"People think that mathematics is complicated. Mathematics is the simple bit, it's the stuff we CAN understand. It's cats that are complicated."
That's a quote from mathematician John Horton Conway (as you'll see in the video below), the man responsible for a fantastic bit of cellular automation called The Game of Life. Conway developed the zero-player game back in 1970 to test the notion that life's complexity arises from very simple rules.
The game serves as a model, in which three limited rules are imposed on a handful of pieces on a grid. As a result of these rules, the pieces live, die or pop into existence on the grid.
The video below and this Math.com article provide a more in-depth explanation, but here's the amazing part: Startling levels of complexity arise once this system is set in motion. The patterns appear to move, reproduce and behave almost as if living creatures.
In other words, we see emergent complexity in action.
What does this have to do with the electronic music duo Autechre? Well, as pointed out on the WATMM forum, the album cover for 2013's "Exai" appears to reference the autonomous cell activity in Conway's Game of life. And this makes perfect sense as Rob Brown and Sean Booth frequently engage in algorithmic music composition -- sort of a musical equivalence to cellular automation.
For example, I chatted with electronic musician Richard Devine about algorithmic music composition back in 2011 and he had this to share about the creative process:
In other words you set the environment, the rules and you watch complexity emerge -- and then you're free to intervene and tweak things like a plague-slinging, flood-happy god.
I'm not certain to what degree Autechre utilizes such Game of Life techniques on the latest album, but it's a fascinating notion to take with you into deep complexity of this brooding 2-hour album. Now let's listen to a little of it... [soundcloud url="http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/79324139" params="" width=" 100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]