Many of the riverrun tracks are edited down from longer pieces. The way I make these pieces normally involves collaging a few different musical ideas and finding things that work well together – once I do find a combination of elements that works well, it’s very easy to loop them indefinitely and allow the piece to effectively make itself. What ends up on CD is usually a bite-sized chunk of a much longer track, a part that I thought was particularly interesting (usually because the elements interacted in a manner I hadn’t initially anticipated).
The mathematics involved in this can be quite mind-boggling. Say, for example, that I have a piano part which loops every 2 minutes 7 seconds, a guitar part that repeats every 5 minutes and 11 seconds, and a drone that comes and goes just over every 10 minutes. I would have to listen to the track “making itself” for several months before it repeats itself exactly – even though the sound of the piece is relatively consistent. But multiply that by the thirty or so musical components that make up the average riverrun piece (and factor in that the loops are often in irregular relationships with each other, with lengths like 252.56 seconds and 2637.87 seconds) the piece effectively becomes of infinite length, and it would be possible to listen to the track continuously evolving for several hundred years before it repeated exactly.
This compositional approach is not particularly new, going back to Brian Eno’s experiments with generative music on albums like Music For Airports, Thursday Afternoon and Neroli, and the earlier pieces by Steve Reich or Terry Riley. Eno's methods in particular have been an inspiration for a generation of composers, and my friend and trusted collaborator Bing Satellites is an example of someone who has taken this kind of idea and turned it into something new and modern and thoroughly his own.
I’m not the first person to want to sell the system itself either (i.e. mixing the components down to five or six CDs of different lengths, so that people could run their own continually-evolving versions at home) – but the costs and expense of doing so would be prohibitive, both for me, and for the consumer, many of whom won’t have five different CD players at home to run the various discs (and who, I'm sure, won’t have the time or inclination to have one of my pieces of music playing continually in the background, for the rest of their lives).
What I was trying to do with this album is a kind of compromise between the two approaches. Thanks to digital technology, I was able to mix a version of the new riverrun album that is just over 50-hours long – anyone who purchased the album on CD received their own unique 60-minute “slice” of the composition – a version that, whilst made up of the similar elements to the others, was subtly different from every other copy in existence.