John Eacott.
Generative music composition in practice - a critical evaluation


This critical evaluation will discuss 4 computer based musical works which, for reasons I shall explain, I describe as non-linear or generative. The works have been constructed by me and publicly performed or exhibited during a two year period from October 1998 to October 2000.

‘In the beginning…’ interactive music installation, strangeAttraction, Morley Gallery, London. July 1999
‘jnrtv’ live generative dance music May 1999 to Dec 2000
‘jazz’ interactive music installation, another strangeAttraction Morley Gallery, London. July 2000-09-26
‘the street’ architectural interactive music installation, University of Westminster Oct 2000

I have always loved the practice of composing, particularly when it means scoring a work to be played by a live ensemble. There is something about taking a fresh sheet of manuscript , ruling the bar lines, adding clefs, key and time signatures and beginning the gradual process of adding notes, one at a time to the score until it is complete that is gratifying and compensates for the enormous effort involved. The process of scoring however is actually one distinct act within the more general task of creating music. Recently, the notion of ‘composing’ has met challenges through an increased interest in non-linear compositional methods.

It is actually the presence of Chaotic or uncontrolable elements which add real beauty to music and many if not all of the things we value. If we think of a sunset, waves lapping on the shore, plants, trees a human face and the sound of the human voice, these things are not perfect and more importantly perhaps, they are transient, constantly changing and evolving.
Last year and again this year, I have organised an exhibition of interactive , non-linear music installations called 'strangeAttraction'. The title refers to what Edward Lorenz called a ‘strange attractor’ the phenomenon that despite vast degrees of Chaos and uncertainty within a system, there is a degree of predictability, the tendency for chaotic behaviour to ‘attract’ towards a probable set of outcomes. Composition that deals with 'attractors' or probable outcomes rather than specific details which are set in stone is an increasingly intriguing notion.