Twenty Techniques For Generative Music, Inspired By Brian Eno

The latest loopop video takes a look at 20 techniques for creating generative music.

The video takes inspiration from Brian Eno‘s concept of Generative Music. Eno has been creating systems for generating music since the 70’s.

While he initially applied this approach to ambient music, on albums like Music For Airports, his later work has explored creating systems for generating other types of music, too.

This video looks at exploring this concept, using a variety of hardware and software systems, ranging from iOS apps to desktop DAWs and modular synthesizers.

Topics covered:

0:00 Defining Generative

1:05 Simple randomization – Ableton MIDI LFO Max4Live device

2:10 Scaling random pitch – Ableton Random and Scale MIDI effects

2:50 Pitch to modal chords – Harmonaig from Instruo, with arpeggiation by Quaid Megaslope and Boss Bow Tie from ALM playing Rings from Mutable Instruments

4:10 Scaling emotion – KeyStep Arpeggiator and Ableton Scaler playing Piano V2 from Arturia

5:20 LFO to melody – ADDAC506 cycling a generative AD LFO quantized by Harmonaig, into rings

7:00 Turing machines explained with Pigments by Arturia. Modules mentioned are Turing Machine by Music Thing Modular, Ornament and Crime, Marbles, Disting. Other software versions are a Max4Live Turing machine by Encoder Audio and one for Native Instrument’s Reaktor as well.

10:10 Turing to params – shown on Pigments by Arturia

11:15 Combining mod sources – MixVert8r from Voicas combining ADDAC 506 stochastic envelopes with an LFO from Hermod.

13:15 CV/Sequential switch – Boss Bow Tie from ALM receiving a combined LFO and stochastic envelope from ADDAC506 – see patch walk-through for more details.

13:40 Making modes count – Harmonaig from Instruo, NDLR from Conductive Labs, PolyPhase for the iPad

15:50 Rhythmic variation – NDLR from Conductive Labs

16:20 Adding the predictable – Marbles from Mutable Instruments and VCV Drum Kit from Autodafe , Step Divider from Ableton’s Probability pack.

17:40 BPM sync/clock div – VCV Clock divider from Synth Kit, Hermod from Squarp

18:25 Probability gates – Marbles from Mutable Instruments and Ableton Follow Actions

19:50 Merging sequences – Patterning iOS app, Ableton track MIDI assignment

21:35 Logic modules – Rene 2 from Make Noise feeding a Mixer. Logic gates also mentioned are Deopffer A-166 and Disting from Expert Sleepers

22:55 Making safe bets – Melodic Probabiliy from Ableton’s Probability pack

24:20 Omitting notes – Model:Samples from Elektron

24:40 Gate/event variation – MicroFreak from Arturia

25:45 VCV modules – NoteSeq from JW Modules, Gray Code from Squinky Labs, Generative from Amalgamated harmonics, and of course there are VCV versions of Marbles and Music Thing’s Turing Machine.

27:35 Eurorack patch walkthru – ADDAC506, Harmonaig from Instruo, Hermod from Quarp, PanMix from Happy Nerding, 248 VCA and LedRover from Voicas, QPAS and STO from Make Noise, Rings and Plaits from Mutable Instruments, MCO, Boss Bow Tie and Quaid Megaslope from ALM, Ornament and Crime, RackBrute 3U and 6U from Arturia

12 thoughts on “Twenty Techniques For Generative Music, Inspired By Brian Eno

  1. It should be noted that “generative music” goes back at least to change-ringing, and arguably to wind chimes and aolean harps.

    1. Absolutely! As much as I like Eno, he has a tendency to take credit for things that people have done far before him, thinking that people don’t know any better. Not only your examples of generative music, but ambient music as well. Terry Riley, Klaus Schulze, Can, early Pink Floyd and early Tangerine Dream, are some examples of people/bands that were doing “ambient” before Eno coined a clever name for it.

      1. Let’s not forget that legendary BBC interview with Eno about 2 years ago, when he showed some trigger probabilities applied to drums in Logic. The interviewer asked him whether anybody else was doing this, to which Eno replied ‘no’.

        1. Yes, I noticed that too! As if no one else uses Logic’s Scripter plugin.
          Eno then says that he lets Scripter run while he goes off to do other things; if he hears something he doesn’t like, he changes the script until he likes it.
          The hipster approach to musical composition.

      2. I don’t think ANY of those bands would consider what they do ambient, and certainly none of their music aligns with Eno’s concept of it.

        If you or other people want to call Pink Floyd ambient, OK, just don’t pretend it’s Eno doing it!

        1. Listen to parts of “Echoes” and “Ummagumma” from Pink Floyd, or the album “Irrlicht” from Klaus Schulze, or “Zeit” from Tangerine Dream, or “Sonic Seasonings” from Walter (Wendy) Carlos, “Lux Aeterna” by Gyorgy Ligeti, “Poppy nogood and the phantom band” by Terry Riley, “Milky Way” from Weather Report, etc., etc.
          There were numerous composers doing atmospheric “ambient” music long before Eno invented a name for it. I’ve never seen one interview with him where he gives credit where credit is due. Eno has an Andy Warhol knack for self-promotion, based on very little innovation.

          1. Anti trump

            Repeating something ridiculous doesn’t help your case.

            Eno has never said he invented the style of Pink Floyd or Terry Riley or Tangerine Dream, and nobody knowledgeable about music would call any of those artists ‘ambient’ ones, anyway.

            Pink Floyd did space rock and later mainstream rock. Terry Riley is considered one of the fathers of classical minimal music. Tangerine Dream is Krautrock, Berlin School or, later, new age.

            Eno’s concept of ‘ambient music’ is very specific, and it has nothing to do with any of the artists that you’re mentioning, or any of those genres.

            It sounds like you know nothing about Eno’s concept of ambient music. If you think his music is garbage – fine! But don’t hate on him out of ignorance.

            1. It’s worth mentioning that Eno openly acknowledged the genesis of his concept as being lifted from Satie. Still, his specific approaches and definition are what made “ambient” notable, though even his processes tended to be repurposed or borrowed outright. I haven’t watched the video above but it’s common knowledge that “Frippertronics” was simply Riley’s time-lag accumulator, which Eno also wasn’t secretive about. There were diagrams for it that accompanied Discreet Music, which ended up inspiring Basinski’s foray into ambient (by the way, anybody notice how it’s cooler/hipper to be into Basinski these days than even a decade ago?) You can contrast this with Namlook’s (R.I.P.) ambient-as-a-journey framework, though he still referred to his music as “ambient” and Schulze definitely played along, and Eno also spent some time rubbing shoulders with some of Germany’s ’70s electronic pioneers. Eno comes from the world of fine art academics where concept takes precedence. If you analyze Terre Thaemlitz’ catalog her music doesn’t always reflect what she’s presenting. If you strip it from its prescribed meaning (via her writings and concept establishing tracks) most of it is only recognizable as vague “avant garde” whatever. It’s important to remember that most people who operate within the field of “avant garde” music tend to be familiar with its roots, usually to an extreme level of abstraction. Certain general terms just end up becoming the default way to communicate. “Ambient” and “noise” quickly sum up what most people do, though both are awfully vague. Most see their work as extensions of practices like process music/musique concrete/dub/ect. but don’t bother elaborating at the risk of looking pompous/pedantic (like my comment…) or having to further elaborate and alienating the consumer all together. Of course, some are perfectly content with being associated with those genres. Just some thoughts. Nothing more.

  2. I enjoyed the video and got some great new ideas.
    I’ll share a few things I do:
    Send clock to X input and s&h or random voltage to Y input. This will cause the pattern to be ever changing. You’ll have 2 gate outs. You don’t know when either will fire but they will always be on clock.

    Random arp is a very simple way of getting random notes. I usually arp a major/minor chord or a scale like minor pentatonic


  3. Eris and Startheif are correct in pointing out ambient’s genesis in Satie’s musique d’ameublement. Though Satie’s few pieces using this concept were more akin to proto Reich/Riley minimalsism. Generative techniques were pioneered by Raymond Scott with his electronium from the late 50’s onward, worth investigation if you’re not familiar. Plateaux of mirror is my favourite of the ambient series.

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