'The works I have made with KOAN symbolise the beginning of a new era'

One of my consistent interests has been the invention of "machines" and "systems" that could produce musical and visual experiences. Most often these "machines" were more conceptual than physical: the point of them was to make music with materials I specified, but in combinations and interactions that I hadn't.

Many of my own records, particularly the ambient pieces, were created using such systems. For example, a number of tape loops, each with different musical elements and of different length, were allowed to overlay each other arbitrarily. Because of the differing lengths it could have been several years before they fell back into sync, and so the music always appeared different.

Much as I loved those albums, I always wished that I could sell the generating system itself, rather than just a few minutes of its output. Early last year, I received from a company called Sseyo a CD of music that had been made by its software program called KOAN. A couple of the pieces were clearly in "my" style, but what surprised me was that I could have been proud of them. I got a copy of the KOAN "authoring tool" - the program by which one writes the rules for these pieces - and, after a few days of typical interface frustration, I took to it like a duck to water.

KOAN works by addressing the sound card in the computer. The computer sends instructions to that sound card and tells it what noises to produce and in what patterns. KOAN is a sophisticated way of doing this, enabling a composer to control about 150 parameters that specify things like sound- timbre and envelope, scale, harmony, rhythm, tempo, vibrato, pitch range etc, etc. Most of KOAN's instructions are probabilistic - so that rather than saying "do precisely this" (which is what a musical sequencer does) they say "choose what to do from within this range of possibilities". The KOAN program allows that range to be more or less specific - you could, if you so chose, write absolutely precise pieces of music with it, though this would probably be its least interesting use.

The works I've made with KOAN sound to me as good as anything I've done. They also symbolise to me the beginning of a new era in 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 KOAN and other recent experiments like it are the beginning of something new. From now on 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 you want and where you want. And it confers one of the other great advantages of the recorded form: you can hear it as you work it out - it doesn't suffer from the long feedback loop characteristic of scored-and-performed music.

Edgar Wind, in his 1963 Reith Lectures, said: "...it might be argued that, in the last analysis, listening to a gramophone or a tape recorder, or to any of the more advanced machines of electro-acoustical engineering, is like listening to a superior kind of musical clock." I think it's 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?"

I should stress that the idea of Generative Music is not original to me (though I think the name is). There have been many experiments towards it over the years, and a lot of my interest in the idea arose directly from Steve Reich's 1960's tape pieces such as "Come Out" and "It's Gonna Rain". But I think that this new linkage with an increasingly commonplace technology will make it a form in which many composers will wish to work.

n 'A Year with Swollen Appendices - the Diary of Brian Eno' is published on 6 May by Faber & Faber

Arts and Entertainment
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss