Generative music

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Generative music is a term popularized by Brian Eno to describe music that is ever-different and changing, and that is created by a system.

Historical background[edit]

In 1995 whilst working with SSEYO's Koan software (built by Tim Cole and Pete Cole who later evolved it to Intermorphic's Noatikl then Wotja), Brian Eno used the term "generative music" to describe any music that is ever-different and changing, created by a system. The term has since gone on to be used to refer to a wide range of music, from entirely random music mixes created by multiple simultaneous CD playback, through to live rule-based computer composition.

Koan was SSEYO's first real-time music generation system, developed for the Windows platform. Work on Koan was started in 1990, and the software was first released to the public in 1994. In 1995 Brian Eno started working with SSEYO's Koan Pro software, work which led to the 1996 publication of his title 'Generative Music 1 with SSEYO Koan Software'.

In 2007 SSEYO evolved Koan into what became Intermorphic Noatikl, and eventually Noatikl itself evolved into Wotja; Wotja X was launched in 2018 for all of iOS, macOS, Windows and Android.

Eno's early relationship with SSEYO Koan and Intermorphic co-founder Tim Cole was captured and published in his 1995 diary A Year with Swollen Appendices.


Many software programs have been written to create generative music.

SSEYO and Intermorphic[edit]

The products created by Intermorphic and SSEYO are as follows, in historical order:

  • SSEYO Koan Pro (1994–2007), used by Brian Eno to create his hybrid album Generative Music 1. The SSEYO Koan software was created by Pete Cole and Tim Cole of Intermorphic, who re-acquired the Koan technology in 2008. The software was displayed in the London Science Museum's Oramics exhibition (2011-2012) [1]. Koan was superseded by Noatikl in 2007.
  • Intermorphic's Noatikl (2007– 2017). Noatikl was described by Intermorphic as "The Evolution of Koan", and was launched in 2007 as a replacement for the no-longer-available Koan. Noatikl is a generative music engine that generates MIDI events in accordance with a rule set that can be manipulated in real-time through a graphical user interface. Noatikl can operate as a Hyperinstrument by responding to incoming MIDI event data, with optional extension through user-supplied Lua scripts. Noatikl is available as a standalone tool for iOS, macOS and Windows, and there are VST and AU plug-ins for desktop music sequencers. Noatikl 1 was released in December 2007. Noatikl 2 was released in May 2012. Noatikl 3 for iOS, macOS and Windows was released in November 2015. Noatikl 3 was superseded by Wotja 2017 in February 2017.
  • Intermorphic's Mixtikl (2004–2017), a portable generative music lab and loop mixing system with variants for iOS, iPad, Android, macOS and Microsoft Windows, as well as VST and Audio Unit plug-ins for desktop music sequencers. Mixtikl includes an embedded Noatikl generative music engine and Noatikl editor, and the Partikl modular synthesizer system. Mixtikl 7 for iOS, Android, macOS and Windows was released in November 2015. Mixtikl 7 was superseded by Wotja 4 in February 2017.
  • Intermorphic's Tiklbox (2012–2017). Tiklbox was an app for iOS, which used an integrated Noatikl music engine to create ambient generative music in an album context, to assist in relaxation and reflection. Tiklbox 1 was superseded by Wotja 2017 in February 2017.
  • Intermorphic's Wotja (2014–2019). Wotja is described by Intermorphic as "the consolidation and evolution of Noatikl, Mixtikl, Liptikl, Tiklbox and SSEYO Koan", and was first launched in 2014. Wotja is an application which integrates the Noatikl generative music engine together with the Mixtikl generative mixing engine, the Partikl modular synthesizer and FX framework, the Tiklbox album player, and the Liptikl generative text engine. Wotja can be used to create both a synthesized audio output, or a stream of MIDI events, and incorporates generative text elements. The application's user interface is used to manipulate the underlying components in real-time. Wotja files can be exported and shared as both individual items, or integrated albums of generative content. Wotja is available as a standalone tool for iOS and macOS; versions for Android and Windows were released in 2018. Wotja 1 was released for iOS in April 2014. Wotja 2017 (also referred to as Wotja 4) for iOS and macOS was released in February 2017. Wotja 2018 was released in January 2018.
  • Intermorphic's Wotja X (2019–present). Wotja X (named simply "Wotja" from 2019) has been described by Intermorphic as their "new cross-platform generative music app". Wotja (X) uses an evolution of the generative music engine (and other engines) as the earlier versions of Wotja, and allows the import of content created from Noatikl, Mixtikl and Koan. Wotja 2018 was released in January 2018, with versions launched simultaneously for iOS, macOS, Windows and Android. Intermorphic most recently released "Wotja 22" in January 2022.



There are four primary perspectives on generative music (Wooller, R. et al., 2005) (reproduced with permission):


Music composed from analytic theories that are so explicit as to be able to generate structurally coherent material (Loy and Abbott 1985; Cope 1991). This perspective has its roots in the generative grammars of language (Chomsky 1956) and music (Lerdahl and Jackendoff 1983), which generate material with a recursive tree structure.


Music generated by a system component that has no discernible musical inputs. That is, "not transformational" (Rowe 1991; Lippe 1997:34; Winkler 1998). The Wotja software by Intermorphic, and the Koan software by SSEYO used by Brian Eno to create Generative Music 1, are both examples of this approach.


Music generated by processes that are designed and/or initiated by the composer. Steve Reich's It's Gonna Rain and Terry Riley's In C are examples of this (Eno 1996).


Non-deterministic music (Biles 2002), or music that cannot be repeated, for example, ordinary wind chimes (Dorin 2001). This perspective comes from the broader generative art movement. This revolves around the idea that music, or sounds may be "generated" by a musician "farming" parameters within an ecology, such that the ecology will perpetually produce different variation based on the parameters and algorithms used. An example of this technique is Joseph Nechvatal's Viral symphOny: a collaborative electronic noise music symphony[1] created between the years 2006 and 2008 using custom artificial life software based on a viral model.[2]

Other notes[edit]

  • Brian Eno, who coined the term generative music, has used generative techniques on many of his works, starting with Discreet Music (1975) up to and including (according to Sound on Sound Oct 2005) Another Day on Earth. His works, lectures, and interviews on the subject[3] have done much to promote generative music in the avant-garde music community. Eno used SSEYO's Koan generative music system (created by Pete Cole and Tim Cole of Intermorphic), to create his hybrid album Generative Music 1 (published by SSEYO and Opal Arts in April 1996), which is probably his first public use of the term generative music.
  • Lerdahl and Jackendoff's publication described a generative grammar for homophonic tonal music, based partially on a Schenkerian model. While originally intended for analysis, significant research into automation of this process in software is being carried out by Keiji Hirata and others.
  • In It's Gonna Rain, an early work by contemporary composer Steve Reich, overlapping tape loops of the spoken phrase "it's gonna rain" are played at slightly different speeds, generating different patterns through phasing.
  • A limited form of generative music was attempted successfully by members of the UK electronic music act Unit Delta Plus; Delia Derbyshire, Brian Hodgson and Peter Zinovieff, in 1968. However, its use would only be popularized later on.

See also[edit]



  • Artística de Valencia, After The Net, 5 – 29 June 2008, Valencia, Spain: catalogue: Observatori 2008: After The Future, p. 80
  • Biles, A. 2002a. GenJam in Transition: from Genetic Jammer to Generative Jammer. In International Conference on Generative Art, Milan, Italy.
  • Chomsky, N. 1956. Three models for the description of language. IRE Transcripts on Information Theory, 2: 113-124.
  • Collins, N. 2008. The analysis of generative music programs. Organised Sound, 13(3): 237–248.
  • Cope, D. 1991. Computers and musical style. Madison, Wis.: A-R Editions.
  • Dorin, A. 2001. Generative processes and the electronic arts. Organised Sound, 6 (1): 47-53.
  • Eno, B. 1996. Generative Music. (accessed 26 February 2009).
  • Essl, K. 2002. Generative Music. (accessed 22 Mar 2010).
  • García, A. et al. 2010. Music Composition Based on Linguistic Approach. 9th Mexican International Conference on Artificial Intelligence, MICAI 2010, Pachuca, Mexico. pp. 117–128.
  • Intermorphic Limited History of Noatikl, Koan and SSEYO (accessed 26 February 2009).
  • Lerdahl, F. and R. Jackendoff. 1982. A generative theory of tonal music. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
  • Lippe, C. 1997. Music for piano and computer: A description. Information Processing Society of Japa SIG Notes, 97 (122): 33-38.
  • Loy, G. and C. Abbott. 1985. Programming languages for computer music synthesis, performance and composition. ACM Computing Surveys, 17 (2): 235-265.
  • Nierhaus, G. Algorithmic Composition - Paradigms of Automated Music Generation. Springer 2009.
  • Rowe, R. 1991. Machine Learning and Composing: Making Sense of Music with Cooperating Real-Time Agents. Thesis from Media Lab. Mass.: MIT.
  • Winkler, T. 1998. Composing Interactive Music. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
  • Wooller, R., Brown, A. R, et al. A framework for comparing algorithmic music systems. In: Symposium on Generative Arts Practice (GAP). 2005. University of Technology Sydney.