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What is Computer-Generated Music?

By Bryon Turcotte
Updated May 16, 2024
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Throughout recorded history, human beings have utilized the components of their environment to produce unique art forms. In the accelerating world of technology, computer-generated music has become another level of creativity and expression. As with a physical musical instrument, a computer can be used to generate tone, produce a beat, and be used as an accompaniment for other computers, real instruments, or the voice.

Computer-generated music may be defined in my different ways. First, and most logically, it is music created by, or composed with the assistance of, a computer workstation or module. Secondly, since the world of music is filled with electronic musical instruments, the computer can be categorized as the instrument itself. Third, since digital music recording has become the standard replacement for analog magnetic tape recorders, computer-generated music is the product of these digital music production systems.

To establish an accurate definition, two specific types of computer-generated music can be distinguished. The first type is where a computer workstation, hardware and software, are used to generate the composition notation or score, allowing musicians to perform the composition via the computer. The second would be music composed and performed by the computer alone, depending on programming, scripting, and specialized software to produce the piece.

With personal computing and the increase of home recording, the term computer-generated music was often used to describe music that has been created using home computers and consumer-based computing technology. As systems become more intricate and more powerful, computer processors are finding their way from the workstation into the electronic instruments themselves, and computer-generated music has grown into a completely different entity. An entire genre of music has been born because of this, raised and prospered on the basis of its artists, musicians, and composers exclusively creating their art with nothing more than computers and related technologies.

Any form of music using a computer workstation, programming, or software applications as a tool within its composition process can be categorized as computer-generated music. The addition of computers and music-related software applications to the music composition and recording process have become so common, it has quickly grown into an industry standard. From the first use of synthesizers in popular music to the recording, mixing, and producing of music in the computer environment, computer-generated music has become an engulfing force behind what influences music.

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Discussion Comments
By Soulfox — On Dec 08, 2014

@Terrificli -- I'm not sure I agree. In the two examples you mentioned, computers were used to alter what was produced by traditional instruments. The guitarist still played guitar as usual and repairing errors in music isn't exactly creating something original, is it?

Computer generated music, on the other hand, is something entirely produced by a computer without the benefit of an external instrument. Hopefully, we can all agree on that generation. It has been used for years and still seems to fit.

By Terrificli — On Dec 07, 2014

I would argue that the term "computer generated music" is almost impossible to define these days. For example, computers are often used to modify a guitarist's tone so that the musician doesn't need to use an amplifier. He or she simply plugs in, dials in the desired set of effects and plays. People used to use amps to modify their guitar tone, but computers have made that unnecessary. Is that computer generated music or not? It's hard to say, isn't it?

And, then, there are computer based editing tricks. Those are used to correct mistakes made by musicians, to speed up or slow down tempos, to shift instruments into different keys and all sorts of things. Is that computer generated music or not?

Here's the point. It may have been easy to identify computer generated music once upon a time, but those days are gone.

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