Computer music is the application of computing technology in music composition, to help human composers create new music or to have computers independently create music, such as with algorithmic composition programs. It includes the theory and application of new and existing computer software technologies and basic aspects of music, such as sound synthesis, digital signal processing, sound design, sonic diffusion, acoustics, and psychoacoustics. The field of computer music can trace its roots back to the origins of electronic music, and the very first experiments and innovations with electronic instruments at the turn of the 20th century.

In the 2000s, with the widespread availability of relatively affordable home computers that have a fast processing speed, and the growth of home recording using digital audio recording systems ranging from Garageband to Protools, the term is sometimes used to describe music that has been created using digital technology.


In Japan, experiments in computer music date back to 1962, when Keio University professor Sekine and Toshiba engineer Hayashi experimented with the TOSBAC computer. This resulted in a piece entitled TOSBAC Suite. Later Japanese computer music compositions include a piece by Kenjiro Ezaki presented during Osaka Expo '70 and "Panoramic Sonore" (1974) by music critic Akimichi Takeda. Ezaki also published an article called "Contemporary Music and Computers" in 1970. Since then, Japanese research in computer music has largely been carried out for commercial purposes in popular music.[1]

Yamaha GS-1 FM Synthesizer Programming Computer

Yamaha's programming computer for GS-1, the first commercial FM digital synthesizer.

Early computer-music programs typically did not run in real time. Programs would run for hours or days, on multimillion-dollar computers, to generate a few minutes of music.[2][3] One way around this was to use a 'hybrid system', most notably the Roland MC-8 Microcomposer, where a microprocessor-based system controls an analog synthesizer, released in 1978.[1] John Chowning's work on FM synthesis in the early 1970s allowed much more efficient digital synthesis.[4] His algorithm was licensed to Yamaha, adapting it for use in a commercial digital synthesizer, making a number of modifications and improvements.[5][6] Yamaha built the first prototype FM digital synthesizer in 1974,[7] before commercially releasing the Yamaha GS-1 in 1980.[8] The GS-1 was programmed using a proprietary Yamaha computer, which at the time was only available at Yamaha's headquarters in Japan (Hamamatsu) and the United States (Buena Park).[9] The mainstream breakthrough for FM synthesis came with the release of the affordable Yamaha DX7 digital synthesizer in 1983.[10]

The advent of inexpensive digital microprocessor chips and microcomputers opened the door to real-time generation of computer music.[10] Japanese personal computers such as the Sharp MZ and Hitachi Basic Master were capable of digital synthesis in 1978, via Music Macro Language (MML),[11] used to produce chiptune video game music.[1] In 1983, Roland Corporation's CMU-800 sound module introduced music synthesis and sequencing to the PC, Apple II,[12] and Commodore 64.[13]

It was not until the advent of MIDI in 1983 that general-purpose computers started to play a key role in mainstream music production.[14] In 1982, the NEC PC-88 and PC-98 introduced MIDI support.[1] In 1983, Yamaha modules introduced FM synthesis and MIDI sequencing to the MSX.[15][16] The spread of MIDI on computers was facilitated by Roland's MPU-401, released in 1984. It was the first MIDI-equipped PC sound card, capable of MIDI sound processing[17] and sequencing.[18][19] After Roland sold MPU sound chips to other sound card manufacturers,[17] it established a universal standard MIDI-to-PC interface.[20] The widespread adoption of MIDI led to computer-based MIDI software being developed.[14]

Since its introduction, MIDI has remained the musical instrument industry standard interface through to the present day.[21] By the early 1990s, the performance of personal computers reached the point that real-time generation of computer music using more general programs and algorithms became possible.[22]

Interesting sounds must have a fluidity and changeability that allows them to remain fresh to the ear. In computer music this subtle ingredient is bought at a high computational cost, both in terms of the number of items requiring detail in a score and in the amount of interpretive work the instruments must produce to realize this detail in sound.[23]

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Shimazu, Takehito (1994). "The History of Electronic and Computer Music in Japan: Significant Composers and Their Works". Leonardo Music Journal (MIT Press) 4: 102–106 [104]. Error: Bad DOI specified. Retrieved 9 July 2012. 
  2. Cattermole, Tannith (May 9, 2011). Farseeing inventor pioneered computer music. Gizmag. Retrieved on 28 October 2011.
    "In 1957 the MUSIC program allowed an IBM 704 mainframe computer to play a 17-second composition by Mathews. Back then computers were ponderous, so synthesis would take an hour."
  3. Mathews, Max (1 November 1963). "The Digital Computer as a Musical Instrument". Science 142 (3592): 553–557. Error: Bad DOI specified. Retrieved 28 October 2011. 
    "The generation of sound signals requires very high sampling rates.... A high speed machine such as the I.B.M. 7090 ... can compute only about 5000 numbers per second ... when generating a reasonably complex sound."
  4. Dean, R. T. (2009). The Oxford handbook of computer music. Oxford University Press. p. 20. ISBN 0-19-533161-3. 
  5. Holmes, Thom (2008). "Early Computer Music". Electronic and experimental music: technology, music, and culture (3rd ed.). Taylor & Francis. pp. 257–8. ISBN 0-415-95781-8. Retrieved 2011-06-04. 
  6. U.S. Patent 4,018,121
  7. [Chapter 2 FM Tone Generators and the Dawn of Home Music Production]. Yamaha Synth 40th Anniversary - History. Yamaha Corporation (2014).
  8. Curtis Roads (1996). The computer music tutorial. MIT Press. p. 226. ISBN 0-262-68082-3. Retrieved 2011-06-05. 
  9. Nicolae Sfetc, The Music Sound, page 1525
  10. 10.0 10.1 Dean, R. T. (2009). The Oxford handbook of computer music. Oxford University Press. p. 1. ISBN 0-19-533161-3. 
  11. Micro Computer BASIC MASTER MB-6880 Music method - Hitachi Hyoron April 1979 Special Features:A micro-computer, the application method. HITACHI (1979-04-26). Retrieved on 26 August 2013.
  12. Roland CMU-800, Vintage Synth Explorer
  13. Happy birthday MIDI 1.0: Slave to the rhythm, The Register
  14. 14.0 14.1 Russ, Martin (2012). Sound Synthesis and Sampling. CRC Press. p. 192. ISBN 1136122141. Retrieved 26 April 2017. 
  15. Martin Russ, Sound Synthesis and Sampling, page 85, CRC Press
  16. David Ellis, Yamaha CX5M, Electronics & Music Maker, October 1984
  17. 17.0 17.1 MIDI INTERFACES FOR THE IBM PC, Electronic Musician, September 1990
  18. Programming the MPU-401 in UART mode
  20. Peter Manning (2013), Electronic and Computer Music, page 319, Oxford University Press
  21. The life and times of Ikutaro Kakehashi, the Roland pioneer modern music owes everything to, Fact
  22. Dean, R. T. (2009). The Oxford handbook of computer music. Oxford University Press. pp. 4–5. ISBN 0-19-533161-3. 
    "... by the 90s ... digital sound manipulation (using MSP or many other platforms) became widespread, fluent and stable."
  23. Loy, D. Gareth (1992). Roads, Curtis. ed. The Music Machine: Selected Readings from Computer Music Journal. MIT Press. pp. 344. ISBN 0-262-68078-5. 

Further readingEdit

  • Ariza, C. 2005. "Navigating the Landscape of Computer-Aided Algorithmic Composition Systems: A Definition, Seven Descriptors, and a Lexicon of Systems and Research." In Proceedings of the International Computer Music Conference. San Francisco: International Computer Music Association. 765-772. Internet:
  • Ariza, C. 2005. An Open Design for Computer-Aided Algorithmic Music Composition: athenaCL. Ph.D. Dissertation, New York University. Internet:
  • Berg, P. 1996. "Abstracting the future: The Search for Musical Constructs" Computer Music Journal 20(3): 24-27.
  • Boulanger, Richard, ed. (March 6, 2000). The Csound Book: Perspectives in Software Synthesis, Sound Design, Signal Processing, and Programming. The MIT Press. pp. 740. ISBN 0-262-52261-6. Retrieved 3 October 2009. 
  • Chadabe, Joel. 1997. Electric Sound: The Past and Promise of Electronic Music. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
  • Chowning, John. 1973. "The Synthesis of Complex Audio Spectra by Means of Frequency Modulation". Journal of the Audio Engineering Society 21, no. 7:526–34.
  • Collins, Nick (2009). Introduction to Computer Music. Chichester: Wiley. ISBN 978-0-470-71455-3. 
  • Dodge, Charles; Jerse (1997). Computer Music: Synthesis, Composition and Performance. Thomas A. (2nd ed.). New York: Schirmer Books. pp. 453. ISBN 0-02-864682-7. 
  • Doornbusch, P. 2015. "A Chronology / History of Electronic and Computer Music and Related Events 1906 - 2015"
  • Heifetz, Robin (1989). On the Wires of Our Nerves. Lewisburg Pa.: Bucknell University Press. ISBN 0-8387-5155-5. 
  • Manning, Peter (2004). Electronic and Computer Music (revised and expanded ed.). Oxford Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-517085-7. 
  • Perry, Mark, and Thomas Margoni. 2010. "From Music Tracks to Google Maps: Who Owns Computer-Generated Works?". Computer Law and Security Review 26: 621–29.
  • Roads, Curtis (1994). The Computer Music Tutorial. Cambridge: MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-68082-3. 
  • Supper, M. 2001. "A Few Remarks on Algorithmic Composition." Computer Music Journal 25(1): 48-53.
  • Xenakis, Iannis (2001). Formalized Music: Thought and Mathematics in Composition. Harmonologia Series No. 6. Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Pr. ISBN 1-57647-079-2. 
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