Computer Music

A great deal in music since 1945 seems, if perhaps only in retrospect, to have been leaning towards cybernetics: the idea of music as sounding numbers, the importance of rules and algorithms in composition, the development of electronic sound synthesis, the concept of the work as a temporary equilibrium of possibilities that could be otherwise realized. Images of the composing mind during this period, as evidenced not only in music but in writing about music, tend to suppose rational selection and combination rather than inspiration. Music created with computers is, therefore, part of a much wider concurrence of music and computing.

As in the early days of musique concrète, the first computer pieces tended to be acclaimed more for primacy than for aesthetic quality, and correspondingly they now figure more in histories, as here, than in performance. The Illiac Suite for string quartet ( 1955-6), programmed by Lejaren Hiller and Leonard Isaacson at the University of Illinois, is widely cited as the pioneer achievement. Xenakis used a computer to handle the manifold calculations that his stochastic music had previously required him to make by hand: an early example is his ST4-1,080262 ( 1955-62), also for string quartet. And Xenakis's stochastic music, more generally, shows the advent of digital thinking in, for example, the down-grading of the individual event and of moment-to-moment continuity; musical data were now to be assessed globally. Where traditional tonal music had offered time lines hospitable to the listener -- lines along which musical processes could be followed -- Xenakis was presenting states and unpredictable changes of state. He was not alone: Stockhausen's moment form was explicitly a venture in the same direction. Indeed, the movement towards a new kind of time -- a time without reasons and purposesis the most general and perhaps the most fundamental feature of music since 1945. Reasons and purposes have been displaced into other areas -- into the compositional process (which, as in much serial music, may not be laid out for the listening ear), or into political or aesthetic ideology -- or else they have been made frankly apparent: not leading the ear but presented to it for monitoring; not communication but structure, as in the early music of Steve Reich. Like the ideals of composing, the ideals too of listening were, in the mid-1960s, becoming objective and combinatorial.

This was when the first steps made in using computers to determine not notes that would be played by natural instruments (as in the Illiac Suite and ST4 but sounds that would be synthesized electronically. Programs for sound synthesis were developed by Max Mathews at the Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill,

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Modern Music and After
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Music Acknowledgements v
  • Contents xi
  • Prelude xiii
  • Part I - Beginning Again: from 1945 to the Early 1960s 1
  • Europe 1: Commencement, 1945-1951 3
  • America 1: Silencing Music, 1946-1952 21
  • Europe 2: Total Organization, 1949-1954 29
  • America 2: Classic Modernism 50
  • Europe 3: Achievement, 1953-1957 70
  • America 3: After Silence, 1952-1961 94
  • Europe 4: Mobile Form, 1956-1962 104
  • Elder Responses 116
  • Europe 5: Disintegrations,1959-1964 135
  • Part II - Six Waves and Five Masters: the 1960s and 1970s 149
  • Of Elsewhen and Elsewhere 151
  • Music Theatre 171
  • Politics 185
  • Virtuosity and Improvisation 191
  • Computer Music 207
  • Minimalism and Melody 209
  • Five Masters 225
  • Part III - Many Rivers: the 1980s and 1990s 237
  • Strings and Knots 239
  • Postlude 328
  • Repertory 330
  • Index 363
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