Jessica Aslan

 Goldsmiths’ College, University of London

Breaking the algorithm: A heretical approach Computer Aided Algorithmic Composition

“Any particular piece of technology involves a particular body of knowledge and stems from someone’s beliefs, wants and theories about the domain of application” Di Scipio, 1998 This paper describes an approach to Computer Aided Algorithmic Composition (CAAC) whereby the composer attempts to circumvent traditional use of a piece of software in order to learn from, and eventually gain control of its musical output. In this paper I describe my use, musical output, and compositional feedback loop that I developed in order to understand the inner mechanics of a compositional software environment. It then describes my use of this understanding to harness and develop the software to suit my own compositional voice in CAAC. The paper explores experimentation and redesigning of an open-source software environment, focusing on a heretical approach to technology. Slippery Chicken (sc) is a top-down, open source set of composition tools based in the Lisp programming language, designed by Dr Michael Edwards. sc was originally conceived as a personal set of composition tools, redesigned into composition software for the more general user. Through practical examples I will describe my use of the software, examining specific qualities implicit within its design. I will describe my intent to capture values that I wanted to exploit, and minimise those that I found less favorable.
This paper takes the reader through a general discussion on the computer, and hence programmer as an “active creative partner”iii. The notion of musical values designed into composition software will be closely examined, as well as the ways in which these values can ultimately redesigned due to the software’s open source nature to re-align the musical output with the user’s own preferences.
Finally, I will present my own tools, redesigned around sc’s musical language, detailing elements of the software that have been redeveloped in combination with Edwards’ personal approach to composition.

Keywords: Algorithmic composition; computer music; slippery chicken.


Dr. Jessica Aslan is a composer and performer specialising in computer music. She has recently completed a PhD on Computer Presence in music making, supervised by Dr Michael Edwards and examined by Dr Simon Emmerson. As a practitioner Jessica works in a number of different media and genres. A busy and active performer she regularly showss her work across the UK and Europe, and has been commissioned by a number of ensembles. She also plays synthesisers for a variety of diferente music projects and is active as a sound designer in the theatre community. Jessica publishes work on collaboration, algorithmic composition, real-time and non-real-time composition and performance, improvisation and inclusive music making. Jessica teaches in higher education and works in outreach. She is currently Associate Lecturer at Goldsmiths College, teaching Interactive and Generative Music and Live, as well as supervising MMus final projects. She is a module designer and delivers lectures in Sonic Arts at the University for the Creative Arts, Surrey. Jessica is also active in outreach, and runs large scale music projects across schools in Scotland. She is a music  workshop facilitator specialising in inclusive music making in SEN environments, and develops software and hardware for inclusive music making.