Two Duets Composed by Cellular Automata

In the past few days I’ve completed several programs that compose rather nice notated music using cellular automata. Yesterday I posted seven solos generated by cellular automata. Today I am following up with two duets. Like the solos, these pieces were generated using elementary cellular automata.

All of these pieces look rather naked. In the past I’ve added tempo, dynamics, and articulations to algorithmic pieces where the computer only generated pitches and durations. Lately I feel like it’s best to present the performer with exactly what was generated, and leave the rest up to the performer. So these pieces are a bit more like sketches, in the sense that the performer will fill out some of the details.

Download the score for Two Duets Composed by Cellular Automata for any instruments by Evan X. Merz.

Swarm Intelligence in Music in The Signal Culture Cookbook

The Signal Culture Group just published The Signal Culture Cookbook. I contributed a chapter titled “The Mapping Problem”, which deals with issues surrounding swarm intelligence in music and the arts. Swarm intelligence is a naturally non-human mode of intelligent behavior, so it presents some unique problems when being applied to the uniquely human behavior of creating art.

The cover of The Signal Culture Cookbook

The Signal Culture Cookbook is a collection of techniques and creative practices employed by artists working in the field of media arts. Articles include real-time glitch video processing, direct laser animation on film, transforming your drawing into a fake computer, wi-fi mapping, alternative uses for piezo mics, visualizing earthquakes in real time and using swarm algorithms to compose new musical structures. There’s even a great, humorous article on how to use offline technology for enhancing your online sentience – and more!

And here’s a quote from the introduction to my chapter.

Some composers have explored the music that arises from mathematical functions, such as fractals. Composers such as myself have tried to use computers not just to imitate the human creative process, but also to simulate the possibility of inhuman creativity. This has involved employing models of intelligence and computation that aren’t based on cognition, such as cellular automata, genetic algorithms and the topic of this article, swarm intelligence. The most difficult problem with using any of these systems in music is that they aren’t inherently musical. In general, they are inherently unrelated to music. To write music using data from an arbitrary process, the composer must find a way of translating the non-musical data into musical data. The problem of mapping a process from one domain to work in an entirely unrelated domain is called the mapping problem. In this article, the problem is mapping from a virtual swarm to music, however, the problem applies in similar ways to algorithmic art in general. Some algorithms may be easily translated into one type of art or music, while other algorithms may require complex math for even basic art to emerge.

Donate to the Signal Culture Group to get the full book!

Disconnected, Algorithmic Sound Collages from Web API

I’m pleased to announce the release of Disconnected, and album of algorithmic sound collages generated by pulling sounds from the web.

I prefer to call this album semi-algorithmic because some of the music is purely software-generated, while other pieces are a collaboration between the software and myself. Tracks four and six are purely algorithmic, while the other tracks are a mix of software-generated material and more traditionally composed material.


The software used in the sound collage pieces (1, 3, 4, 6) was inspired by Melissa Schilling’s Small World Network Model of Cognitive Insight. Her theory essentially says that moments of cognitive insight, or creativity, occur whenever a connection is made between previously distantly related ideas. In graph theory, these types of connections are called bridges, and they have the effect of bringing entire neighborhoods of ideas closer together.

I applied Schilling’s theory to sounds from My software searches for neighborhoods of sounds that are related by aural similarity and stores them in a graph of sounds. These sounds are then connected with more distant sounds via lexical connections from These lexical connections are bridges, or moments of creativity. This process is detailed in the paper Composing with All Sound Using the FreeSound and Wordnik APIs.

Finally, these sound graphs must be activated to generate sound collages. I used a modified boids algorithm to allow a swarm to move over the sound graph. Sounds were triggered whenever the population on a vertex surpassed a threshold.

Disconnected is available for download from Xylem Records.