[Smt-talk] Short comments invited by editors of a forthcoming book on Algorithmic Music

alex alex at slab.org
Fri Jul 11 09:25:20 PDT 2014

>From Alex McLean a.mclean at leeds.ac.uk and Roger Dean roger.dean at uws.edu.au

Dear Colleagues,

We are happy to share the news that we have had our proposal for the
Oxford Handbook on Algorithmic Music accepted. Before we start
approaching authors to contribute chapters, we are keen to canvas
opinions within our communities that may diverge from or complement
our present ideas. The purpose of this mail is to invite such
comments, preferably by 25th July 2014, when we will move to the next

First, a couple of motivational quotes:

‘… computers will be able to write better poems than we can. So we
must now add to logopoeia, phanopeia and melopoeia: algorhythmia.’
‘The job of poetry is not to get syntax back in the corral but to
follow its wild journey into the unchained’.
Charles Bernstein Recalculating (2013, pp. 6, 86, Kindle Edition).

‘.. at the same time that narratives of use are converted by
technology into algorithmic structures, these structures are
themselves put to use within the ongoing activities of inhabitants,
and through the stories of this use they are reincorporated into the
field of effective action within which all life is lived.’
Tim Ingold, Being Alive (20, pp. 62, 2011)

Perhaps the above gets across our interest in how algorithms extend
our creative reach, and also the cultural processes which bring them
back into the human realm.

We are particularly interested to receive your thoughts on the
conceptual arena in which algorithmic music operates (see general
issues below); and any specific suggestions you might have on
individual topics that merit coverage (see preliminary sectional
organisation below) and which you think we may not have considered. In
line with policy of this book series, this is not intended as a call
for people to propose themselves as contributors; rather it is a call
for ideas that may help us to make the book as far-reaching and useful
in its coverage as we can. Nevertheless, if you suggest a topic,
please feel free to suggest potential authors. Please email us
directly, or if you prefer, open up a broader public discussion on the
present forum, which we would be happy to follow.


The concept of algorithm which we propose to use will have a wide
range, though the majority of the book will focus on computational
algorithms. Put simply, it may range between a dictionary definition
of an algorithm and of  a heuristic. It will take a historical
perspective, respect the arithmetic origins, and discuss both analogue
and digital processes. Just as provocation points we abstract these
two terms from the Apple dictionary:

Algorithm: a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or
other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.
Heuristic: (a means of) enabling a person to discover or learn
something for themselves.

We plan to open the book with a chapter with working title
“Algorithmic art: Algorithmic Music”, providing historical and
cross-arts background and perspective (from Gertrude Stein and George
Brecht, to Stockhausen, Xenakis and live coding). After this there
will be about 25 in depth chapters focusing largely on algorithmic
music and computational approaches, and many shorter contributions by
those reflecting on their own algorithmic music practice.

The book will include some emphasis on computational creativity, and
relationships with perception, cognition and cognitive modeling, as
well as cultural issues, critical theory, and practical detail of how
algorithmic music is made.  It will explore algorithmic work in terms
of generative processes and outcomes that are fixed or variable, and
notated and executed via a range of media including physical objects;
movement; image; word; sound; mathematics/statistics; and of course
programming languages.


The working titles for book sections are “Grounding algorithmic
music”, “What can Algorithms in Music do?”, “Purposes of Algorithms
for the Music Maker”, and “Algorithmic culture”. Our idea is to
provide a firm basis for notions of algorithms in music, then shift
focus from the algorithm, to the musician, and to the place of
algorithms in culture. In addition we will interleave “Perspectives on
Practice” chapters, which will provide the opportunity for selected
practitioners to reflect upon their own work. Appendices will include
a substantial discography.

Thanks very much for your attention, and we look forward to any
comments you may have on the above.

Best wishes from Roger and Alex

Alex McLean, Research Fellow, School of Music, University of Leeds

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