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The History of Computer Music

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Lannis Xenakis was born in May 1922 in Braila, Romania. His parents returned to Greece in 1932, where he studied engineering and architecture in Athens. He participated in wartime resistance during the World War II as a member of the student’s body in 1940s. He sustained serious face injuries during the war that resulted to loss of eyesight in one of his eyes. Xenakis was denounced as a communist after the war for his involvement and was sentenced to death. Fearing for his life, he fled to Greece in 1947 under a false passport and joined Le Corbusier’s architectural team in Paris (Varga, 1997, pp 14-21).

Xenakis later studied music composition in Paris with Olivier Messiaen, Darius Milhaud and Arthur Honegger. His greatest contribution to music was pioneering electronic and computer music, and his stochastic mathematical and architectural techniques in his music, such as probability, game theory, Boolean algebra and group theory. In 1962, Xenakis published Musique Formelles, which was later revised, expanded and translated in to formalized music. In 1966, he founded the Center for Automatic and Mathematical Music in Paris and also set up a similar center in Indiana University. In 1971, he composed Thought and Mathematics, a collection of essays on his ideas, music and composition techniques. He also delivered free public lectures at Gresham College in London from 1975 to 1978, where he was professor of music.

Dr. Dre

Andre Romelle Young was born in February 1965 in Compton, California and is mostly known by his stage name Dr. Dre. He is an American rap artist, record producer, entrepreneur and occasional actor. His academic performance was poor in high school, which made him shift his focus into music and entertainment.  He began his DJ career in high school, and in 1982, he formed World Class Wreckin Cru. The crew first released its first independent album in 1982 (Beckman and Adler, 1991). He graduated from high school in 1983 and refused to work in another field. He left wreckin Cru in 1984 and later joined N.W.A. in 1985, where he released three albums. The group produced eight records for Ruthless records. Their group was surrounded by controversy, and they believed it only assisted them to sell. The controversy brought them a lot of attention and Dre left Ruthless later in 1991 (Kenyatta, 2001, pp 34-45).

Dre co-founded Death Rows Records in 1991 with Suge Knight.  His career as a rap artist continued to succeed, and he got into music video business behind the scenes. He got into serious trouble with police severally during this period and even got arrested on assault charges. In 1994, he got into serious trouble and since he had broken his 1993 probation, he received an eight-month jail term. Dre left Death Row after feeling distracted from his music due to the constant trouble the group got involved in occasionally (Kenyatta, 2001, p 78).

Xenakis’ Music

The musical materials of Iannis Xenakis draw their inspiration from ancient music and architecture and his landscape is emotionally shaded by his turbulent past experiences. According to him, “Metastasis” was inspired by the impressions gained during the Greek Nazi War, but not by music. He influenced music as a composer by using past times, as explained by his sentiments on living in the 20th century. He also demonstrated strong interest in mathematical and formal procedures in music. He embraced the technological and scientific advances of his times and introduced many related ideas in his works. His contribution in electro acoustic music was an important step towards a thorough investigation of various possibilities in the composition of music.

According to Varga (1997, p 112), Xenakis wanted to create a new form of abstract art using light and sound spectacles in which the visual and the musical part would be organized with the application of common notions and techniques. Xenakis delivered his experience in the composition of music and mathematics in organizing and controlling the whole spectacle.  According to Xenakis (1992, p 182), “Composing with sounds for the ear leads us to compose with light for the eyes. The laser beam and the electronic flash are the equivalents of beautiful sounds. To make them gleam in space is to create music for the eyes… The music for the eyes is created with concepts and procedures stemming from musical composition. “

Xenakis began interrelating issues he encountered in architecture to music composition, since his arrival in Paris when he was working in association with Le Corbusier. His common approach to architecture and music can be seen in the design of the Philips Pavilion in 1958. He used ideas and solutions he applied in the orchestral composition, Metastasis”. The use of paraboloids and the form of the Pavilion originated from the surfaces that formed the string glissandi of Metastasis (Xenakis, 1992, p 10). He observed the similarities between the architectural and musical space, and saw the multidimensional character of music instead of the three-dimensional character of architecture. This attitude led him to organize the audio and visual part of the Plytopes, where he handled sound and light as architectural elements.


Xenakis found many natural events attractive, such as the waves crashing on the cliffs. He observed that the sound consists of many individual sounds perceived as one unified sound. He sought to analyze these natural events and utilize them in the compositional process.

Modern Physics

Xenakis delivered new physics ideas in his musical composition. He introduced in his music concepts such as the theory of relativity by Lorenz- Fitzerald and the theory of quantum mechanics by Max Planck (Xenakis, 1992, pp 255-67).

Stochastic Music

Xenakis named his music Stochastic from utilizing statistical methods in his compositions. He felt a need to introduce scientific ideas and mathematics into composition. Xenakis first used mathematical processes in Pithoprakta (1955-56) for string orchestra, where certain passages contain particular linear glissandi with a distinct part for every player, with equal numbers of glissandi heading upwards in pitch as downwards at a given time instant, and the speeds of glissandi following a normal distribution. Pitches are treated as particles in this way, with the speed of the glissandi representing their temperature and their direction movement, and these demonstrations appeared in ‘Metastasis.”

However, mathematics is only employed in isolation (Varga, 1997, p 98). According to Salbert (1997, 37), Xenakis seemed to have replaced the concept of rhythm with density. He then developed this idea in Achorripsis (1956-57), where musical sounds are arranged into various timbres and the frequency in which they occur and the density of sounds at a given instant are subjected to a Poisson distribution. The composition is into time bands of equal length in order to make the calculations possible, the outcome of which is to divide the music into cells. Xenakis then applied the working of Pithoprakta within each string of glissando cell, the sonic density being the square of the mean speed of glissandi. Griffiths (1978, pp 19-30) also shares this view, proposing that the composer was interested in the concept of minimal constraints in music. Stochastic procedures have the capacity to carry a lot of data as was the case of Xenakis’ cloud of sounds.

Eletroacoustic Music

Xenakis was influenced to get involved with the electronic medium by the work of the French composer Edgard Varese and the experiments on sound and philosophy of Italian futurism. He officially composed sixteen electro acoustic works between 1957 and 1994 (Salabert, 1997, p 29). His works can be classified into three categories that also define the three periods in his compositional career (Solomos & Hoffman, 1998, pp 53-69). Between 1955 and 1977, Xenakis applied tape manipulation techniques to his electro acoustic music and used both concrete and synthesized sounds. In the second period, between 1978 and 1989, he utilized the UPIC system developed in CEMAMu. During this period, he composed four works with the UPIC system. The third period is defined by the utilization of the GENDY program, which he used to investigate stochastic waveform synthesis. He used this program to compose two works.

Xenakis applied various techniques mainly tape-machine manipulations. The character of sound is altered by tape speed changes, raising or lowering pitch. Using a slider or a keyboard, he could experiment with controlling the tape speed. By making use of these equipment, he could control the tape play back in real-time by applying discrete, pre-adjusted speed changes similar to the keyboard or continuous speed changes just like in a slider. The composer could also alter the character of the sound by playing the tape backwards, where the sound could be heard in reverse.

The composer used group theory in the passages to structure his materials, as is the case in Tetora, which he did in 1990 using the theory in conjunction with his sieve theory (Varga, 1997, p 42). In Duel and Linaia-Agon, game theory is used to play a set of textures. He employed set theory in Herma (1961) to generate musical material. Xenakis later proposed the use of computer in sound synthesis conceptually based on granular synthesis and the theories of quantum mechanics by Planck and Albert. Granular synthesis is based on the discontinuous nature of the hearing system.

The UPIC System

UPC is a computer based music composition and sound production system. The UPIC system is made up of a real-time unit, which handles sound synthesis and playback, a host computer and an optional digital graphic board. The various aspects of a composition are described using graphical notation. The graphical tablet or a computer mouse can help in describing music from its tiniest micro level detail to its whole structure (Solomos & Hoffman, 1998, pp 19-23).

Using this system, the user can graphically describe all the levels of the music with the aid of an electronic tablet and listen to the outcome in real-time. It was developed at CEMAMu, and has been used by many composers in their work. Xenakis used the system in composing four electro acoustic works, one4 being Xenakis Mycenae Alpha in 1978, a result of light and sound spectacle using the UPIC system at CEMAMu. The music was first performed in Mycenae, Greece.  The system derived from his architectural background as well as from the needs of his compositions, its conceptual basis being transferring the graphical description of the music into sound.

As a result of his dedicated work towards developing music, Xenakis has not only influenced different composers, but some have also declared a debt to his compositional innovations. Some continue to display an understanding of the various facets of his compositional theories and applications (Solomos & Hoffman, 1998, p 75). These include Julio Estrada, Krzyszt of Penderecki and Toru Takemitsu. Though their styles differ widely as well as their master, their music continues to enrich the legacy of Xenakis.

Similarities between Xenakis’ and Dre’s Music Styles

Dr. Dre used sampling in his earlier years in music, which is achieved by taking a portion of one song and reusing it in a different song. Musicians working with musique concrete and electro acoustic music originally used it. They physically manipulated tape loops on a polygraph. Sampling was often used with the rise of electronic music in the music industry. It is very similar to the synthesizing technique used by Xenakis. Sampling is done with a sampler, more often a computer program. The use of computers was pioneered by Xenakis and has been used by musicians afterwards like Dre Dre (Schloss, 2004, p 66).

Dr. Dre’s Successes in Music

Dr. Dre received a Grammy Award for the best rap solo performance in 1994. By August the same year, the rap albums he had produced had sold close to 28 million copies. Dre joined Jimmy Iovine to form his own label, Aftermath Entertainment. The period between 1996 and 1999 was a drawback, mainly due to the record label differences. However, he strongly came back in 1999 when he joined Eminem in producing The Marshall Mathers LP and he garnered Grammy Awards for the Producer of the Year and Best Performance for the single “Forgot About Dre” (Kenyatta, 2001, p 36).

Dr. Dre released his second solo album 2001 in 1999, which was considered as a great return to his gangsta rap roots. The album was featured in collaboration with many artists including snoop Dogg and Eminem. The album was considered very successful and charted at number two in Billboard 200 charts and has been certified platinum six times since then (Edwards, 2001, par). After the success of 2001, Dre focused on production work for other artists. The co-produced Marshall Mathers LP was landmark and won the Grammy Award for the best album, including the Grammy-winning lead single The Real Slim Shady. The album proved to be the best selling rap album of all time, selling 1.76 million pieces in its first week alone. He also produced several singles for several artists, including Family Affair by Mary Blige, Let Me Blow Ya Mind by Eve and No Doubt by Gwen Stefan.

The Aftermath label continued the success trend on the release of Get Rich or Die Tryin’, the 2003 major album by Queens, rapper 50 Cent based in New York. Dre co-produced four tracks on the album. He also became the executive producer of Eminem’s fourth album after joining Aftermath (Edwards, 2001, par).

Film Industry

Dre made his first appearance on screen in 1996 in the bank robbery movie, Set It Off where he acted as a weapon dealer. He also appeared in the movies Training Day and The Wash and his song Bad Intentions featured in The Wash soundtrack. Dr. Dre got into the film industry feeling that he had directed many music videos and he wanted to get into directing. Dre also produced his brand headphones Beats Dr. Dre in July 2008.

Music Styles

Dr. Dre uses the Akai MPC3000 as his primary studio, a drum machine and sampler that he uses four or five times to produce a single recording. He prefers to have studio musicians re-play music he verses wants to use, trying to avoid samples. This proves more flexible allowing him to change the pieces in rhythm and tempo (Scholls, 2004, p 49). The other instrument he uses is the E-MU SP-1200 drum machine and keyboards. He also gets other people to play instruments for him and he tells them what he wants, soloing them when he hears something, he particularly likes. Dre worked with producer Mel-Man as a co-producer after founding Aftermath Entertainment and his music became more synthesizer-based sound by using fewer vocal samples. Mel-Man was credited as the key architect of the signature Aftermath sound.

Dr. Dre has managed to maintain his astounding performance because he is a perfectionist. Their attributes with Eminen have managed to keep Aftermath a success. He gives a lot of attention to delivery of vocals, and he is known to stop an MC if he doesn’t like the output. However, he allows his MCs time to write their lyrics without much supervision unless he needs to offer a conceptual background.

Co-Producers and Collaborators

Dr. Dre has worked with other collaborators over the years of his work. During his stay at Death Rows, it is believed that he worked with his stepbrother and Daz, though most of their contributions were uncredited. Scott Storch, who is also a successful producer, has been credited severally as a songwriter on several tracks.

Ghost Writers

Though he retains overall control over his lyrics and the themes of his songs, others write Dr. Dre’s raps. In the songs he has produced, there is often contribution of many people, as it can be observed from his credits. While he is doing production work, others handle ghostwriting his lyrics. Eminem and Royce 5’ 9’ are some of the artists who have ghostwritten his music. However, he maintained creative control over the content of his verse (Ira, 1991, p 78). He is fairly mainly a conductor rather than a fully fledged producer some of his times. His work has been achieved through team effort and the fact that he is humble to credits others has made him more successful.

Dr. Dre earned about US$52 million after selling part of his share of Aftermath Entertainment to Interscope records and production of some of his hit songs such as Family Affair by Mary Blige. He was thus named the second highest paid artist of the year. Dr. Dre has continued to succeed from his music, both monetary and respect wise, especially after establishing Aftermath entertainment. He has gone on to win many awards and recognition and remains one of the most respected musicians in the modern music industry.

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