Sneaks are a good thing. Photo (CC-BY) Pink Sherbet Photography / D. Sharon Pruitt.

Let’s start with what’s really important: Chris McCormick’s squeakyshoecore tunes may well make you tap your All Stars and smile. The words “algorithmically-generated acid” and mention of the multimedia patching environment Pd might not suggest feel-goody, cheery, geeky-sounding electronic grooves, but that’s exactly what’s come out. These robots know what they’re doing.

And yes, even a tune named after Chris’ favorite fractal can be good summer fun.

Behind the scenes, Chris’ music is produced generatively using algorithms created in the free and open source visual patching and programming environment Pure Data. The patches actually began as a scene for the iPhone/iPod touch interactive music environment RjDj, but you can now grab all the patches, try them out, and learn them, all with an explicit GPLv3 open source license.


It’s not just about sitting back and letting the robots do the work, either; you can control the results live with a MIDI controller.

Check out the tunes, which are themselves available under a Creative Commons license (BY-NC-SA):
On / CC-licensed download page

And read the blog:

And great work, Chris. I hope that soon we can work with Chris and others to get some more information for newcomers to Pd on making their own musical creation and performance tools.

  • It does sound good, but it begs the question: is it really music if there's no human input?

    I haven't had a chance to play around with it, so I'm not sure to what extent the MIDI input controls the music. But to me, computer generated rhythms, harmonies and/or melodies miss the point of music, which is to convey some sort of emotion. That's not to say I'm against sequencing, because there's still a human behind it. Perhaps I should be thinking about the code as human input?

  • I would say the countless hours Chris spent making the patch count as human input.

    Beethoven's dead, but if I pick up a Beethoven sonata, he's alive. Code is just a different kind of score. In some ways, it's even more human input, because you're recording not just one idea but your whole model of ideas.

    Of course, I do *pick up* that Beethoven score and play it physically, so finding ways to provide physical control of the algorithmic playback really is significant.

  • <cite>…you’re recording not just one idea but your whole model of ideas. </cite>

    That's an excellent way to think about it.

  • cillianjohn

    Great post.
    I'm looking to get into pd myself to try out some sequencer ideas I have for my monome, so please do post more of this.

  • @cillian
    If you're in the NYC area, you should check out In/Out Fest on Sept 17th + 18th. Brian himself is doing a workshop you might be interested in. Can't say anything more right now, but click my name for the website!

  • Sasa Rasa

    Recently, I have been reading about David Cope's work. Quoting wikipedia "he writes programs and algorithms that can analyze existing music and create new compositions in the style of the original input music"

    This article may be of interest
    and there's a book, among others by the same author, titled Virtual Music where the subject is discussed.

  • cillianjohn

    @Flpls I'd love to be able to make it but I'm based in Europe. Thanks for the heads-up though, I'll keep an eye on the site.

  • Michael Coelho

    This tune did in fact get my shoes tapping which is appropriate because I just got a pair of Chuck's last night:

    I have to agree with Peter, programing the patch is an expression of Chris's artistic vision. If you didn't know it was programed music, would you question it as really being music? I'm still trying to get my head around Max MSP, so I won't be investigating PD anytime soon, but I wish I could because I'd like to play around with these patches.

  • tomvicky

    I'm always happy to see both the linear and generative formats available for a release. I love pd, but we need a solid platform for the non-computer savy ( or someone who can't download 1 program) kind of person to get the live, exciting, mysterious aspect of a generative composition. Right now I'm trying to get something in rjdj going, but i don't know if that's the answer. Then again the following of my compositions is probably sub 10 people so it's more for myself anyway. Compose what you want to hear!

    Side not: Chris' Looper Advance software was the first music program i ever used.

    @Michael Is a great resource to just get started.

  • anechoic

    @Peter: very nicely put! and yes algorithms or patches or code does serve as a generative score that embody all sorts of ideas and concepts about how to structure or generate sound…
    I posted Chris's page to my Facebook a couple of weeks ago due to being very impressed with the output :))

  • Damon

    "If you didn’t know it was programed music, would you question it as really being music?"

    Or is the question, is Chris McCormick actually a musician?

  • Well, that would be an extremely *specific* question. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    "If it's made by Chris McCormick, is it really music?"

    That one goes right up against, "Is Peter Kirn actually a human, or a cleverly-programmed bot?"

  • Michael Coelho

    Peter, I'd say you've passed the Touring test.

  • Damon

    Ya, I agree he is both a musician and a good one. Very fun and whimsical. I was just asking the question.

    Another question – How does one compare a composer to a producer?

  • rhowaldt

    if the music is good, does it matter who made it, how, and why? enjoy it, and stop asking so many damn questions! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Humans use their own internalised rules when creating music. It doesn't devalue anything if those rules are externalised and distilled into an algorithm.

  • To quote Brian Eno – "Generative music is like planting a seed, whereas classical composition is like trying to engineer a tree."

    Both instances require an enquiry into the rules of music. In the former, you're writing the rules, whereas in the latter, you're following them.

    Anybody who has studied music with an "old-school" lecture will know all to well what harmonies apparently "don't work", and which ones "must be avoided", and "chord x must be resolved by chord y". Of course, these rules are presented in the context of trying to compose a piece of music in a given style – classical, baroque, minimalist etc, but still to follow this kind of advice you are arguably composing algorithmically.

  • @ Henderson:

    People like myself who are not clasically trained and try to approach to academic papers on improvisation and generative patterns usually get daunted with harmonic rules. I find this post very interesting, but I'm afraid I don't know where to go beyond "random triggers" on any given platform.

  • great post!

  • @Peter:

    Duh! Meh! … so you mean you are NOT a bot? I always thought you were some killer mix of python/PHP engine and an actor who played the character “Peter Kirn” in public appearances and Sybellius product demostrations :ยท) (just kiddin’)


    I know it’s a extremely wide topic, musically speaking, but which are the basic building blocks of generative music? I’ve made very simple examples triggering random notes within a certain scale; however, I think I was building a “random arppegiator” instead of a true algorithm. Any advice for a newbie like me? I’ve got no problem dealing with software but my Music Theory basics are pretty weak.

  • @ Jorge

    I myself am not classically trained – more a mongrel of the jazz/art/electronic worlds ๐Ÿ˜›

    As regards taking generative music beyond the simply random, a lot of people take naturally occurring phenomena as inspiration – fibonacci sequences, fractals, cellular automata models, l-systems etc. These algorithms might have aspects of randomisation built in order to add variety to the composition. Code should definitely be seen as an instrument in the way that you need to practice and experiment before getting any excitable results!

  • Damon


    if the music is good, does it matter who made it, how, and why? enjoy it, and stop asking so many damn questions! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thanks for the advice Rhowlt. And why exactly do you feel this way? ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Carltaylor43

    wow…sounds well funky

  • Carltaylor43

    wow…sounds well funky

  • Carltaylor43

    wow…sounds well funky

  • not a hater

    funky YES! acid no.

  • not a hater

    funky YES! acid no.

  • not a hater

    funky YES! acid no.