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Koan is a generative music engine that was created by SSEYO, a company founded by Pete Cole and Tim Cole. It was founded specifically to create and market Koan. The technology is now owned by Intermorphic Limited, which was co-founded by the Cole brothers in 2007.
Architecture and Engine
Koan was actually an architecture named the SSEYO Koan Interactive Audio Platform (SKIAP). This consisted of the core Koan generative music engine (the SSEYO Koan Generative Music Engine (SKME), a set of authoring tools (SSEYO Koan Pro and SSEYO Koan X), a set of stand-alone Koan Music players (SSEYO Koan Plus, SSEYO Koan File Player and SSEYO Koan Album Player), and a plug-in for internet browsers such as Internet Explorer and Netscape.
The Koan generative music engine was very deep; this is partially because of the long history of the product. Development of the Koan engine started in 1990, when SSEYO was founded. By 1992, the first version went into beta testing. The first Koan software was publicly released in 1994 and distributed by Koch Media. The first Koan Pro authoring tool was released in 1995. The same year, SSEYO managed to bring Koan to the attention of Brian Eno, and it turned out that he was interested in using Koan. He started creating pieces with Koan Pro that, in April 1996, lead to the publication of his seminal title Generative Music 1 with SSEYO Koan software. This was a boxed product containing a floppy disk, on which was the SSEYO Koan Plus player and a set of 12 Koan generative-music pieces that he authored. Eno's early relationship with Koan was captured in his 1996 diary A Year with Swollen Appendices.
Brian Eno, 1996:
|“||Some very basic forms of generative music have existed for a long time, but as marginal curiosities. Wind chimes are an example, but the only compositional control you have over the music they produce is in the original choice of notes that the chimes will sound. Recently, however, out of the union of synthesisers and computers, some much finer tools have evolved. Koan Software is probably the best of these systems, allowing a composer to control not one but one hundred and fifty musical and sonic parameters within which the computer then improvises (as wind improvises the wind chimes).
The works I have made with this system symbolize to me the beginning of a new era of music. Until 100 years ago, every musical event was unique: music was ephemeral and unrepeatable and even classical scoring couldn't guarantee precise duplication. Then came the gramophone record, which captured particular performances and made it possible to hear them identically over and over again.
But now there are three alternatives: live music, recorded music and generative music. Generative music enjoys some of the benefits of both its ancestors. Like live music it is always different. Like recorded music it is free of time-and-place limitations - you can hear it when and where you want.
I really think it is possible that our grandchildren will look at us in wonder and say, "You mean you used to listen to exactly the same thing over and over again?"
Using the pseudonym CSJ Bofop, 1996:
|“||Each of the twelve pieces on Generative Music 1 has a distinctive character. There are, of course, the ambient works ranging from the dark, almost mournful “Densities III” (complete with distant bells), to translucent “Lysis (Tungsten).” These are contrasted with pieces in dramatically different styles, such as Komarek with its hard-edged, angular melodies, reminiscent of Schoenberg's early serial experiments, and “Klee 42,” whose simple polyphony is similar to that of the early Renaissance. But of course, the great beauty of Generative Music is that those pieces will never sound quite that way again.||”|
The Koan Pro software was available for Windows (16- and 32-bit) and Macintosh 8/9, but never integrated well with digital audio workstations (DAWs/sequencers) because there was never an audio plug-in version of the software.
Although SKIAP was developed until 2001, the last extension of the SKME itself was in 1998, as SSEYO concentrated on developing technology around the music engine, including real-time music synthesis and a highly programmable internet browser plug-in wrapper.
SSEYO was acquired by Tao Group Limited, which was sold in 2007. As a result, Koan and the Koan Pro authoring tool are no longer available. Koan continued to be popular with artists and was featured at the Ars Electronica event in 2003, in a 96-hour event playing live Koan music from various artists over a 160,000-watt PA in Linz's Klangpark on the banks of the Danube. This was known as the Dark Symphony project. In 2007, the original creators of Koan (Pete Cole and Tim Cole) founded a company called Intermorphic to create a new generative system called Noatikl. Noatikl can import data from the old Koan system; and offers a variety of audio plug-in implementations for easy integration with desktop audio tool chains in a very modern context. In 2008, Intermorphic acquired the Koan technology, and started to describe Noatikl as "the evolution of Koan.”
In 2012, Intermorphic released Noatikl 2. This was the first major update to Noatikl since 2007, and featured the Partikl software synthesizer that is shared with the Mixtikl mixer product.
In 2015, Intermorphic released Noatikl 3. This was the first major update to Noatikl since 2012, and added a native iOS app implementation together with extensive improvements to the Partikl software synthesizer.
- "Is the Future of Music Generative?" by Paul Brown
- Brian Eno - a Year With Swollen Appendices (documents his use of Koan)
- "Electronic, aesthetic and social factors in Net music" by GOLO FÖLLMER
- Floating Points—Dark Symphony - Ars Electronica 2003
- Computer Generated Music Composition by Chong (John) Yu
- BAFTA Interactive Entertainment Awards#Technical Innovation
- http://www.intermorphic.com/tools/noatikl/generative_music.html - Intermorphic on Generative Music and the early history of Koan
- http://www.intermorphic.com/news/pressReleases/prnoatikl2_Generative_Music_Lab_for_Mac_Windows.html - Noatikl 2 release information