Robot composer

GenJam (short for Genetic Jammer) is an interactive algorithm that learns to improvise jazz. Computer scientist John “Al” Biles of the Rochester Institute of Technology, who also plays trumpet, designed the algorithm in 1993-94. GenJam listens to what he plays on trumpet and responds. Continue reading →

Cultures of improvisation (2)

griotImprovisation is a fundamental feature of much of the music from the world’s diverse cultures. Jazz is perhaps the best known contemporary example, reflecting African traditions of improvisation. In the Manding culture of West Africa (a society spread throughout Mali, Senegal, and coastal countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia), praise singers known as griots (or jalis) are hired by patrons. The singing is divided into two sections: a pre-composed choral refrain and an improvisation praising the family surname and reciting the ancestors. Singers accompany themselves on the kora, a large string instrument. Continue reading →

Cultures of improvisation (1)

Franz Liszt Improvising at the PianoImprovisation has been the norm in most cultures throughout most of human history. Nowadays, though, improvisation is largely associated with jazz, and its antithesis is Britney Spears at one end of the spectrum and a classical symphony at the other. Improvisation — that foundation of the musical impulse in man — has been drained out of classical music and much of contemporary popular music like the Taliban shutting down music stores. What happened? Continue reading →