miranthe van Stadten.
Originally released in a highly limited edition of 23 lathe cut transparent 7"s for a concert at Kalashnikov Gallery in Braamfontein, Johannesburg on the 29th of December 2018.
This EP contains two tracks created on modular synthesiser using various generative/aleatoric compositional techniques and represents the first official release of my forays into Eurorack modular over the past 18 months.
Available on vinyl from Contour Vinyl.
One of the very first South African albums to be composed entirely on a modular synthesiser, Eastern Roads, Western Lands is a collection of ambient and experimental electronic music.
Influenced by both the aleatoric musical philosophy of seminal artists like Brian Eno and Stockhausen as well as early modular explorers such as Klaus Schulze and Suzanne Ciani, Aragorn23 employs a range of generative approaches on this album, curating an ever-evolving space of musical possibility using patch cables, chaotic analogue circuits and electricity.
The album's title is a nod to the East Coast and West Coast schools of modular synthesis - the East represented by the Robert Moog approach to synthesis and sequencing that was developed in New York in the 1960s while out on the West coast, Don Buchla, influenced by the burgeoning psychedelic culture, was exploring more unconventional techniques. Moving beyond this divide, the compositions captured here take the form of a slow road trip across a mysterious and organic modular landscape where everything is in motion and new vistas lie in wait just behind each mountain range.
Eastern Roads, Western Lands: Psychedelic Music for Modular Synthesiser was released on the 16th of March 2019 in an initial highly limited edition of 50 copies, lovingly lathe cut to 12" record by Contour Vinyl.
From the Bandcamp release page: "Sometimes, when I'm exploring the infinite musical space of my modular system, the sounds come together in a way that feels as though I've stumbled across a mysteriously organic, self-generating sonic environment. In these fortuitous moments, I step away from the knobs and lights and patch cables and let the soundscape subtly fill the next few hours, allowing myself to drift off and occasionally pressing record before I do so.
It's hard to find the right term for what I've documented through this process. I feel more like an explorer than a musician and if there is a composer at all, it's the chance combination of analogue and digital circuitry in chaotic electrical interplay with itself. I've decided, perhaps in a nod to Brian Eno, to call these recordings 'atmospheres'; I think of them as half-dreamed journeys through alien ecologies and I intend for them to be listened to softly and indirectly so that they offer a discreet background of difference and repetition to your day. If you wish to lie back and travel through them instead, that's also fine.
Each atmosphere is dated, marking my initial oneiric journey into a new sonic jungle of autopoietic possibility. These pieces - excerpts of sometimes much longer recordings - feel strangely, deeply private, but I'm happy to share them with you in the hopes that they are of use in your own journeys, of whatever kind.
Released September 25, 2019. All atmospheres created by Aragorn23 in collaboration with a modular synthesiser containing plenty of chaos and hyperchaos, mostly of the mathematical kind.
This album is dedicated to Demian, in memory of all the long ambient trips we enjoyed together."
As with my first volume of modular atmospheres, the pieces gathered here represent snapshots of longer sonic spaces created for inner travels.
Each track is composed using generative techniques on a modular synthesiser - once I've created a musical space with knobs, buttons and patch cables, I leave the system running, typically for several hours, while I sit with headphones on and allow myself to drift off.
Several of the pieces in this collection were created in the shadow of Covid-19 and the lockdown in South Africa; creating and listening to them has helped me tremendously with remaining grounded and calm. I hope you benefit from them too, in whatever way.
The final track, Lockdown, contains a rather beautiful poem by Franciscan monk, Brother Richard Hendrick. The hour-long mix was created as a soundtrack for my friend Neil's Covid-19 virtual art exhibition, which you can read more about at www.212productions.co.uk.
This collection of music is totally free, but if you do wish to pay for it, all proceeds will be donated to local food outreach organisations that serve meals to vulnerable people.
released April 19, 2020. All music composed by Aragorn23 on modular synthesiser using generative techniques. Lockdown contains a poem written and read out on BBC radio by Franciscan monk, Brother Richard Hendrick.
upcoming gigs, releases, etc.
I will be performing live modular synth with several other artists at The Forge, a new cultural center in Braamfontein, JHB, in November. More details to follow soon!
My partner Chantelle Gray and I travelled to Japan for a conference and were lucky enough to be invited to play gigs at several venues: Modular Cafe (an evening of mostly ambient/experimental modular synthesis), ForestLimit (a tiny underground noise club) and avant-garde staple, The Flying Teapot. We didn't record any of our gigs, but we had a great time performing - audiences were incredibly receptive and we felt honoured to perform on the same bills as so many great musicians.
The 7" of Euclidean Haecceities, a set of two algorithmic piano works, is now available from Bladud Flies, who have done an incredible job with the mastering and design. Each copy of the 7" contains a unique variation of the two piano pieces.
Factory Farm Studies and The Golden Ratio are now available on 12" in limited edition lathe-cuts, lovingly created by the good people at Contour Vinyl.
I have launched a new project titled sound of the eye, an algorithmic piano composition that is created using the unique visual properties of different human eyes. The project will be released on unique lathe-cut 7" vinyl in a limited run of 50 copies. You can read more about it here.
The wonderful Bladud Flies label will be releasing two tracks from Euclidean Haecceities in the next few months as an algorithmic 7", where every copy will contain an unique variation of the compositions. As far as I am aware, this is one of the first instances of an algorithmic vinyl release anywhere in the world. The tracks have been lovingly mastered by Michael Lawrence/The Bricoleur, best known for his work mastering numerous Current 93 albums. The covers will also be individually customised by in-house designer Lauren Winton.
My new EP, Factory Farm Studies, is now available for free on Bandcamp. The EP contains four generative piano pieces that are composed using data from factory farmed sheep, cows, pigs and chickens.
I will be performing along with Chantelle Gray, Amantha, Coila Enderstein and Daniel Gray at Variations on the Body, an Edge of Wrong affiliated experimental music evening happening in Observatory. Click here for more information on the event.