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Electronic and computer music

Need help? How do I find a book? Finally, they may desire only to convert an already composed score into sound. When composers do this, they translate their score into a form that can be entered into a computer and use the computer essentially as a data translator. The first point to understand about computer composition is that, like electronic music, it is not a style but a technique.


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In principle, any kind of music, from traditional to completely novel, can be written by these machines. For composers, however, the main appeal consists not in duplicating known styles of music but rather in seeking new modes of musical expression that are uniquely the result of interaction between the composers and this new type of instrument.

Two major obstacles stand in the way of building up an effective musical computer language.

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The first is the obvious one of allocation of sufficient time, money, and other resources. The second is defining what goes into the subroutine library —i.

The earliest example of computer-composed music is the Illiac Suite for String Quartet by two Americans, the composer Lejaren Hiller and the mathematician Leonard Isaacson. It was a set of four experiments in which the computer was programmed to generate random integers representing various musical elements, such as pitches, rhythms, and dynamics , which were subsequently screened through programmed rules of composition. Several years earlier, Xenakis had composed a work called Achorripsis by employing statistical calculations and a Poisson distribution to assign pitches, durations, and playing instructions to the various instruments in his score.

He redid the work with the computer, retitled it, and at the same time produced a number of other, similar compositions.

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HPSCHD , by contrast, is a multimedia work of indeterminate length scored for one to seven harpsichords and one to 51 tape recorders. The second set of programs generated the 51 sound tracks on tape. The third program generated sheets of instructions to the purchasers of a record of the composition. Hiller has continued to develop compositional programming techniques in order to complete a two-hour cycle of works entitled Algorithms I, Algorithms II, and Algorithms III.

Book Review: Electronic and Computer Music

Otherwise, interest in computer composition gradually has continued to grow. For example, Gottfried Michael Koenig, director of the Instituut voor Sonologie of the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands , has after a lapse of several years written new computer music such as Segmente for violin and piano. Charles Ames, another American, has written several works for piano or small ensemble that are less statistical and more deterministic in approach than most of the above. The borderline between composition and sound synthesis is becoming increasingly blurred as sound synthesis becomes more sophisticated and as composers begin to experiment with compositional structures that are less related to traditional musical syntax.