Bird flocking mechanics

I was recently starting to plan a new composition when I came upon the idea of using bird flocking mechanics to determine the harmony of a piece. I had just come over Daniele Ghisi’s research which includes the external package Dada for MaxMSP, which includes exactly a tool to recreate this.


This is the beauty of sonification. Any data can be used and mapped into musical parameters. Many of my students seem to find this idea slightly bizarre but it has become part of contemporary composition. It is also incredibly popular in sound art. Much like Brian Eno’s cards, I find that sonification can give me an extra push to try something interesting. The meaning of the data you use also becomes an extra layer in the work on a composition. There really is no bad data, only a bad way to implement the data. Daniel Shiffman’s The Nature of Code also influence my view in this sense (although in the field of the visual arts). We as composers control the data, and it can be manipulated into anything we want from completely diatonic harmony, to the most dense twelve-tone or aleatoric composition you can imagine.

In the picture that you can see, I added 600 birds in the swarm, however the code is really meant to work with 6. I put 600 just to show the possibilities in a more visual light. The X axis represents pitch, where negative and positive represent the same note. The Y axis represents octaves. This data is sent to a bach.roll and then exported into a MIDI file to be manipulated further in Sibelius. Although the material may not seem interesting at first, it’s really about manipulating it in different ways with different methods. In this case, the variables of alignment and avoidance between the birds can be used throughout the composition as an extra-musical parameter. Although these might not necessarily be something the audience can hear, if it helps you structure your work, why not use it?