Karlheinz Essl

Generative Music

Answers to a Questionnaire by Håkon Normann

1. How long have you been making generative music?
Since the early 1990ies, when I was working on a commission at IRCAM where I came in contact with the MAax programming language.

2. What piece of software do you use when making generative music?
Max/MSP, but I have also used JavaScript and Perl for several web projects on the Internet.

3. How would you describe the generative music that you make (i.e. genre, style etc)?
XXX (Xtremly Xperimental Xpressionism)   ;-)

4. Do you make other forms of music (i.e. non-generative music), and if so, how would you describe this music?
I also do compose instrumental music, and I like to produce hand-written complex scores.

5. Have you ever released your generative music for commercial sale (if so, please give details about number of releases, year of release and number of copies sold)?
I don't sell music (I am not a salesman), but I do distribute computer programs for Generative Music. Besides this, I am also creating generative sound scapes for performances or exhibitions, like fLOW or SEELEWASCHEN.

6. Do you see the fact that generative music can only be played on a computer as a problem for the distribution and sale of generative music? If so how you got any thoughts upon how this might be solved?
As computers are becoming increasingly available and affordable, I do not see a problem in this respect; however, the Internet is a wonderful distribution media for this kind of music. For sound installations which run for a long time I try to replace computers by other devices that are more reliable and that can also be operated by people who are not so familiar with computers, like security persons in a museum. Sometimes I use several CD players with CDs that have been produced with Generative Music algorithms. The sounds from those CDs (which often run in random or repeat mode) are overlapping, and are creating never repeating and always changing sonic results.

7. Is generative music, in your opinion, something that only attracts "computer nerds" and specially interested?
Not at all. Room installations that run for a long time and which consists of continually repeated audio loops tend to be very tiresome for people who have to live within those sounds for weeks and months (like people working at a museum). Generative music, however, does not have this effect, for it is constantly being renewed by its inherent sound generating algorithm. This creates always new sonic variants which keep the attention alert.

8. Do you believe generative music suffers from the fact that it can in most cases only be played using MIDI sounds?
Generative Music is not a MIDI domain anymore. In 1992 when I began to work on Lexikon-Sonate (a generative piece for computer-controlled piano), computers were relatively slow and not capable for producing audio in realtime. The only way to create Generative Music was to use external MIDI devices which are controlled via MIDI by realtime-generated computer algorithms. - As computers became faster and faster, it was possible to generate audio in realtime directly in the computer. Amazing Maze - a work-in-progress that I have been starting in 1996 - does not use any MIDI at all, but a bunch of sound particles that are stored in the computers memory and which are recalled by realtime composition algorithms that made extensive use of random operations. Since 1998, when MSP (the audio extension to the MAX programming language) was released, I use this software for all of my generative music projects, and also for the development of audio tools like the generative sound file shredder REplay PLAYer which creates an infinite and ever-changing sonic cosmos from a single sound snippet. Furthermore, since 1992 I am working on the Realtime Composition Library for MAX - a collection of software modules for algorithmic and generative composition which is distributed as OpenSource.

9. If you have any other comments regarding this topic and the future of generative music or this questionnaire, please write these below.
Historically, the concept of Generative Music derives from compositional theories that have been developed in the 1950ies, mainly from composers of the Cologne (or Darmstadt) "school" like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Gottfried Michael Koenig. Deriving from dodecaphonic music of the late Anton Webern, they have been strongly influenced (and also disturbed) by John Cage who introduced random operations into musical composition. Both concepts - Serialism and Aleatoric Music - have been brought to synthesis by Gottfried Michael Koenig who was one of the first composers who wrote computer programs for musical composition. Being involved with algorithmic composition since 1985 I developed a theory of Structure Generators, from which all of my generative sound works depart.

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Updated: 28 Feb 2023