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For the legal term, see Aleatory contract.

Aleatoricism is the incorporation of chance into the process of creation, especially the creation of art or media. The word derives from the Latin word alea, the rolling of dice. It should not be confused with either improvisation or indeterminacy.[1]


Bryan Stanley Johnson (1933–1973) wrote an experimental novel The Unfortunates (1969), which was published in separate sections, consisting of a "first" and a "last" section, with the sections in between allowed to be shuffled randomly by a reader. This was an attempt to reproduce the randomness of personal memory. The overall narrative is about a sports journalist travelling to a city, to cover a football game, and recalling events and people from years earlier when he had lived in the city.[original research?]

Poems have been written and published so that each successive line can be chosen randomly from a given set of lines. This process for generating a random poem is similar to the novelty picture books for children where each page is sliced, allowing the book to be opened to display different slices from different pages. For example, the top slice may show the head of a crocodile, the middle slice may show the body of an elephant, and the lowest slice may show the tail of a fish. The resulting "crazy animal" looks like a fish-tailed fat-bodied crocodile.[original research?]

Charles Hartman discusses several methods of automatic generation of poetry in his book The Virtual Muse.[2]



Main article: Aleatoric music

The term aleatory music was first coined by Werner Meyer-Eppler in 1955 to describe a course of sound events that is "determined in general but depends on chance in detail".[3] When his article was published in English, the translator mistakenly rendered his German noun Aleatorik as an adjective, and so inadvertently created a new English word, "aleatoric".[4] Pierre Boulez applied the term in this sense to his own pieces to distinguish them from the indeterminate music of John Cage.[1] While Boulez purposefully composed his pieces to allow the performer certain liberties with regard to the sequencing and repetition of parts, Cage often composed through the application of chance operations without allowing the performer liberties. Another prolific composer of aleatory music was Karlheinz Stockhausen.[1]

Aleatoric techniques are sometimes used in contemporary film music. Examples can be found in John Williams's scores as well as, for example, Mark Snow's music for X-Files: Fight the Future.[5]


In film-making, there are several avant-garde examples; one is Andy Voda's Chance Chants[6] which features Allison Knowles' computer poem "House of Dust",[7]

Fred Camper's SN (1984, first screening 2002)[8] uses coin-flipping for one section to determine which three of 16 possible reels to screen and what order they should go in (3360 permutations).

Film scholar Barry Salt directed the 1971 film Six Reels of Film to Be Shown in Any Order,[9][10] where the projectionist was provided with a customized die to roll to determine the reel order.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Sabine Feisst, "Losing Control: Indeterminacy and Improvisation in Music Since 1950", New Music Box (1 March 2002): § "Aleatory—Pierre Boulez".
  2. ^ Charles Hartman (1996), The Virtual Muse: Experiments in Computer Poetry, Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, ISBN 0-8195-2239-2  (see especially pp. 54–64.)
  3. ^ Werner Meyer-Eppler. 1957. "Statistic and Psychologic Problems of Sound", translated by Alexander Goehr, Die Reihe 1 ("Electronic Music", 1957): 55–61; original German edition, 1955, as "Statistische und psychologische Klangprobleme", Die Reihe 1 ("Elektronische Musik", 1955): 22–28; the citation is on pp. 55 and 22, respectively.
  4. ^ Arthur Jacobs, "Admonitoric Note", The Musical Times 107, no. 1479 (May 1966): 414.
  5. ^ Fred Karlin and Rayburn Wright, On the Track: A Guide to Contemporary Film Scoring, second edition (New York: Routledge, 2004): 430–36. ISBN 0-415-94135-0 (cloth); ISBN 0-415-94136-9 (pbk).
  6. ^ Andy Voda's film "Chance Chants"
  7. ^ Alison Knowles website
  8. ^ Fred Camper, "SN, a film by Fred Camper", 2002.
  9. ^ Six Reels of Film to Be Shown in Any Order (1971) at the Internet Movie Database
  10. ^ Anon., "Six Reels of Film to Be Shown in Any Order (1971)", BFI Film & TV Database.

Further reading[edit]

  • Gignoux, Anne Claire. 2003. La récriture: formes, enjeux, valeurs autour du nouveau roman. Paris: Presses de l'Université de Paris-Sorbonne. ISBN 2-84050-260-7.
  • Rennie, Nicholas. 2005. Speculating on the Moment: The Poetics of Time and Recurrence in Goethe, Leopardi, and Nietzsche. Münchener Universitätsschriften: Münchener komparatistische Studien 8. Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag. ISBN 9783892449683.