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Algorithmic Composition

Photo by Steve DiBartolomeo

In recent years algorithmic processes have facilitated the rapid realization in sound of increasingly elegant and elaborate conceptual frameworks. While the earliest algorithmic efforts were applied to the synthesis of sound, more recent work has focused upon the projection of musical phrases and larger structures - realized by instrumental as well as electronic means. In some cases, entire detailed compositions are generated completely from algorithms. Computer technology has also enabled innovative approaches to performance in which computer-controlled electronic and acoustic instruments seem to interact "intelligently" with human performers. In these and in many other ways, elaborate algorithms have assisted in the realization of works by composers as diverse as John Cage, Iannis Xenakis, James Tenney, Jean Claude Risset, Laurie Spiegel, Nick Didkovsky, and many others, prominently including David Cope, Peter Elsea, David Evan Jones, and Paul Nauert - members of the UCSC composition faculty.

Algorithmic/Computer-Assisted Composition is not one field but many. At UCSC, each composer in this emphasis utilizes the computer in different ways and to different extents. One composer may construct several fragments intuitively, use software to discover combinations of these fragments with some desirable property, and make intuitive adjustments to this result before incorporating it (or not) into a larger composition. Another composer may formulate a system of composition that can be implemented as a computer program to create new works without further intervention on the part of its programmer. Still others may utilize the computer as a co-improviser that interacts responsively with human performers, as a determinant of a subtly-shifting tuning system performed live with synthesizers, as the generator of sonic structures rigorously based on predetermined images (and images on the basis of sonic structures). Some composers work primarily with instruments; some primarily with electro-acoustic materials, some with both. Some composers work primarily from mathematical models while others attempt to simulate or to interact with music from European and other world cultures. An extraordinary diversity of interests, philosophies, and aesthetics are represented in the work of the UCSC composition faculty and graduate students. There is no orthodoxy here: new approaches are welcomed and discussed and debated with enthusiasm.

Faculty working in this area of emphasis assist students in strengthening their technical abilities in all aspects of their craft. Students work, as needed, to develop their fluencies in music theory, mathematics, programming, and compositional technique necessary to realize their aesthetic goals.