You are on page 1of 6

What is Computer Music Composition?

1. The rise of Music with Electronic Means, pre-1945:
... instruments
• 1897: Thaddeus Cahill’s Telharmonium
• 1906: Lee De Forest’s Amplifier Valve
• 1920s: Theremin (24), Dynaphone (27-8), Ondes Martenot (28)
• 1935: Hammond Organ
• 1935: AEG Magnetophon (magnetic tape recorder, Germany)
... prophets and visionaries
• 1910-11: Balilla Pratella Manifesto of Futurist Musicians and Technical Manifesto of
Futurist Music
• 1913: Luigi Russolo The Art of Noises; public performances of Intonarumori
instrument music in 1913-14.
• Edgar Varése: experiments with instrumental timbre issues in composition. His
Ionisation (1930-1) is composed solely for percussion and assorted instruments, such
as sirens, whips, etc. (one of he first such works)
“What we want is an instrument that will give us continuous sound at any pitch. The
composer and electrician will have to labor together to get it... Speech and synthesis
are characteristics of our own epoch” Varése 1922

John Cage: composes works for percussion, creates the ‘prepared piano’. Composes
Imaginary Landscape no.1 (1939, for muted piano, cymbal and two variable-speed
turntables playing test recordings of fixed and variable frequencies), Imaginary
Landscapes no.2 (1942, for percussion quintet and amplified coil of wire and
Imaginary Landscape no.3 (1942, for percussion sextet, tin cans, muted gong, audio
frequency oscillators, variable-speed turntables, buzzer, amplified coil of wire and
amplified marimba)

2. Musique Concrète and Elektronische Musik: a brief chronology
1942-48: Pierre Schaeffer, a radio engineer and musician, starts his experiments with sound, at
the Radiodiffusion Française (RTF), creating the Studio d’Essai (later Club d’Essai).
1948: Schaeffer’s use of gramophone recordings as a base for his experiments leads him to
propose the idea of a Musique Concrète, made with manipulations of recorded sounds. He
creates his first works the series of Cinq Études de Bruits. These were based on recordings of
railway sounds, instruments, percussion, etc.. The first public performance of Musique Concrète
takes form of a broadcast entitled Concert à Bruits.
1949: Schaeffer is joined by Pierre Henry. Together they compose the Symphonie pour une
Homme Seul, based on diverse sounds of human activity, the first major piece of the Paris studio.

by Stockhausen. With the extended control of studio techniques this becomes possible.In Cologne. such as the sinewave oscillator. a basic sound event. but the recording of a boy’s voice. and Threnodie for the victims of Hiroshima. The Westdeustche Rundfunks (WDR) of Cologne establishes an Electronic Music studio under the direction of Eimert. the Paris Musique Concrète and the German Elektronische Musik. 1950: Meyer-Appler and Beyer present lectures at the Darmstadt Ferienkursen and attract the interest of several composers. such as Kontakte and Hymnen. 1958. such as the Melochord (built by Harold Bode for the studio). for the Phillips pavilion at the International Exhibition in Brussels. 1951: The RTF incorporates magnetic tape facilities in the studio. Many composers are attracted to the RTF studio for creation of new works. This reflects the position of some younger composers at Cologne who were less interested in Eimert’s dogmatic views and more concerned with exploring the possibilities of electroacoustic composition. Werner Meyer-Appler and Robert Beyer start investigations on the possibilities of electronic production of sounds. With this piece. directed by Luciano Berio. an account of his research. developing the idea of the sonic object. They are joined by Herbert Eimert. Variations pour une porte et un soupir by Henri and La Fabbrica Ilumminata. Schaeffer starts working on his theories of the Musique Concrète. the two complementary facets of electroacoustic music. using not only electronic sources. a composer interested in serial techniques. Schaeffer and Henry’s Symphonie is broadcast by several radios in Europe. This development helps diminish the dogmatic character of the early schools of electroacoustic music. Eimert’s serial concepts become the predominant dogma at Cologne. by Luigi Nono. by Ligeti. composing his Studie I. isolated from its cause. its influences also spreading into instrumental music. as seen in the examples of texture-based pieces such as Atmosphères. as well as the other parameters of music. Laborintus II by Berio. Particularly important are the activities of the Milan studio of the Italian radio (RAI). by Penderecki. Edgar Varèse composes his Poème Eletronique. Composers become interested in the possibility of organising timbre serially. Major Electroacoustic pieces by leading composers appear. is preferred to more traditional electronic instruments. start to blend. Late-1950s/early-1960s: Studios are established elsewhere in Europe and America. 1955-6: Stockhausen composes his Gesange der Jünglinge. His dislike of natural sources also steers the production of the studio to the exclusive use of electronic sources. taken only for its acoustic qualities. including a proposed syntax for the concrete techniques of composition. . ‘Basic’ sound generating equipment. for which a purpose-built sound diffusion system was designed and installed. Electroacoustic music is now a major interest for composers in Europe. 1953: Stockhausen starts his work at Cologne. 1952: Schaeffer publishes À la Recherche d’une Musique Concrète. The first compositions of the Elektronische Musik School are created by Eimert and Beyer. where he composes Thema and Visage.

Noise Study. using the computer to assist in the compositional process. The work is of indeterminate length. 1962: MUSIC IV. 1961: A number of short experimental works is produced at Bell Labs by Mathews and associated researchers. written for the next generation of computers. MUSIC IV B is developed at Princeton. First example of algorithmic music. at Bell Labs and Princeton University. using probability calculus with the aid of the computer to generate its structure. 1960: Mathews introduces MUSIC III. Computer Music: a chronology Mid-1950’s: Research at Bell Labs (USA) investigates the use of digital sound for telephone lines. with improvements in the intelligibility of the program for prospective composers. where the computer generates the data for the furnishing of a musical score. the IBM 7094. based on extracts/quotations from traditional music. 1967-9: Hiller composes HPSCHD in association with John Cage. MUSIC IV F and MUSIC IV BF are the first programs written in FORTRAN. a high-level language by researchers at Princeton University. Jean-Claude Risset develops a catalogue of computer-generated sounds. in the next decades. 1958: MUSIC II replaces MUSIC I. together with other more traditional electronic and natural sources. The IBM 306 is launched and it will provide much better facilities for the evolution of computer music. timbres and amplitudes). Max Mathews develops the first computer music program MUSIC I. an all-FORTRAN program which will be used by many composers in many computer music centres around the world. with the assistance of Leonard Isaacson. based on integrated circuits. 1968-9: Mathews develops his MUSIC V. 1963: Hiller’s Computer Cantata employs computer-generated sounds.3. in many institutions. This enables the generation of simple monophonic sounds. He also starts to develop a . which introduces transistor-based technology. a much-expanded new version of the program is developed. This is the kick-off for the work on computer-generated sound (and music). John Pierce and James Tenney. durations. using one to seven harpsichords and one to fifty computer-generated tape. 1965: The third generation of computers is developed. using the IBM 704 computer. 1956: Lejaren Hiller composes his Illiac Suite (for string quartet). This will be the basic model for a family of derivatives which will be developed by many different people. Their experimental nature is reflected in the titles: Variations in Timbre and Attack. 1966-7: Efforts are made at converting MUSIC IV into a high-level code which could be ported to several different machines. using MUSIC V. The piece was composed using random-probability computer programs to specify its musical structures (pitches. 1957: At the Bell Labs. Several musicians and researchers start to demonstrate interest in the project.

as it will be taken over by a large development community spread around the world (and linked via the internet). a compact version of MUSIC360 is developed by Barry Vercoe at MIT. 1979: Richard Moore forms CARL (Computer Audio Research Laboratory) at UCSD (San Diego). a very fast version of MUSIC IV B. Paris). such as Little Boy Suite and Mutations. written for the DEC PDP11. not only in terms of technology. for ensemble and digitally processed sound.series of important computer music pieces. the first general-purpose realtime digital audio signal processor. the Composer’s Desktop Project (CDP) is formed by composers and researchers with the aim of creating an affordable platform for computer music. A number of computer music centres will be created in the USA and Europe. 1975: MUSIC10. such as Turenas (1972). the largest MUSIC-N installation. Major works such as Trevor Wishart’s Tongues of Fire will be composed and produced using this platform. a c-based version of Music11. The system run on a large minicomputer (VAX) with several terminals and equipped with a sound distribution system to enable users to listen to computer-generated sounds. This is a much improved version of earlier MUSIC-programs. A number of researchers and composers will be involved in developing the area. John Chowning develops the technique of FM synthesis. A number of implementations of the MUSIC N family of programs are going to be installed in different systems at several instates. Pierre Boulez composes Repons. making it possible for many composers to have some contact with computer music. Csound is going to become the lingua franca of computer music in the next decade. The flexibility of the medium attracts composers which are interested in the complex manipulations that it provides. MUSIC 360 is developed by Barry Vercoe at Princeton. 1981: IRCAM’s development of the 4A leads to the 4X. notably in the works of Chowning himself. will also be very important centre for computer music. 1970s: Computer technology will be increasingly important for composers working with electroacoustic music. A number of different techniques emerge. in the MIT. based around cmusic. 1973: MUSIC 11. Their first system. The IRCAM. 1985: Barry Vercoe develops csound. based on a Atari microcomputer incorporates a number of software tools created for the project plus versions of other programs such as Richard Moore’s cmusic and Barry Vercoe’s csound. but also musically. Giuseppe di Giugno creates the 4A. This institute will play a very important role in the development of computer music in the following decades. . a computer-controlled digital synthesizer. 1986: In England. a machine-code DEC PDP10 version of MUSIC V. David Wessel composes Antony using the 4A’s massive bank of oscillators. for which graphic and music input facilities will be developed at MIT. CDP will deliver increasingly more powerful platforms in the late 80’s and 90’s. which will be used in many computer music works in the next decades. is developed at Stanford University (USA) and also implemented at the newly-founded IRCAM (Institute de Recherche et Co-ordination Acoustique-Musique. helping develop the capacity of the computer tools. Pierre Boulez’s brainchild. written by Moore.

synthesis/processing algorithms. to make up a complete composition (or its score). for sound generation Unit Generators (UGs) as instrument building blocks. for instance. something previously only possible with 4X-type machines. The microcomputer will be increasingly more powerful and affordable. The first acknowledged such system was MUSIC III from 1960. Digital audio is now the standard at all levels for audio production on all professional studios. MUSIC I Bell Labs (1957-63) MUSIC II MUSIC III Princeton (1960s) MUSIC IV MUSIC IVB MUSIC IVBF MUSIC 360 MIT 1970s MUSIC 11 Stanford (1960s/70s) MUSIC V Bell Labs (1968) MUSIC 7 Queens College (1960s) CSOUND (1986 . Introduction to Computer Music Languages • Computer Music Languages: are systems designed to allow music composition through computer sound generation. Its successor MUSIC IV was the basis for many modern computer music languages. 4. patches. Realtime digital synthesis and processing. make it possible for composers to built private computer music production facilities. UGs are system components to be connected together to make up an instrument ‘Note’ or event lists that are used to control the instruments to generate sounds.1990s: The availability of cheaper computer music solutions will lead to a spread of studios and laboratories at universities and other institutions. Each event is itself a list of parameter fields (p-fields): . will be achieved with standard off-the-shelf personal computers. • MUSIC 6 MUSIC 10 CMUSIC San Diego (1980s) The characteristics of these languages are: support for the design of ‘computer instruments’. These can be used.

code examples of note lists (a) MUSIC IV I 1 I 1 0 1 1 284 20000 1 329 20000 (b) MUSIC V NOT 0 NOT 1 1 1 1 284 20000 1 329 20000 (c) CMUSIC note 0 instrument1 1 284 20000. languages. Examples: CLM and Nyquist are based on the LISP language MaxMSP and Pure Data (PD) are graphic. using instrument 1 (p-field 2 in (a) and (d) . note 1 instrument1 1 329 20000. and 4 in (b) and (c)). . (d) CSOUND i1 i1 0 1 1 284 20000 1 329 20000 All the above examples show lists of two events starting at 0 and 1 secs (parameter field 1). the use of event-lists (scores) is dropped or modified . so called ‘data-flow’. While they keep the notion of instruments/UGs. and 3 in (b) and (c) ). SuperCollider is inspired on the SmallTalk language and features a merging of the notions of instrument/event-list programming. • Other Computer Music Languages are less directly connected to the MUSIC-type languages. each event lasting for 1 second (p-field 3 in (a) and (d).