"Generative Music" is the term Brian Eno used and coined in 1995, whilst working with SSEYO Koan (built by us and superceded by Intermorphic Noatikl), to describe any music that is ever-different & changing, created by a system. The term has since gone on to be used to refer to entirely random music mixes created by multiple simultaneous CD playback right through to full on live rule-based computer composition.
SSEYO Koan was our first real-time music generation system. We started work on it in 1990 and it saw its first public release in 1994. In 1995 Brian Eno started working with it, work which led to the 1996 publication of his seminal title Generative Music 1 with SSEYO Koan Software.
At Intermorphic, we can talk with experience about two generative music engines:
Many people find generative music systems to be incredibly interesting. Musicians to academics enjoy using them, and creating with them. They can generate some completely unexpected, but wonderful, results. You might think that generative music, being generated by a system, would always sound formulaic and impersonal. What you find, instead, is that artists using their skill and judgement with parameter configurations, sound design and other choices can impose their own personality on the output, providing rich rewards for listeners through unique and live experiences.
That said, we are working today more personal kinds of hybrid human / computer composed music (see Wotja with its "Wotja Music"), so we figured it was also time for a new term specifically to accompany those developments. The term we have chosen is INMO which stands for Input → Music Output. It is music that is created "in the moment", it is "in motion" and it is "intermorphic".
Anyhow, let's take a quick journey, and go back in time. Cast your mind way, way back to 1996. Remember that? Back then we would hear people say "the Internet is only a fad", and "it will never take off". At that time computers mostly had pretty low fidelity sound cards, and generative music was a niche area (as is even the case now). So, you can imagine how honoured we felt when an artist of Eno's stature took up the guantlet and used Koan at the core of "Generative Music 1" (See the Sparks In Electric Jelly review of the Oramics exhibition at the British Science Museum with mentions of GM1 and SSEYO Koan Pro). What he then said about generative music was eloquent and well observed and is still relevant today, so read what he said about it on the back of Generative Music 1, below.
Brian Eno is undoubtedly a genius and polymath who, well before 1996, had already carved out a well deserved place in the history books across multiple fields of endeavour. So, we were very lucky and honoured indeed to have Eno use SSEYO Koan: what he did with it was incredible and it was a huge privilege to have spent some time with him. We will never forget that, his kindness or his achievements; it was a great coming together and we were in the right place at the right time.
Generative Music 1 was a floppy disk-only title published in 1996. The Koan pieces in it were created by Eno using SSEYO Koan Pro. A specific soundcard was required to hear the music as Eno intended - without that soundcard the music sounded very different.
You can, however, hear a few snippets in "Dark Symphony" which features works from the huge Koan generative music software retrospective entitled “Floating Points im de KlangPark”, that was a 48 hour, 250,000-watt, public acoustic ambience exhibit presented at Ars Electronica’s 2003 “CODE – the Language of Our Time”. See: Dark Symphony (YouTube), Dark Symphony (Vimeo; with links to 5:1 AAC source files).
If we remember correctly, only one or two thousand were ever made, so if you bought or own a copy, and have kept it, you are a very lucky person indeed!
Eno collectors may hope that, even if only for posterity and to hear things as he intended, he does one day release a CD of audio recordings he made (he sold a number of one off recordings on CD via White Cube).
"Each of the twelve pieces on Generative Music 1 has a distinctive character. There are, of course, the ambient works ranging from the dark, almost mournful Densities III (complete with distant bells), to translucent Lysis (Tungsten). These are contrasted with pieces in dramatically different styles, such as Komarek with its hard edged, angular melodies, reminiscent of Schoenberg's early serial experiments, and Klee 42 whose simple polyphony is similar to that of the early Renaissance. But of course, the great beauty of Generative Music is that those pieces will never sound quite that way again."
Some very basic forms of generative music have existed for a long time, but as marginal curiosities. Wind chimes are an example, but the only compositional control you have over the music they produce is in the original choice of notes that the chimes will sound. Recently, however, out of the union of synthesisers and computers, some much finer tools have evolved. Koan Software is probably the best of these systems, allowing a composer to control not one, but one-hundred and fifty musical and sonic parameters, within which the computer then improvises (as wind improvises the wind chimes).
The works I have made with this system symbolise, to me, the beginning of a new era of music. Until a hundred years ago, every musical event was unique: music was ephemeral and unrepeatable, and even classical scoring couldn't guarantee precise duplication. Then came the gramophone record, which captured particular performances, and made it possible to hear them identically, over and over again.
But now, there are three alternatives: live music, recorded music, and generative music. Generative music enjoys some of the benefits of both its ancestors. Like live music, it is always different. Like recorded music, it is free of time-and-place limitations — you can hear it when and where you want.
I really think it is possible that our grandchildren will look at us in wonder and say: "You mean you used to listen to exactly the same thing over and over again?" © Brian Eno 1996.
Published and distributed by SSEYO Ltd. Manufactured and printed in the E.C. © 1996 SSEYO Ltd. All rights reserved. SSEYO, Koan and the SSEYO logo are registered trademarks of SSEYO Ltd. in the UK and trademarks of SSEYO Ltd. in other countries. All other trademarks, copyrights or registered trademarks are the property of their respective holders. Specifications subject to change without notice. Unauthorised recording, copying, hiring, lending, performance and broadcasting of this product prohibitied.
SSEYO Ltd, Pyramid House, Easthampstead Row, Bracknell, Berks, UK RG12 1YW. Compuserve: GO SSEYO. WWW: http://www.sseyo.com Email: email@example.com For Brian Eno contact, Opal Information, P.O. Box 141, Leigh-on-Sea England.
SSEYO Koan Plus V1.2 Software
Koan Plus is used to 'play' the Koan pieces in this product, the music is generated in real-time by the SSEYO Koan Music Engine (SKME). The SKME interprets the settings of the 150 or so parameters in each piece, defined with the the SSEYO Koan Pro Authoring System, creating a series of beautiful and ever-changing musical soundscapes. Koan Plus can even play in the background while you carry out other tasks.
Windows 3.1, Windows 95 or later. IBM compatible 486 33MHz or higher, 8Mb RAM, 3Mb free hard disk space, Creative Labs AWE32 or SB32 soundcard or TDK MusicCard, VGA or high resolution graphics card, mouse.
3.5" 1.44Mb floppy drive for installation.
This product is solely for use with a Creative Labs AWE32 or SB32 soundcard or TDK MusicCard.
Koan Software © 1991-1996 SSEYO Ltd. All rights reserved.
Brian Eno Koan pieces © Opal Music 1996. All rights reserved.
Cover photograph by Anton Corbijn
Part Number KP12GM1BX
Bar Code 7 69490 11113 8
SSEYO and Opal logos
Floppy Disk containing the SSEYO Koan Plus V1.2 Software and the following Koan pieces: