Sunday, October 2, 2011

Computer music and the power of the algorithm

I've been thinking about "computer music" a lot lately, prompted by an observation at a child's birthday party last week. In a room full of 7-year-olds, most recognized the 8-bit "wakka wakka" and other sound effects from Pac Man (when "Pac Man Fever" was playing on the stereo). All of them knew the Mario Bros. theme song, originally created in the 1980s. They not only liked it, many of them spontaneously began to act the role of Mario moving through the maze. As I watched them dance, I thought, isn't it amazing that these relatively primitive digital sounds still hold so much power!

Today via Hacker News I happened upon a discussion of simple algorithms that can be used to generate interesting -- and dare I say, catchy -- patterns in an 8-bit audio emulator. Someone even created a simple online script to let anyone mess around with the variables (the best I came up with is this bass-heavy loop) but some better-sounding experimentation took place with some different algorithms and C programs. The results can be heard in this short YouTube clip:

If you are interested in geeking out some more, try a better-quality script & emulator or follow the Hacker News discussion and check out the video below of a symphony written for dot-matrix printers:

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