Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Pete Townshend Unveils New Music 'Method'

Fabiola Beracasa, Tinsley Mortimer

Pete Townshend

Do you want to make beautiful music, just you and your computer? Pete Townshend could make it happen. The Who songwriter and guitarist has unveiled a melody-making computer program, ‘Method,’ which could help all wannabe composers create their very own sound.

Townshend was first introduced to the idea of composing on computers in the early 1960s while he was doing an art school foundation course with the likes of Brian Eno and David Bowie. “The course was led by a guy called Roy Ascot, who had this idea that computers were going to enable artists to do all kinds of interesting things,” said Townshend in an interview with ASW last week.

But it was a decade before Townshend acted on his inclination by penning a futuristic film script entitled Lifehouse, which was to provide the inspiration for ‘Method.’ The movie explored the idea that every one of us has our own unique music and if we got together and played it en masse, it would combine to create a sound similar to the sea. After listening to a few samples of ‘Method’ music, it seemed that the effect might not always be as melodious as the sound of lapping waves. However, let’s give the rock legend the benefit of the doubt since Lifehouse did lead to the release of the iconic Who’s Next album.

So how does it work? The project, a joint brainchild of Townshend, mathematician Lawrence Ball and software engineer David Snowdon, gives subscribers the opportunity to quite literally make their own music. All you have to do is give the online ‘Method’ software composer some personal details, including a photograph, voice sample and a basic rhythm, which you can tap out on your computer keyboard. This information will then be collaborated and turned into a track that represents you and only you. “The Method has evolved out of a shared passion for music,” said Ball. “It represents a whole new level of integration, blending rock and psychedelia with classical and experimental music.” But that’s only the start, according to Ball. “It’s bound to evolve even further through its life on the net since it’s a chance for millions of people to collaborate together online.”

Once you've sat for your online ‘Method’ portrait, you can then download it and share it with your friends. You may not love it or even like it but whatever your reaction, you can’t stop a team of composers, which will occasionally include Townshend, from listening to it. The team is there to select a few music portraits to develop further. If one of your portraits is chosen, it may even end up as a song. The single Fragments from The Who’s latest album, Endless Wire was created using ‘Method.’

The technological advancement may be a breakthrough for the current band but back in the day Townshend’s former drummer Keith Moon may have struggled to provide the machine with a steady beat. “His time-keeping wasn’t the most important thing” said Townshend. “It was one of the reasons why I became such a physical performer because he used to watch my body.’ Things have not changed and Townshend operates the same way with The Who’s current drummer, Zack Starkey. “Sometimes I’m playing my guitar and deliberately hiding from him,” said Townshend. “But he seems to watch one of the cheeks of my arse and knows what I’m going to play next.”

Aside from his music ventures, Townshend is also working on an autobiography “I’m less than half way through,’”declared the versatile rocker. “And I’m now putting it on the Internet in a compressed form just ‘cos I want to get it out the way.” It looks like Townshend has well and truly moved with the times. Any talk of his generation now would have to be about the savvy, online MySpace generation.

- Sophia Armitage

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