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I liked all the films especially the one for Superman [“This is Joe”] and the last one which was longer [“ Frontman ”]. I look forward to at...

The Indie Bible

Monday, January 8, 2024

Interview: Dr. Nolan Stolz - composer of "Gravitation" (Part 1)

ROFFEKE: You have done a 2020 “COVID” version of your composition “Gravitation” which is “an open instrumentation piece for any 5 to 8 performers” but in the Covid version, you overdubbed all the parts and used video to present it “in a way impossible in live performance.” I’ve been trying out various artificial intelligence tools, including the ones that make music. I must say that I’m very impressed with them and at the same time, I am conflicted because it seems as though something important is being lost in the process. What are your thoughts on artificial intelligence? Would you consider an “AI” version of  “Gravitation”?  Why yes and/or why no?

DR. NOLAN STOLZ: It sounds like what's being "lost in the process" that you are not satisfied with is the algorithm itself, which is likely hidden behind an easy-to-use interface. Before AI became widespread, the term we'd use for composing music in this manner was "algorithmic composition." The art is in the creation and execution of those algorithms with a result that is satisfying to the composer. An early algorithmic piece that I composed required the user to type in four characters on the keyboard—letters, numbers, symbols—the user's choice. The program I wrote took the ASCII code of the characters that the user entered and set off a series of events, which were then converted into musical sounds. The particular program I wrote made it sound a certain way, but I could have made it sound simplistic—perhaps even "pretty-sounding"—with limiting it to a simple scale and limiting the rhythms to imply a simple groove; I could have made it microtonal to avoid it from resembling Western tuning system and with bizarre/random-sounding rhythms; I chose somewhere in the middle where it was atonal and had unusual rhythms—but nothing too crazy. I titled it "Love is a Four-Letter Word."

 2018 SC Upstate Research Symposium: Nolan Stolz Rock Orchestra

I would love to create an AI version of Gravitation or have someone create one. The score for Gravitation provides quite strict instructions for timings, loudness, and frequency, but the sounds themselves could certainly be AI-generated. In other words, instead of choosing guitars and keyboards as the instruments used, AI would create the timbres. Some of the sounds are supposed to be wood against wood, metal against metal, and wood against metal, so perhaps AI could be used to control robotics physically hitting those materials. At least the timing would be incredibly precise!

ROFFEKE: You have authored “Experiencing Black Sabbath: A Listener’s Companion” and have also written many scholarly works on rock, specifically, progressive rock. With all the “more” important subjects that need to be researched – climate change, a cure for cancer, world peace – why spend so much time, energy and resources doing research on progressive rock and Black Sabbath?

DR. STOLZ: The simple answer would be is that I wasn't trained as a climate scientist, a cancer researcher, nor in politics. I began my music studies very young, and I knew that's where I was headed. Those things are important to me, but we live in a world of specialists, and I doubt I'd have enough impact on those issues with my skill set. However, I can certainly use my skills to point others to think about those issues, and maybe those with the right skills can make a bigger impact than I ever could (directly, I mean). For example, I talk about how a song such as "Into the Void" (1971) is about pollution, how "War Pigs" (1970/1) is still relevant today, and so on. 

There are many Black Sabbath songs that would have a large impact on listeners if they knew what the songs were about. So, if I can do my small part by pointing them to songs that addressed these issues over 50 years ago and yet are still relevant, then I think that's using my skills for the greater good in the only way I know how. 

The Emergence of Heavy Metal and Progressive Rock in Black Sabbath's Music from 1969 to 1971 (Stolz)

There are other issues that are also important to me that I believe I can make an impact, which hopefully inspires others to do the same, and, after time, I hope will make a significant impact. For example, poverty, hunger, and homelessness are issues that have always been ones that tug at my heart. If I can do a small part by buying some school kids some basic necessities and provide food, clothes, and personal hygiene items to a homeless shelter, it's wish others will follow suit. For example, just last week, I emailed all my colleagues at work to see if anyone else would like to buy some backpacks for students at my wife's school. Many of these kids come from families that cannot afford one, or if they have one, they are taped together and falling apart because they cannot afford to get a new one. I live in a neighborhood that suffers from poverty, so I see it on a daily basis.

ROFFEKE: Your About page on your website says you are a “Composer, Scholar, Percussionist/Drummer, and Music Professor.” One could be criticized for not focusing on one career or lane. How do you juggle the different hats you wear? What are the advantages of being involved in diverse aspects of music/creativity? (Check out Dr. Nolan Stolz's answer in part 2 of the interview).

                     "Gravitation" Teaser Trailer

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