Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Jazz Guitarist Stanley Jordan Translates Financial Data into Musical Patterns of Prediction

Posted by Tom Foremski - July 2, 2008

Tuesday I had the rare privilege of meeting the great jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan at the studio of leading Bay Area photographer Jim Dennis. Mr Jordan is in town as part of a tour for his new album "State of Nature."StanleyJordanandme1.jpg

I have no musical talent at all, I couldn't carry a tune even if it were super-glued to me. I enjoy talking with musicians and I'm always interested in how they think about things because they use parts of their brain that I don't.

As we were listening to the excellent "State of Nature" Mr Jordan was telling me about a project he has been working on for several years. He has developed software that can take large amounts of data and translate it into musical passages.

"I first started doing this with weather data. I've been collecting barometric, temperature, humidity data for many years and by assigning different instruments to the data I could hear patterns in the weather that I couldn't see in the numbers," said Mr Jordan.

Then he began experimenting with currency data, looking at the exchange rate between the US and Canada. "I used several years of currency exchange data and I could hear the drop in the US dollar and I knew it would continue to drop."

Stock market data . . .

Last year he loaded up with ten years worth of stock market data. "I was shocked at what I was hearing and I stayed clear of the market. This was a just a few months before the whole sub-prime collapse."

I asked how he could tell if a trend would continue or stop. "Musical patterns have a certain energy that needs to be played out and that's what I was hearing."

It's an interesting approach to interpreting large amounts of complex data. I wonder if a person such as myself, with no musical ability, could interpret that data in the same way. Or does it take a musician's mind? I'm thinking the latter.

Mr Jordan said he can tell me more about his experiments with data. "It's the opposite to computer music in which you try to create music by programming data into the computer. Here, you take existing data and map it to the music, you can assign certain data to the alto, etc."

Stanley Jordan is in town for the next few days, he is playing at Yoshi's in Oakland July 7-9.

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State of Nature

Stanley Jordan's first release in more than a decade is "State of Nature" it's an excellent album. I asked him what inspired this project.

"I was thinking about nature and how inspiring it is to me. And I was getting upset at how much pollution and destruction there is, and how it often seems we can't do much about it."

He talked about how the outside world, nature, inspires our inner world and that through music he hoped to motivate people to do something about the external world.

"But I didn't want it to come across as preachy at all, it is an invitation, it's more like "here, come over here and check out these amazing things."

And that's exactly how it is, it is not a preachy album, it's inviting and motivating. The last track on "State of Nature" is a theme based on Joe Jackson's "Stepping Out." It's uplifting and extraordinary in its gentleness and its spirit. "With that I wanted to invite people to step outside and to do something in the world, to change it for the better."

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State of Nature is a series of reflections on the relationship between Humankind and the natural world. Through music, Stanley attempts to address the fundamental questions of Man's inharmony toward self, other, and nature, and then attempts to musically express the partial answers he has found in his quest. Extensive commentary in the liner notes chronicles his thoughts on these matters and illuminates the meanings of the songs. The songs are mostly instrumentals and are intended to stand on their own, yet each contributes to the overall theme in a specific way. Using the music as his guide, he ponders the questions of how we can be so knowingly destructive to the environment and yet not change our ways, and how we might develop ourselves on the inside to becomes more harmonious with nature. To his surprise and delight he finds his own answers within, and he attempts to share these insights in the music, which is ultimately hopeful and optimistic. The key to finding the answers was to realize that his own work on this project symbolized Humankind's quest toward being in the world--not only living sustainably but also attempting to achieve and maintain a state of grace.

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