Performance Blog 2 – Generative Music

For this series of blog posts, I have been tasked with writing a blog post about performers that use technology as part of their performance this blog post is about Generative Music.

Generative Music is an interactive or random form of music that uses scientific theory and algorithms to create unpredictable musical outcomes. The term Generative Music was coined by Brian Eno who has been creating Generative Music since the mid-70s. Eno has described the genre as music which is semi-automated by machines.

But examples of Generative Music can be traced back much further than the mid-1970s. In fact what is be considered as the first ever piece of generative music is Mozart’s Musikalisches Würfelspiel or musical dice game. This was a system using dice to randomly arranging precomposed sections of music the result of which is a musical arrangement created purely by chance.

One of the earliest examples of computers being used to create Generative Music and even preform Generative Music in a live environment was the work that EMS or Electronic Music Studios did. EMS was formed by Peter Zinovieff, Tristram Cary and David Cockerell in 1969, One of the first decisions made by the newly formed collective was that there was not enough electronic concert music being preformed in England. So in response to this EMS organised an event at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London in which music would be performed by a computer for an audience. One of the pieces preformed was Peter Zinovieff’s Partita for Unattended Computer. Before Partita for Unattended Computer was preformed Tristram Cary explained to the audience that “no magnetic tape would be used at all within the performance, and furthermore that the computer has a choice of what to play at various points in the performance. As a result, every performance of Peter Zinovieff’s Partita for Unattended Computer would be completely unique and unrepeatable making it a true live performance.”

Generative music has come a long way since then and with the use of technology has become far more complex. For example, Golan Levin who is one part software engineer and one part performance artist. Levin worked as a researcher and academic at MIT he specialised in software engineering and computer technology. but now “Levin pushes the boundaries of what’s possible with audiovisuals and technology.” His education from working at MIT has given Levin the knowledge and skill in which to write customised software programs that allow him to “create improvised soundscapes with dazzling corresponding visuals.”

The below video from 2004 is of Levin at a TED talk showing two programs he created so he would be able to perform.


One thought on “Performance Blog 2 – Generative Music

  1. A good post that offers some useful commentary on generative performers and technologies. Would be interesting to read more about what is happening with Golan Levin’s software.


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