about  |   publications
krazydad.com  |   wheelof.com

Algorithmic Music Composition

At CalArts, before I got into computers, I was doing a lot of electro acoustic music using chance operations, which is a kind of manual music algorithm. My piece Wound Room was essentially constructed with an elaborate algorithm. While composing it, I needed large numbers of random numbers, and I was wanting to use the I-Ching Yarrow Stalk method to produce numbers from 1-64, a method that was favored by my idol John Cage . I was finding this tedious, and right around that time, I acquired my first personal computer, a Timex Sinclair 1000. So one of my first practical programs on the Timex Sinclair was a program that simulated the Yarrow Stalk method for producing random I-Ching selections. It is perhaps worth pointing out that this method does *not* produce a statistically flat distribution of numbers from 1-64, the way a 64-sided dice or pseudo-random-number-generator (PRNG) would.

After Wound Room, I started getting deeper and deeper into computer programming and worked on algorithms for doing western style music, creating contrapuntal lines to go with existing melodies. I would then feed these counterpoint lines back on themselves and produce additional lines, eventually losing the original input. This idea was the basis for my piece 7 Pianos, which ran the gamut from pure human improvisation to sheer mechanistic algorithmic composition.

Since CalArts my compositional output has been slow, since my interests are so varied and not necessarily confined to music projects. However, since about 2005, I've been doing more experimental music, what would now be called Process Music, and most of these pieces, including the Whitney Music Box, Wheel of Stars, Musical Chess, and so on, are related to my earlier algorithmic counterpoint efforts (and to John Cage's music) in that I am removing or distancing human decision making or ego from the music making process. Both the Whitney Music Box and Wheel of Stars can be thought of us elaborate chromatic scales. Once the process is set into motion, the result is inevitable, and predictable, yet unpredictable.

Also, more recently, I have become really interested in Automatic Music Instruments which similarly have a kind of distancing from ego-driven music.

Finally, I have become interested in finding out anything I can about historical methods of automatic music composition. I have closely studied and simulated (via software) the Arca Musarithmica (1650) of Athanasius Kircher (and contributed to the Wikipedia article on the same), and the Componium (1821) of Dietrich Nicholas Winkel, and have written papers about both studies.