“To discern what is going on we must interact in a variety of ways with our environment.”

—John Boyd in The Strategic Game of ? and ?

Strategic Game is available digitally and on hard disk at Bandcamp and digitally via a variety of streaming services.

Cover of Boyd's Strategic Game of ? and ? presentation? and ?

Strategy & Creativity

One of the recurring themes in the work of military strategist John Boyd is creativity: where it occurs, how it can be activated, and ultimately how to establish a culture where creativity can thrive. In his view, the ability to be creative—to find new solutions, novel solutions, unexpected solutions—would have strategic advantages.

The examination of strategic creativity is also an element in at least two of the musical fields I pursue—planned/composed music and free improvisation. Though the organization and deployment of musicians (and the resulting social hierarchy) differs greatly in these genres, both musical cultures prize creativity. Conversations among practitioners, appreciators, and documenters of these arts often involve an interrogation of the sources of new material.

In Boyd’s The Strategic Game of ? and ?, he lays out a method of working towards a creative and thriving society while simultaneously denying the same to an opponent. Musicians are, luckily, not faced with the kind of opposition which concerns Boyd. But creative musicians are often faced with and uniquely suited for working through a variety of social interactions, sociotechnological assemblages, political/economic labor divisions, and so on. The fields are not so far apart even before recognizing Boyd’s placement of “information” as one of the primary elements of growth/disruption available to a strategist.

Strategic Game

Strategic Game is a collection of 588 short segments pulled apart from about six hours of audio. The original six hours were from live performances on air at WRUV 90.1FM Burlington VT which featured audio of John Boyd presenting from his Organic Design for Command & Control presentation, modular synth, electric bass, and various granular effects. The 588 short segments have been thoroughly mixed so that that we can hear new combinations of sounds and to see what happens when apparently unrelated ideas and actions are placed in temporal proximity to one another.

The work is intended to make use of randomizing algorithms. There is no “correct” order to listen to these pieces. Though I suppose someone with enough determination could put them back together in the original order.

There are two broad variations of this project available. One is on Bandcamp where technology limitations allow me to make 501 of the 588 segments available with the correct titles (all of them having the shared title: “? and ?”). The second is the streaming service variation which releases a few per day beginning in August 2021 (with a few as teasers in July 2021) until all 588 are available.

It is in the second format, with the capability of shuffling and ideally interacting with other sounds in different playlist, that the spirit of the project is best realized. However, the streaming services also place limitations of expression on artists through enforced naming conventions so each of the segments includes additional information in the title. For this I’ve used randomized text drawn from a corpus of all of Boyd’s slides and the papers he wrote.

Additionally, streaming services required the addition of material such that the total average exceeds one minute (in other words, to streaming services, “Happy Birthday” is not a song unless sung at a very slow tempo). This effectively became a commission for a second body of work consisting of 588 pieces which were about 3 minutes in length and made of regranularized auto reflexive sound. I suppose in some way these are proof-of-concept for the idea of how these sound ideas relate to themselves, what happens when one’s ability to interact must be paid for through a form of isolation which enriches the streaming platform.

A hard drive containing the entirety of the 588 actual pieces which make up Strategic Game as well as the 588 piece which make up the streaming services ballast, along with a variety of unique cover art which is made of combinations of chaos graphs and the public domain material associated with Boyd is available on Bandcamp.

Artist: Gahlord Dewald
Album: Strategic Game
Label: Community of Sound
Release: Aug 3, 2021
Available: Bandcamp and a variety of Streaming Services

Audio of John Boyd courtesy USMC John Boyd Archives, Quantico VA.