AERO, by Gregory Reeves, is a MacOS application, made with MaxMSP, that uses flight departure and arrival data from four airports in the USA. AERO takes these otherwise dry (and sometimes stress-inducing) data and turns it into delicate generative music.
The flight data are downloaded at a random time interval within a set range from the airport’s websites and mapped to MIDI parameters for pitch, velocity, rhythm, and envelope, all set within specified ranges. These MIDI values then trigger a custom instrument, which is part of a bank of instruments that all receive the data in parallel fashion but play out the data in different ways as a result of using different ranges. As such the data trigger events and parameter changes in an overlapping fashion, which can result in dissonances because of different scales being played at the same time (this is intentional by Reeves). However, all MIDI-generators are linked and the different ranges are designed in such a way as to avoid excessive dissonance. Silences are caused by the random time interval at which data is downloaded: sometimes the separate MIDI generators have not received new data yet.
There is a lot of small randomisation going on, but Reeves intended this as part of the application to create variety in the soundscape.
After the notes are played by the built-in synthesizer, they are sent through a reverb and compression unit before they are sent out to the output.
User interaction is limited to choosing the airport or choosing to change airport randomly every three minutes.
Inspiration and concept
I emailed Gregory to ask him a bit about AERO and he talked about his inspiration and the concept behind it. Here goes an excerpt: “My inspiration was really just a desire to experiment with sonification, and looking for a subject. I had been experimenting with generative techniques previously, but this was my first real foray into using this kind of external data. Spending time in airports got me thinking about using flight data. The fact that the piece is a bit of a wild animal is intentional. As a composer for TV, film, etc, anything that helps me break free from my “day job” of writing music in the conventional, linear fashion is a breath of fresh air. That’s why I find using Max/MSP/Jitter so intriguing. I’ve been patching for a few years now, and still consider myself a total noob”.
Gregory Reeves quotes Brian Eno’s Music for Airports as an obvious inspiration. Clearly, they share similarities; nevertheless, while Eno’s music is an example of programme music, Reeves’ uses the data to drive the narrative. In other words: he set a system in motion, just as Eno wanted to do.
You can buy the application and a recording of the sonification together with on Bandcamp.
About the artist
Los Angeles based, Gregory Reeves, is a composer and sound designer and creates original music for TV, film, interactive, advertising, multimedia installations, and more. He has produced work for companies such as Toyota, Google, Target, Coke, Nike, Universal, Sony, Chevy, Hyundai, et cetera. Reeves has scored several feature films, and his music has appeared in TV shows like Sons of Anarchy, The Originals, Shameless, and many others.
Reeves’ music spans genres from rock to electronic, folk to orchestral, futuristic to retro, and beyond, including hybrids of music and sound design, and has created experimental sound sculptures for international art installations, and much more. You can check out his site here.