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I began Experiments in Musical Intelligence in 1981 as the result
of a composer's block. My initial idea involved creating a computer
program which would have a sense of my overall musical style and the
ability to track the ideas of a current work such that at any given
point I could request a next note, next measure, next ten measures,
and so on. My hope was that this new music would not just be interesting
but relevant to my style and to my current work. Having very little
information about my style, however, I began creating computer programs
which composed complete works in the styles of various classical composers,
about which I felt I knew something more concrete.
My first exploration with Experiments in Musical Intelligence involved
coding the rules of basic part-writing as I understood them, since
part writing constitutes one of the primary superstructures of traditional
tonal music. After much trial and error, my program produced a kind
of vanilla music which basically adhered to these rules. While basically
correct in terms of how the voices move one to another and still conform
to classical triadic harmony, the music seemed, at least to the educated
ear, lifeless and without much musical energy.
While some of the music composed using this approach did prove fairly
successful, most of its output was equally uninteresting and unsatisfying.
Having an intermediary - myself - form abstract sets of rules for
composition seemed artificial and unnecessarily premeditative. As
well, having to code new sets of rules for each new style encountered
proved daunting. I therefore revised the program to create new output
from music stored in a database. My idea was that every work of music
contains a set of instructions for creating different but highly related
replications of itself. These instructions, interpreted correctly,
can lead to interesting discoveries about musical structure as well
as, hopefully, create new instances of stylistically-faithful music.
My rationale for discovering such instructions was based, in part,
on the concept of recombinancy. Recombinancy can be defined simply
as a method for producing new music by recombining extant music into
new logical successions. I describe this process in detail in my book
Experiments in Musical Intelligence (1996). I argue there that recombinancy
appears everywhere as a natural evolutionary and creative process.
All the great books in the English language, for example, are constructed
from recombinations of the twenty-six letters of the alphabet. Similarly,
most of the great works of Western art music exist as recombinations
of the twelve pitches of the equal-tempered scale and their octave
equivalents. The secret lies not in the invention of new letters or
notes but in the subtlety and elegance of their recombination.
Of course, simply breaking a musical work into smaller parts and
randomly combining them into new orders almost certainly produces
gibberish. Effective recombination requires extensive musical analysis
and very careful recombination to be effective at even an elemental
level no less the highly musical level of which I dreamed. For more
details on how this process works, please see my three books on the
subject from A-R Editions Computers
and Musical Style, Experiments
in Musical Intelligence, and The
Algorithmic Composer and one from MIT Press Virtual
Basically, Experiments in Musical Intelligence works using three
(1) deconstuction (analyze and separate into parts)
(2) signatures (commonality - retain that which signifies style)
(3) compatibility (recombinancy - recombine into new works)
Since the early days of Experiments in Musical Intelligence, many
audiences have heard its output in the styles of classical composers.
The works have delighted, angered, provoked, and terrified those who
have heard them. I do not believe that the composers and audiences
of the future will have the same reactions. Ultimately, the computer
is just a tool with which we extend our minds. The music our algorithms
compose are just as much ours as the music created by the greatest
of our personal human inspirations.
For a complete bibliography of books and
articles, CDs, and so on about Experiments in Musical Intelligence,