The web page of Hobbs’ Web Phases hypermusic composition.

Hypermusic

A few days ago I wrote about Nelson’s ideas on hypermedia, and I was anxious to see how these ideas have been absorbed in the musical world, and how people have been thinking about hypermusic. Surprisingly, I found very little written on the topic, and what I did find does not seem to relate very much to Nelson’s ideas of hypermedia.

As mentioned previously, one paper I did find was by composer John Maxwell Hobbs and his descriptions of Web Phases a composition for the Internet. He writes

I wanted to create a piece that would allow a user a satisfying experience with a minimal amount of participation, yet allow a deeper involvement if desired. I viewed the concept of “satisfaction” as involving, in part, a feeling of accomplishment. Therefore it was necessary to allow the user to generate a composition that might sound unpleasant. [Hobbs 1998, 295]

This sounds interesting, but the end result was not very convincing. The piece is a web page where the user gets the option to select among ten different sound tracks, and four can play at the same time. The idea is that the user can change which tracks are played back, and dependent on the network connection and starting point the piece will be different every time. This might have been exciting in 1998, but it still seems far from the original ideas of a rich hypermedia world as outlined by Nelson in 1965.

The web page of Hobbs’ Web Phases hypermusic composition.
The web page of Hobbs’ Web Phases hypermusic composition.

A more thorough approach is explained in [Roure et al. 2002], where they discuss the relationships between musical structure and hyperstructure, defined as a high level form of metadata which can be manipulated separately from the multimedia content. They also intend to look at musical content as hypertext in itself, rather than as only being a node within one. Unfortunately they look at music from a merely structural and formal point of view, not acknowledging the importance of for example salience and timbral qualities.

Another example of hypermusic is presented [Ossenbruggen 2001], describing the DejaVu hypermedia browser with the possibility of playing music (MIDI) by clicking in the symbolic representation on the screen. Although conceptually interesting, I find the implementation and use of the ideas less appealing.

Screenshot from Ossenbruggen’s DejaVu hypermedia browser.
Screenshot from Ossenbruggen’s DejaVu hypermedia browser.

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alexarje

Alexander Refsum Jensenius is a music researcher and research musician living in Oslo, Norway.