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Algorithmic composition as a model of creativity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 December 1996

Advanced Computer Architecture Laboratory, EECS Department, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2122, USA E-mail:


There are two distinct types of creativity: the flash out of the blue (inspiration? genius?), and the process of incremental revisions (hard work). Not only are we years away from modelling the former, we do not even begin to understand it. The latter is algorithmic in nature and has been modelled in many systems both musical and non-musical. Algorithmic composition is as old as music composition. It is often considered a cheat, a way out when the composer needs material and/or inspiration. It can also be thought of as a compositional tool that simply makes the composer’s work go faster. This article makes a case for algorithmic composition as such a tool. The ‘hard work’ type of creativity often involves trying many different combinations and choosing one over the others. It seems natural to express this iterative task as a computer algorithm. The implementation issues can be reduced to two components: how to understand one’s own creative process well enough to reproduce it as an algorithm, and how to program a computer to differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ music. The philosophical issues reduce to the question who or what is responsible for the music produced?

Research Article
© 1996 Cambridge University Press

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