In 1995 whilst working with SSEYO KOAN PRO (later evolved to NOATIKL, then WOTJA), Brian Eno coined the term "Generative Music" 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 e.g. such as that created by Wotja, a market leading generative music system.
How Generative Music Works
You can create the simplest form of generative music from random shuffling of pre-composed/pre-recorded elements.
If you want to get a bit more interesting and granular, you can use a music engine to real-time compose & generate the musical notes used. Such an engine will use a range of musical parameters to compose its live (generally MIDI) notes, meaning that if you change the parameters the ensuing composition will change, too. In the case of Wotja, this engine is called the Intermorphic Music Engine (IME), and, at the core of its operation are a key set of Rules.
There is another important factor for composed Generative Music however, and that is that the notes need to be turned into sound via some kind of sound generator. There are many, many sound units and FX units that can be driven by MIDI. In the case of Wotja, it has an (optional) integral sound engine, the Intermorphic Sound Engine (ISE), with a range of sound generators and FX.
How to make Generative Music?
It's simple, and you can be making it, for free, in seconds!
Download Wotja (the free version for your platform, e.g. for iOS, macOS, Windows, Android) and install it as necessary.
Launch the app, select the Flow tab (one of 3 tabs in the Documents Screen) and then tap on any of the Flow Randomization Scheme icons.
Wotja will then start creating a sucession of automatically generated generative music mixes for you to enjoy - it really is that easy to get going.
The reason you would wish to use Wotja is that from that simple start you can then choose to go as deep as you want, if, as or when you might want to delve further.
So, going back in history, the SKME was our first real-time music generation system. We started work on it in 1990 and the first publically released app to use it hit the market in 1994, this being SSEYO Koan Plus (but we had versions out with Beta testers as far back as 1992).
In 1995Brian Eno (coiner of the term Generative Music) started working with SSEYO Koan Pro, work which led to the 1996 publication of his seminal title Generative Music 1 with SSEYO Koan Software.
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, things keep moving on and today we are working today more personal kinds of hybrid human / computer composed music for "creative relaxation" (see Wotja). We figured it was also time for some new terms specifically to accompany those developments. The terms we have chosen to use are at present:
Inmo Music (Input → Music Output; music created "in the moment")
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.
Eno's "Generative Music 1" (1996)
with SSEYO Koan software
Brian Eno's "Generative Music 1" was a landmark release in 1996. 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.
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).
Eno using the pseudonym CSJ Bofop, 1996:
"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.
SSEYO Ltd, Pyramid House, Easthampstead Row, Bracknell, Berks, UK RG12 1YW. Compuserve: GO SSEYO. WWW: http://www.sseyo.com Email: firstname.lastname@example.org 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.