Generative Waves

It’s possible that our grandchildren will look at us in wonder and say, ‘You mean you used to listen to exactly the same thing over and over again?’

Brian Eno
Generative Waves 8.3.22

Generative music: compositions which change every time they are played as the systems behind them introduce some kind of randomness.

This is an example of how music can be generated entirely on its own with the systems in place. Although a performance of “Generative Waves” includes human ‘intervention’, once started, the instrument could, if desired, simply run independently and continuously generate new music.

It’s like designing a seed that, once planted, can grow into many varieties of a particular plant species. It’s a musical approach that has the potential to generate endless variations within the original zone of intention.

Brian Eno

All music in Generative Waves is ‘generated’ from a singular held note manipulated in various ways. Changes in pitch are achieved mostly through granular synthesis.


    • Chaos Controller:
      • Gate Generator – Clock out Jitter
      • Output Voltage Range to control Pitch
        • Spread and Distribution Bias controlled by Random LFOs
        • Pitch class options limited by Quantizer
    • Sequencer to Freeze Pitch for Bass
    • Shape of Attack
    • Activity Level
    • Tempo
    • Frequency Modulation
    • Amplitude Modulation
    • Random echoes of past melodic material
    • Clock
    • Mix
    • Pitch
    • Filter
    • Ring Modulation
    • Pitch
    • Mix
    • Quantization
  • EMPRESS EFFECTS ZOIA I, II, III (see maps below for more details)
    • DIR 1 knob (pitch)

Poly Effects Beebo sends out a single note melody (can be produced with any number of sound sources, here an oscillator, but in the past with the recorded and then frozen note of a saxophone) with pitch classes being drawn only from a G Major scale. Those pitches vary in range and duration based on generative processes set in Beebo.

The Empress Effects Buffer is simply a utility pedal to reduce noise in the signal.

Electro Harmonix Superego+ is a Freeze/Sustain multi effects pedal. For this piece it is set to indefinitely sustain up to 3 notes at a time. Once 3 notes are sustained, any new pitch that is fed to the Superego+ replaces the first in the set of 3. This creates the everchanging harmony, one note at a time. The pitch being replaced glissandos into the new pitch being added. This is sometimes audible if the moment aligns with the pulsation created by the Hologram Electronics Microcosm.

The sustained chord changes now go through the Hologram Electronics Microcosm, another multi effects pedal. Here the incoming audio is ‘pulsated’ slowly giving momentary snapshots of the changing harmony. Some of the processes taking place in this pedal include an activity level (how much of any given effect to apply), clock changes (how fast to ‘pulsate’), shape of the envelope (attack, decay, sustain, release), and how to transpose and/or duplicate the incoming sound (either unison, up one octave, down one octave, up two octaves, or a combination of these possibilities).

Chase Bliss Dark World is a dual reverb used with the purpose of sustaining the ‘pulsated’ chords coming from the Microcosm. The audio goes first into the ‘Dark’ side of the pedal where some subtle degradation of the sound occurs with the introduction of frequency and amplitude modulation (and introduction of noise). It is then fed into the ‘World’ side of the pedal, an atmospheric spring reverb with a long trail.

The Empress Effects Zoia I does a lot of the heavy lifting and is best treated as a separate discussion below with the associated modular grid. One of the audible features is the granular treatment of the chords. At times they are ‘chopped’ into smaller slices and a sort of tremolo effect can be heard (at varying speeds). Additionally, the incoming audio is transposed up or down based on several generative processes.

Empress Effects Zoia III‘s most notable feature is to add a stereo spread to the overall sound and some delay that ‘ping-pongs’ between right and left. Here the sound is also (on rare occasions) sent through a very slow moving Flanger and/or Phaser.

Poly Effects Beebo sends out a single continuous note only (the same note that generates the melody referenced in the section above for how chords are created) which is passed along to the next pedal.

Meris Enzo is used to change the timbral quality of the sound (transforming the audio to sound like a synth) as well as re-pitching it up and down. Additional changes to the timbre are accomplished through various mix option and changes to the included low pass filter. Occasional increases in the levels of the included ring modulation are audible as a slow pulsing granular effect.

Empress Effects Zoia II uses sequencer driven granular modules to generate the melody for Generative Waves. See the modular grid below for further detail. As before, this is were most of the heavy lifting occurs (and many of the generative elements live or are controlled from).

Meris Hedra adds harmony to the melody. The harmony voice is quantized primarily to a pentatonic scale and is mixed in and out via midi from Zoia III. The scale is controlled with a probability gate (Zoia III) and will change to other scales on rare occasions. The changing interval at which to harmonize is also controlled by probability gates in Zoia III.

The melody passes through Chase Bliss Habit.

Habit functions much like a delay, but allows for pitch manipulation of the delayed signal, multiple delays at once and other experimental features. This new addition replaces the Montreal Assembly Count To Five (now moved further along in the chain) and its use is still a work in progress. The middle section of the piece makes extensive use of all of Habit’s parameters.

Much of the control here is still exerted by the performer, but may eventually be programmed via midi.

Montreal Assembly Count To Five currently adds a reverse delay to the incoming audio. This delay is pitched up an octave or fifth depending on the DIR 1 knob controlled via CV by Zoia I (probability gate). Since this pedal acts like a tape player, pitch changes coincide with changes in speed. Each subsequent ‘delay tap’ is continually processed (re-pitched) until it decays. Most of the time, the delays are quantized to 5ths and octaves, but in the beginning and end of the piece they are not (more micro tonal).

Next the audio goes into Chase Bliss Audio Mood. There are two sides/effect elements to this pedal. Mood adds reverb to the audio. Additionally it serves as a micro looper that samples small fragments of incoming audio and creates ambient textures with them (also fed through the reverb). In the B section of the piece the melodic sequence is occasionally pitched up or down through the manipulation of the clock on Mood. This is controlled by the performer via midi coming from Zoia II.

In very basic terms, Empress Effects Zoia I mixes the ‘harmony’ and ‘melody’ together before sending them through to Zoia III for processing as listed earlier.

Zoia III controls a sequencer in Poly Effects Beebo that triggers the freezing and holding of a note played at that moment. This note comes from the melody created in Beebo mentioned in the first section about Audio Pathway I. See the section on Beebo below for more details. The note is doubled at an octave above before being sent out to Pitch Fork.

Electro Harmonix Pitch Fork transposes the incoming audio down doubling it at the lower octave.

Empress Effects Zoia III adds reverb, mixes the audio with audio coming from Zoia I, and sends it out in stereo. Please see below for a more detailed description of Zoia III.

Poly Effects Beebo Modular Grid

Poly Effects Beebo produces the initial sound source of a single held note for the piece. Below are some screenshots of how some of the music is generated within Beebo.

The Macro OSC is “A powerful multi-model oscillator voice, based on Mutable Instruments Plaits module”. It produces a steady held note and is present three times in the patch. OSC 1 and 2 share the same exact pitch, OSC 3 is pitched up an octave. Once unmuted, OSC 1’s melody produced by the Quantizer, and in turn triggered by the Chaos Controller (“a powerful repeatable randomness source, based on Mutable Instruments Marbles module”), goes to output 1 connected t0 the Superego+ to create the shifting harmony. The Chaos Controller not only triggers a new note, but determines the possible spread between successive pitches and probability of the octave register. These sliders are controlled by very slow random LFOs that are initially off until several minutes into the piece (thus opening up more variations to the resulting chord structures) moving the music forward.

OSC 1&3 share the same pitch class content and produce a melody in octaves that runs to a VCA connected to output 3. The sequencer is stepped through when triggered by Zoia III and freezes the currently triggered pitch class. It also triggers the opening of the VCA sending the held octave out to the Pitch Fork where it is transposed down three octaves.

OSC 2, one continuously sounding pitch, is connected to output 4 and becomes the source for the melody generated in Zoia II.


ZOIA I MODULAR GRID (mostly still accurate)

ZOIA II MODULAR GRID (mostly still accurate)

ZOIA III MODULAR GRID (mostly still accurate)

ZOIA I, II, III MIDI/CV Connections (mostly still accurate)