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Generative Experiment (MP3)

The blog of musician Alec Vance,, takes its name — ale{atori}c, as he displays it in the site’s header — from a useful expansion of his given name. He’s Alex, his blog aleatoric, which Webster’s defines as “characterized by chance or indeterminate elements,” both of which words (chance, indeterminate) are closely associated with the work of John Cage. In a recent post, Vance dug into his exploration of aleatoric music, specifically “generative” music, and his attempts to, as he put it, “start simple.” Of course, as anyone who’s played with Conway’s Game of Life knows, the idea of a simple start is a meaningful one, for from simple starts complex structures may grow. Vance titled the 16th in his series of investigations into generative music “Opalize” (MP3), perhaps after Opal, the former record label of Brian Eno, whom he lists as one of his inspirations.

[audio:|titles=”Opalize”|artists=Alec Vance]

Vance’s vision here of generative music — that is, of music that is the result of a system set in motion, rather than of a hard-coded (aka “deterministic”) score that is interpreted — involves setting layers of randomized events atop each other. In this regard, he notes Eno’s Bloom app for Apple iOS, which involved “random ambient music based on a handful of parameters the user defines.” He also credits Terry Riley’s “In C,” whose structure of ambient counterpoint informs “Opalize.” Writes Vance:

I was able to take a simple 2-note passage (that forms the main drone) — playing only very long notes of C and F alternating which you can here, below — then separately for each of 2 additional “solo”synths, repitches randomly and remaps to a note on the C major pentatonic scale. These come and go randomly based on probabilities I set up and on multiples of 8 bars. Then I added a drum machine loop, which also comes in based on random probabilities. Finally, I added … some random feedback to the main drone and the drum machine at unexpected moments.

The result is very much as described, a series of shifting plates that provide a kind of doubled randomness: first, the structure of the individual lines, which are often interrupted by sudden variations (a rupture generally softened by the tonality Vance has employed), and second, the manner in which those varied plates interact. “Might be too jarring for the effect I was originally going for though,” he writes of his placement of the drum machine part, but overall the work, which is heard here in a 20-minute example, is only chaotic to the extent that it is lively — which is to say, full of life.

Original post at

By Marc Weidenbaum

Tags: , / Comments: 3 ]


  1. laurent
    [ Posted September 24, 2010, at 6:41 am ]

    Hi Marc

    I remember an artist called Stretta did something along those lines about a year ago or so. But instead of releasing an individual track, he chose to auction off 20 individual versions of a track created through the same generative process. I would direct you to his smart and insightful blog, but he’s now in some sort of internet sabbatical (?!)…

    i use randomisation to affect certain aspects of my sequences – which help lend a more human feel to synthetic music.


  2. Alec
    [ Posted September 24, 2010, at 9:22 am ]

    Thanks Marc. My primary purpose initially was to construct an evolving background drone that I could play guitar to, but ended up finding that Ableton+Max For Live had so many options that I could make something that was interesting (to me at least) to listen to at lengths of time. No guitar needed, though perhaps I’ll revisit that later.

    Laurent, I am a bug fan of stretta as well but didn’t realize until now that he had taken his blog at down. He’s been a true inspiration to me, and I hope he is able to return. His Max patches for the monome are really fun to use.

  3. laurent
    [ Posted September 24, 2010, at 3:52 pm ]

    Alec – i really like your piece by the way. I suspect the toughest part with generative music is striking that balance between musicality and how the track evolves and keeps the listener interested. Although i’ve never written such a piece, i tend apply the concept of generative music as means to find new ideas. it’s as a way I guess of forcing the happy accidents which are part of the music making process.

    yeah, being a monome user too i think Stretta is ace.

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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