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Aleatoricism or aleatorism, the noun associated with the adjectival aleatory and aleatoric, is a term popularised by the musical composer Pierre Boulez,[not verified in body] but also Witold Lutosławski and Franco Evangelisti, for compositions resulting from "actions made by chance", with its etymology deriving from alea, Latin for "dice".[1] It now applies more broadly to art created as a result of such a chance-determined process.[citation needed] The term was first used "in the context of electro-acoustics and information theory" to describe "a course of sound events that is determined in its framework and flexible in detail", by Belgian-German physicist, acoustician, and information theorist Werner Meyer-Eppler.[2][3] In practical application, in compositions by Mozart and Kirnberger, for instance, the order of the measures of a musical piece were left to be determined by throwing dice, and in performances of music by Pousseur (e.g., Répons pour sept musiciens, 1960), musicians threw dice "for sheets of music and cues".[2] However, more generally in musical contexts, the term has had varying meanings as it was applied by various composers, and so a single, clear definition for aleatory music is defied.[2] Aleatory should not be confused with either indeterminacy,[1] or improvisation.[2][failed verification]


Sean Keller and Heinrich Jaeger coined the term aleatory architecture to describe "a new approach that explicitly includes stochastic (re-) configuration of individual structural elements — that is to say 'chance.'"[4]



Charles Hartman discusses several methods of automatic generation of poetry in his book The Virtual Muse.[5]


The term aleatory 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".[6] Pierre Boulez applied the term "aleatory" in this sense to his own pieces to distinguish them from the indeterminate music of John Cage.[2] 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 composer of aleatory music was the German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen,[2] who had attended Meyer-Eppler's seminars in phonetics, acoustics, and information theory at the University of Bonn from 1954 to 1956,[7] and put these ideas into practice for the first time in his electronic composition Gesang der Jünglinge (1955–56), in the form of statistically structured, massed "complexes" of sounds.[8]

Aleatoric techniques are sometimes used in contemporary film music, e.g., in John Williams's film scores[clarification needed] and Mark Snow's music for X-Files: Fight the Future.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Iwona Lindstedt, ed. (24 November 2019). "Glossary: Aleatory music". Archived from the original on 30 July 2019. Retrieved 24 November 2019. The term aleatory was popularized in Europe by Pierre Boulez means a musical result of actions made by chance ("alea" is Latin for "dice") or choice. The composers offered the players, for example, choices of route through the fragments of their work, allowed them to join these elements freely but, at the same time, they were completely responsible for the overall shape of the work. Aleatory music is sometimes treated as a synonym of indeterminate music (indeterminacy) but the latter term was preferred by John Cage and meant not only performance liberties but also the use of chance element in the process of composition. Although aleatoricism is an extremely different musical concept than serialism, the end result of both ideas may sound surprisingly alike.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Sabine Feisst (1 March 2002). "Losing Control: Indeterminacy and Improvisation in Music Since 1950". NewMusicBox. Archived from the original on 4 June 2011. Retrieved 24 March 2019. The concept of 'aleatory' was preferred by European composers, among them Pierre Boulez, Witold Lutosławski and Franco Evangelisti. It was first used by Werner Meyer-Eppler in the context of electro-acoustics and information theory for describing a course of sound events that is determined in its framework and flexible in detail.(6) Aleatory, a word derived from the Latin alea, has many different meanings such as dice, game of dice, risk, danger, bad surprise, and chance. Most composers using aleatory referred to the meaning of chance, but some composers referred to meanings like risk (for instance Evangelisti) and dice (Henri Pousseur composed a piece called Répons pour sept musiciens, 1960, where performers throw dice for sheets of music and cues, a procedure similar to pieces by Kirnberger or Mozart in which the order of the measures is determined by throwing a dice.). Many composers thought they dealt with chance and created chance compositions when they allowed for greater performance flexibility. None of them used chance operations as Cage did. Since many composers were skeptical about "pure" chance and mere accident they came up with the idea of "controlled chance" and "limited aleatorism" (preferred by Lutosławski).
  3. ^ a b Werner Meyer-Eppler (1955) "Statistische und psychologische Klangprobleme," Elektronische Musik, Die Reihe I (Herbert Eimert, ed.) Vienna, p. 22. English translation: Werner Meyer-Eppler (1957) "Statistic and Psychologic Problems of Sound" (Alexander Goehr, transl.). Electronic Music, Die Reihe 1 (H. Eimert, ed.), pp. 55–61, esp. p. 55.
  4. ^ Keller, Sean; Jaeger, Heinrich (2015-10-19). "Aleatory Architectures". arXiv:1510.05721 [cond-mat.soft].
  5. ^ Charles Hartman (1996), The Virtual Muse: Experiments in Computer Poetry, Hanover, New Hampshire: Wesleyan University Press, pp. 54–64, ISBN 0819522392
  6. ^ Arthur Jacobs, "Admonitoric Note",The Musical Times '107, no. 1479 (May 1966): 414.
  7. ^ Michael Kurtz, Stockhausen: A Biography, translated by Richard Toop (London and Boston: Faber and Faber, 1992): 68–72. ISBN 0-571-14323-7 (cloth) ISBN 0-571-17146-X (pbk).
  8. ^ Pascal Decroupet and Elena Ungeheuer, "Through the Sensory Looking-Glass: The Aesthetic and Serial Foundations of Gesang der Jünglinge", translated by Jerome Kohl, Perspectives of New Music 36, No. 1 (Winter 1998): 97–142. Citation on 99–100.
  9. ^ Fred Karlin and Rayburn Wright, On the Track: A Guide to Contemporary Film Scoring, second edition (New York: Routledge, 2004): 430–436. ISBN 0415941350 or ISBN 0-415-94136-9.[verification needed]

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.

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