Generative Music 1 and Brian Eno
In 1996 Brian Eno released the title "Generative Music 1" with SSEYO Koan Software. In so doing he popularised the term "generative music", describing music that is ever-different & changing, created by a system.
Many people find generative music systems incredibly interesting. Musicians to academics enjoy using them, and creating with them. They can generate some completely unexpected, but wonderful, results. You might think that generative music, being generated by a system, would always sound formulaic and impersonal. What you find, instead, is that artists using their skill and judgement can impose their own personality on the output, providing rich rewards for listeners through unique and live experiences. It is hard to believe sometimes that in 2010 generative music is still a niche area!
SSEYO Koan Software
The generative music system we know most about, and the only one we can really talk about, is the SSEYO Koan generative music system. We built Koan whilst at SSEYO, the first company we founded (see here for SSEYO history).
We have now founded another company, Intermorphic, and have developed an all-new and altogether more advanced trans-interactive generative music engine: Noatikl, which supercedes Koan, is Koan's evolution & is also embodied in Mixtikl (our generative mixer for iPad/iPhone/iPod touch, Android, Mac and PC). Our development approach today, the same as we used when developing Koan, is to keep our heads down and do what feels right in the seemingly little time we have (there is never enough)!
Let's take a quick journey, and go back in time. Cast your mind way, way back to 1996. Remember that? Back then you could hear people say "the Internet is only a fad", and "it will never take off". At that time computers mostly had pretty low fidelity sound cards, and generative music was a niche area (as now). So, you can imagine how we felt when an artist of Eno's stature took up the guantlet and used Koan at the core of "Generative Music 1". We felt very, very, very, lucky and honoured, and it was a huge privilege to have spent some time with him (he is an amazing man). What he then said about generative music was eloquent and well observed and is still relevant today, so here is what he said about it:
Brian Eno 1996:
"Some very basic forms of generative music have existed for a long time, but as marginal curiosities. Wind chimes are an example, but the only compositional control you have over the music they produce is in the original choice of notes that the chimes will sound. Recently, however, out of the union of synthesisers and computers, some much finer tools have evolved. Koan Software is probably the best of these systems, allowing a composer to control not one but one hundred and fifty musical and sonic parameters within which the computer then improvises (as wind improvises the wind chimes).
The works I have made with this system symbolise to me the beginning of a new era of music. Until 100 years ago, every musical event was unique: music was ephemeral and unrepeatable and even classical scoring couldn't guarantee precise duplication. Then came the gramophone record, which captured particular performances and made it possible to hear them identically over and over again.
But now there are three alternatives: live music, recorded music and generative music. Generative music enjoys some of the benefits of both its ancestors. Like live music it is always different. Like recorded music it is free of time-and-place limitations - you can hear it when and where you want.
I really think it is possible that our grandchildren will look at us in wonder and say: "you mean you used to listen to exactly the same thing over and over again?"
CSJ Bofop 1996:
"Each of the twelve pieces on Generative Music 1 has a distinctive character. There are, of course, the ambient works ranging from the dark, almost mournful Densities III (complete with distant bells), to translucent Lysis (Tungsten). These are contrasted with pieces in dramatically different styles, such as Komarek with its hard edged, angular melodies, reminiscent of Schoenberg's early serial experiments, and Klee 42 whose simple polyphony is similar to that of the early Renaissance. But of course, the great beauty of Generative Music is that those pieces will never sound quite that way again."
Generative Music 1 with SSEYO Koan software
The following Koan pieces were included:
- Densities III
- Klee 4.2
- Lysis (Tungsten)
- Methane IV
- Platform 292
- Rothko Doric
- Seed Reflector
- Supporting Circle