Professor Casey Reas, TA Sean Dockray



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"...we're saddled with a whole set of metaphors that belong over here. Those are our metaphors about how the world works, how things organize themselves, how things are controlled, what possibilities there are. Generative art in general is a way of not throwing those out, we don't get rid of old metaphors, we expand them to include more. These things still have value, but we want to include these things as well."

FL Studio

Advanced software used to sequence music often contain powerful ways of linking events, conditionals, practically making them programming environments. In fact, there are even places in this software, FL Studios, to define equations, limits, and variables to handle events. Each knob in this software can be linked to something else, and everything can be linked to a mixer that can then link to other things, causing feedback loops to occur.



This is software used by many sound/audio/music designers as a visual way to program music. The music can be freed from sequencing, and thus automated. Software like this, as well as the previous example, can draw samples as well as produce completely generated sounds by combining frequencies of noise.


Generative/Procedural Music

Bryan Eno + Tom Betts + Joe Gilmore + various artists on R4ND. It is a real-time audio stream broadcast of generative sounds. Bryan Eno also worked on Music for Airports.

Music for Airports, at least one of the pieces on there, is structurally very, very simple. There are sung notes, sung by three women and my self. One of the notes repeats every 23 1/2 seconds. It is in fact a long loop running around a series of tubular aluminum chairs in Conny Plank's studio. The next lowest loop repeats every 25 7/8 seconds or something like that. The third one every 29 15/16 seconds or something. What I mean is they all repeat in cycles that are called incommensurable -- they are not likely to come back into sync again.

So this is the piece moving along in time. Your experince of the piece ofcourse is a moment in time, there. So as the piece progresses, what you hear are the various clusterings and configurations of these six basic elements. The basic elements in that particular piece never change. They stay the same. But the piece does appear to have quite a lot of variety. In fact it's about eight minutes long on that record, but I did have a thirty minute version which I would bore friends who would listen to it.

The thing about pieces like this ofcourse is that they are actually of almost infinite length if the numbers involved are complex enough. They simply don't ever re-configure in the same way again. This is music for free in a sense. The considerations that are important, then, become questions of how the system works and most important of all what you feed into the system.

Your experience of the piece, of course, is a moment in time, there. So as the piece progresses, what you hear are the various clusterings and configurations of these six basic elements. The basic elements in that particular piece never change. They stay the same. But the piece does appear to have quite a lot of variety.

Published in Motion Magazine (July 7, 1996)


"Environmental Music" - Muzak

The concept of music designed specifically as a background feature in the environment was pioneered by Muzak Inc. in the fifties, and has since come to be known generically by the term Muzak. The connotations that this term carries are those particularly associated with the kind of material that Muzak Inc. produces - familiar tunes arranged and orchestrated in a lightweight and derivative manner. Understandably, this has led most discerning listeners (and most composers) to dismiss entirely the concept of environmental music as an idea worthy of attention. (eno liner notes)

Originally invented in 1922 as an idea to increase worker productivity. It was popular in the 30s, but then was faced with a backlash in the 50s as it was accused of "brainwashing" human beings.

While the term Muzak is the trademarked name of the transmission system, it soon became associated with the music being played. Research had determined the appropriate music to play over the system, as it had been observed that certain music would increase worker productivity and influence the shopping habits of shoppers. This research influenced the musical selections, much of which was instrumental arrangements of popular songs. Arrangements for violins, brass, piano, and orchestra were dominant. (wiki)

Over time, the Muzak style has become more sophisticated, with selections depending on where the music was being played and the purpose the music is trying to achieve. What was once simply background music is now being called audio architecture.


Neural Networks

Simulated networks of neurons fire signals to and from each other. Traditionally used to simulate techniques of computer visual interpretation and artificial intelligence (a lot of literature on "training" a neural network). Each node in a network is randomly weighted to a bias, and reinforcement allows the network to be trained to do a certain task (self-organize into a particular pattern of connections).

Drawing from my previous research on neural networks, simplifying and expanding on these ideas:

  • Back propogation / signal loops
  • Simplifying the neural simulation model
  • Emphasis on weighting and learning (Holland, 68)

How does learning apply to something that has user input? How does it apply to music? This will hopefully explore these ideas.

References I currently have:
John Holland "Emergence fom Chaos to Order", ch 4, 5, and ch 7 on CAs.
A.L. Samuel's Checkers Player on neural nets weighting, goals, strategies, sub-goals