Sometime last year I wrote a blog entry about generating music ideas randomly. A very talented and creative person who worked with us on several songs last year, Andrew Rose-Rankin (Whiskey And Women, Soul Crusher, Monkey See Monkey Do The Opposite) posted a reply to my blog entry that I didn't see until this week. Normally, I'd write a response to the comment on the post itself, but it was so long ago, I thought it warranted a "current" response.
This is what Drew said:
Do you actually believe that writing music ( at least anything that would be close to tonally acceptable by western standards) can be generated at random- if so, you should play the sitar and more 12 chord eastern influenced blah- ah halftones...
Either way, I prefer to write music through understanding of theory, not the five buttons on the Guitar hero controller
Drew is absolutely right - generating an entire song at random would remove all the craft and creativity from the songwriting process. Maybe I didn't state it very well in that post, but I wasn't suggesting that an entire song be randomized. I was trying to say that the deck of cards can get you to a starting point from where you apply your creative process to finish out the song. Randomization is a device that you can use to get yourself out of your default keys, strum patterns, and rhythms. It might get you going in a direction that you never would have gone otherwise.
When I wrote that blog post, the song that emerged from my deck of cards starting point would not be completed and released for another six months (It's Raining In December). The deck of cards only gave me to the basic rhythm in the verse - something I never would have generated on my own. I filled in the rest (choruses, melodies, etc) by combining my knowledge of theory with right-brain musical "feel." When Alex Burke (keyboards), John Owens (drums), Tom Susala (bass), Randy Chertkow (sax), and Scott Besaw (vocal) added their own amazing "stuff" to the song, the original deck of cards "starting point" became just that - a starting point. The cards were the critical spark to the song, but was really only the first few meters of the 26 mile marathon of the entire process. If it were not for that deck of cards, the song would not exist. Personally, it's one of my top favorites of the 365.
Oh yeah - since Drew mentioned it, I have thought of trying to compose something entirely with the Guitar Hero or Rock Band controllers. I don't know if it would work, but it sounds like a fun experiment...