[Smt-talk] Aesthetics of Computer-Generated Music

Victor grauer victorag at verizon.net
Thu Apr 7 07:31:35 PDT 2011

At 03:56 PM 4/6/2011, matralab wrote:
>I would be especially interested in [double-]blind studies where 
>listeners were asked to rate "meaningfulness"
>or emotional richness of music that was a) either composed with an 
>intent to convey emotion or b) fully generated by computer.

I seriously doubt you could ever find anything belonging to category 
b.  Nothing, not even the most abstrusely mathematical computer 
program, is ever "fully generated" by computer. Maybe someday we'll 
have computers with minds and wills of their own, but not yet. The 
computer is always used as a tool, even when the result is fully 
determined by an algorithm. Also it's important to understand that 
you don't need a computer to generate algorithmic music. "Play the C 
major scale 100 times, each time inserting a single note foreign to 
that scale" is an algorithm.

Some composers like to use the computer to generate music that sounds 
completely impersonal and unemotional, but that's their preference, 
not the computer's. In my own case, I employ a process I call 
"tuning." I start with an algorithm that seems promising, I listen to 
the result, and then modify it over and over again until I get 
something that "speaks" to me. I am completely involved aesthetically 
in the composition of such works. The computer/synthesizer is simply 
a handy tool with infinite patience and very powerful capabilities as 
a performer.

I have a feeling many composers of computer music work in more or 
less the same way. On the other hand, a composer like John Cage 
preferred to "let the sounds speak for themselves" and went to a lot 
of trouble to remove himself from the compositional process. Maybe 
this is the sort of music you are thinking of -- but Cage only rarely 
used a computer.

My computer generated composition "Millennium Fanfares," which is 
almost completely predetermined by an algorithm, is, in my opinion, 
extremely emotional. Not because the computer wanted it that way, but 
because I kept "tuning" the algorithm until I got the sort of result 
I was looking for. If I never got anything meaningful from it, I'd 
have abandoned the project. If you're wondering whether anyone else 
would find it meaningful, you can listen online and judge for 
yourself: http://doktorgee.worldzonepro.com/GrauerMusic3.html

Victor Grauer
Pittsburgh, PA, USA

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