response. Only after further investiga-
tion and familiarization can deficien-
cies in the work be considered.x
However, Hiller’s work and 1959
Scientific American article17 led to
much controversy and press attention.
Hostility to his achievementsy was
such that the Grove Dictionary of Music
and Musiciansz did not include an ar-
ticle on it until shortly before his death
in 1994. This hostility arose no doubt
more from a misperception of compo-
sitional practice than from anything
intrinsic to Hiller’s work.
Much of the resistance to algorithmic composition that persists to this
day stems from the misguided bias that
the computer, not the composer, composes the music. In the vast majority of
cases where the composer is also the
programmer, this is simply not true.
As composer and computer musician
Curtis Roads pointed out more than 15
x To paraphrase Ludger Brümmer, from information theory we know that new information
is perceived as chaotic or interesting but not
expressive. New information must be structured before it can be understood, and, in the
case of aesthetic experience, this structuring
involves comparison to an ideal, or an established notion of beauty. 7
y Concerning the reaction to The Illiac Suite, Hiller said “There was a great [deal] of hostility, certainly in the musical world...I was immediately
pigeonholed as an ex-chemist who had bungled
into writing music and probably wouldn’t know
how to resolve a dominant seventh chord”; interview with Vincent Plush, 1983.5
z The Grove is the English-speaking world’s
most widely used and arguably most authoritative musicological resource.
years ago, it takes a good composer to
design algorithms that result in music
that captures the imagination. 34
Furthermore, using algorithmic-composition techniques does not by necessity imply less composition work or a
shortcut to musical results; rather, it is a
change of focus from note-to-note composition to a top-down formalization of
compositional process. Composition is,
in fact, often slowed by the requirement
that musical ideas be expressed and
their characteristics encapsulated in a
highly structured and non-musical general programming language. Learning
the discipline of programming is itself
a time-consuming and, for some composers, an insurmountable problem.
Perhaps counterintuitively, such
formalization of personal composition technique allows the composer to
proceed from concrete musical or abstract formal ideas into realms hitherto
unimagined, sometimes impossible
to achieve through any other means
than computer software. As composer
Helmut Lachenmann wrote, “A composer who knows exactly what he wants,
wants only what he knows—and that is
one way or another too little.” 35 The computer can help composers overcome
recreating what they already know by
aiding more thorough investigations of
the material, once procedures are programmed, modifications and manipulations are simpler than with pencil and
paper. By “pressing buttons, introducing coordinates, and supervising the
controls,” to quote Xenakis again, 40 the
composer is able to stand back and develop compositional material en masse,
applying procedures and assessing, rejecting, accepting, or further processing
results of an often-surprising nature.
Algorithmic composition techniques
clearly further individual musical and
compositional development through
computer programming-enabled voyages of musical discovery.
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Michael Edwards ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is
a reader in Music technology in the school of arts,
culture and environment of the university of edinburgh,
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