Creativity in Algorithmic Music

Published in Hz Journal #18.

In this essay I am going to review the topic of creativity in algorithmic music [1], focusing on three perspectives on creativity offered by three groups of composers. The first section will review the definition of creativity offered by computational psychologist Margaret Boden. The second section will examine one possible measure of creativity. The next section will look at three different composers, their attitudes toward creativity and the way their algorithms embody those attitudes. Finally, I will critically examine the core questions that are being asked by algorithmic
composers.

Creativity in Algorithmic Music3.

Transient

The World in 3D

When I saw J. Dearden Holmes’ 3D pictures from the 1920s presented as animated gifs, I was struck by the incongruity between the images and their presentation. These were photographs shot in the 1920s that were meant to be viewed on a stereoscope. Yet they were being presented online as animated gifs, a format that didn’t come into existence until the 1990s. This incongruity inspired me to write incongruous music. So I embedded multiple incongruities in the music: incongruities between the music and itself, as well as incongruities between the music and the images.

Cannot Connect for Solo Laptop Performer

“Cannot Connect” is a problem for both computers and for people. When dealing with technology, we receive this message when we try to use something new. For people, this can be a problem in every sort of relationship.

The keyboard is a tool that people use every day to try to connect with other people. Through blogs, tweets, prose and poetry, we try to engage other humans through our work at the keyboard.

In this piece, the performer attempts to connect to both the computer and the audience through the keyboard. The software presents a randomized electronic instrument each time it is started. It selects from a palette of samples, synthesizers and signal processing effects. The performer must feel out the new performance environment and use it to connect to the audience by typing free association verse.

Sonifying Processing

“Sonifying Processing: The Beads Tutorial” shows students and artists how to bring sound into their Processing programs. Veteran sound artist Evan X. Merz introduces the black art of audio in Processing through the versatile and easy-to-use Beads Library. The topic of audio is largely absent from other Processing books, but “Sonifying Processing” shows that Processing is a powerful multimedia platform that rivals Max. Each section of the book explains a sound programming concept then demonstrates it in code. The examples build from simple synthesizers in the first few chapters, to more complex sound-manglers as the book progresses. Each step of the way is examined at a level that is simple enough for new learners, and comfortable for more experienced programmers.