GenJam (short for Genetic Jammer) is an interactive
genetic algorithm that learns to improvise jazz.
It may well be the only evolutionary computation system that is
a "working musician."
I developed the original version during my sabbatical leave in the 1993-94
academic year and have been extending it ever since.
In addition to playing full-chorus improvised solos, GenJam
listens to what I play on trumpet and responds interactively
when we trade fours or eights.
It also engages in collective improvisation, where we both solo
simultaneously and GenJam performs a smart echo of my improvisation,
delayed by anywhere from a beat to a measure.
Finally, it listens to me as I solo and play the "head" of a tune and
breeds my measures with its ideas, which steers its solo on a tune
in the direction of what I've just played on that tune.
For a quick overview of GenJam, start with the captioned version of the
I prepared to illustrate what an Ignite presentation was for the students in our Intro to Interactive Media class.
For a 19-minute video demonstration and discussion of the GenJam project, check out my
from March 2012.
For a definitive description of how GenJam works, check out my chapter,
Genetic Algorithms for Improvisation: GenJam, one of two chapters
I wrote for the book,
Evolutionary Computer Music, which I co-edited
and which was launched by Springer in April, 2007
(available at Amazon).
includes around 300 tunes in a wide variety of
jazz-influenced styles, and I play gigs with it,
often under the billing of the
Al Biles Virtual Quintet.
For holiday gigs, I've worked up a bunch of
My son, David, created the logo at right, which captures the way
GenJam and I listen to and play off of one another as we perform.
It also hints at how GenJam represents melodic material (licks) as
chromosomes that evolve in the computer.
By the way, the specific laptop in the graphic is accurate.
I still use a Mac Powerbook 180 as GenJam's official
(and only) computing platform because I built it on top of the
CMU MIDI Toolkit, which has, alas, become a legacy environment.
The other gear I use include a Yamaha MU-128 tone generator, a
Roland GI-10 pitch-to-MIDI converter, an AMT mic
that uses the Samson Airline wireless setup,
and a Rolls WPM61 wireless monitor system.
The wireless setup allows me to wander around a performing venue while
still being able to hear the rest of the band.
Gigs - Upcoming and Recent Performances
- Imagine RIT
Saturday, May 4, 2013, 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM:
GenJam and I will be performing in the Golisano Auditorium, which is just off the Atrium. We'll be using a new visualizer developed by my TA and protege, Clay Andrews, which will display my notes and GenJam's notes in real time so that you can see the interaction.
In this year's exhibit I will once again try to get folks to hang out and play with GenJam.
What I'd really love to have is for folks to sit in with GenJam
and trade fours with it.
I hope to have an electric guitar, a keyboard and an amp available for anyone who wants
to sit in with GenJam on those instruments, and I'll of course have a mic
available for anyone who brings their own acoustic instrument or wants to
scat sing with it!
I'll even let someone use my pocket trumpet...
One thing I used to do at events like this but haven't done in years is
to invite visitors to train their own GenJam soloist by listening to it
improvise and providing feedback (good or bad) in real time.
If there are enough folks at one time, I'll use feedback paddles
and we'll have an
If there are individuals who want to train a GenJam soloist all by themselves,
they can sit down at the computer's keyboard and enter feedback directly.
When's the last time you got your hands on a Powerbook 180? Huh? Huh?
- Day of Brass - University of Rochester
Saturday, March 23, 2013, 9:30 AM: GenJam and I gave a demo/lecture at the U of R Department of Music's Day of Brass event.
- Rochester Global Connections
Sunday, April 28, 2013, 5:00 PM: Annual Dinner at Daisy Flower Mill.
- RIT Open Houses:
GenJam and I wander around Gordon Fieldhouse while potential students and their
families register for the open house and find their seats.
We play 8:00 - 9:00 AM on:
Saturday, September 29, 2012
Saturday, October 13, 2012
Saturday, November 10, 2012
Friday, December 7, 2012
Friday, March 15, 2013 (transfer day in Ingle Auditorium, Student Alumni Union)
Friday, March 29, 2013 (accepted students)
Friday, April 12, 2013 (accepted students)
Friday, April 19, 2013 (sophomore/junior Preview Day)
Rochester Fringe Festival - Little Theater Cafe, 240 East Avenue
September 22, 2012: GenJam and I played a set to open
an afternoon of jazz and poetry by RIT folks at the Little Theatre Cafe, RIT's exclusive venue for the first Rochester Fringe Festival.
Park Avenue Arts Festival - Oxford Stage, corner of Oxford and Park
August 4, 2012: GenJam and I played a set for the Park Ave Festival Saturday morning. I lived in the Roosevelt when I moved to Rochester in 1980, which happens to be at that intersection, so it was a bit nostalgic.
TEDx Binghamton -
GenJam's Journey: from Technology to Music
March 11, 2012, 2:00 PM:
I gave a demo/talk for the TEDx event at SUNY Binghamton.
I attempted to play two tunes, explain how it works, and describe the
journey(s) we've taken over the years.
I went a little long, but it was a great experience,
and the Binghamton folks did a fine job on the video.
- Rochester International Council
Sunday, May 6, 2012 5:00 PM:
RIC Annual Dinner
at Daisy Flower Mill.
RIT Brick City Festival
Friday, October 15, 2010, 3:15 - 3:45 PM:
Reception in the Golisano Atrium (see photo at right)
- Imagine RIT
May 1, 2010, all day:
GenJam and I performed on the second floor landing of the Golisano Atrium
from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
Yup, seven-hour gigs are no problem!
This year featured a new
developed by Jarrod Parker, a student
in the winter quarter Innovation and Invention course, which renders
GenJam's and my notes in a real-time
annimation so that our conversations can be seen as well as heard.
- Rochester International Council:
March 26, 2010, 5:30 - 8:30 PM:
Wine tasting fundraiser
at the Strathallan.
- Information Technology Commencement Reception/Dinner
Friday, May 22, 2009, 5:30 - 7:30 PM, between Convocation and Commencement
in the Clark Gym
- RIT Trustee Meeting and Alumni Event
July 11, 2008, at the
Computer History Museum
in Mountain View, CA.
This venue was especially appropriate for a GenJam performance,
given the vintage nature of GenJam's current computing platform,
as described above!
- Imagine RIT: Innovation +
May 3, 2008, all day:
GenJam and I performed in the Golisano Atrium from 10:00 AM to around 2:30.
At that point, we dashed over to the Dyer Art Center to play
at 3:30 for a reception before the awards ceremony for
the third annual Digital Arts Competition.
- President Destler's Inauguration: Gordon Field House
Friday, November 9, 2007, 3:00 - 5:00 PM:
GenJam and I helped welcome RIT's new president by performing a tune
as part of the inauguration ceremony (see photo by Sue Weisler at left)
and then providing "ear candy" for the reception.
For a recording, check out the
and move the progress bar to the 33:00-minute
mark for our "musical interlude" in the ceremony.
- Go Tech!
Saturday, October 13, 2007, 1:00 - 3:00 PM:
Exhibition in the Fireside Lounge at RIT
- Dickinson College: Carlisle, PA
Tuesday, October 2, 2007: Math/CS Chat at 3:00 PM
Concert at 7:30 PM, both at the Depot
- Digital Rochester
September 4, 2007, 5:30 - 8:00 PM: Reception in the Golisano Atrium
- Project Lead the Way Summer Training Institute
July 17, 2007, 6:00 - 8:00 PM: Reception at the RIT Inn
July 31, 6:00 - 8:00 PM: Reception at the RIT Inn
- Digital Arts Competition:
Golisano College Atrium
Friday, May 11, 2007, 5:00 - 7:00 PM
- CCSCNE Conference: Golisano Building
Friday, April 20, 2007, 7:00 - 9:00 PM:
Reception in the Golisano Atrium
- NYSCATE Annual Conference: Golisano Building
Sunday, November 19, 2006, 6:30 - 10:00 PM:
Reception in the Golisano Atrium
- Hamilton College: Clinton, NY -
Concert and Talk
Thursday, November 16, 2006, 4:15 - 5:45 PM
The Hamilton students created the
Poster At Right
for the event.
- Starry Nites Coffee House:
696 University Avenue, "in the point of the Flatiron Building"
Thursday, June 1, 2006, 8:00 - 10:00 PM
Friday, July 21, 9:00 - 11:00 PM
- Susquehanna University:
Selinsgrove, PA - Concert and talk
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
- Earthtones Coffee House:
1217 Bay Road, Webster, just north of Empire Blvd.
March 16, 2006, 7:30 - 9:30 PM
- Goldsmiths College, London:
Live Algorithms for Music (LAM)
Concert and Plenary Talk
December 19-20, 2005
- ACM SIGITE 2005: Conference Reception
October 20, 2005, 6:00 - 8:00 PM, NJIT Campus, Newark, New Jersey
- Onandaga Community College: College Hour Concert and Master Class
at OCC in Syracuse
September 26, 2005, 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM in Storer Auditorium
See a brief local news story
from WSYR TV, complete with really unfortunate pun.
Publicity (Radio, TV, Print)
GenJam has attracted some media attention over the years, which includes:
- a fun conversation with British puzzle master Chris Maslanka at the beginning of
The Robot Composer,
a BBC 3 "Sunday Feature," broadcast on August 31, 2003. Also interviewed
for the programme (note British spelling) were
Douglas Hofstadter and Marvin Minsky.
GenJam is keeping some heavy company!!!
- my participation in
a BBC 4 radio programme
on evolutionary computation,
which you can hear by visiting
Peter Bentley's Web site
in November, 2004, with colleague Elouise Oyzon on the WXXI/NPR show
What the Tech,
which is currently in hiatus
an interview at GECCO-2000
in Las Vegas, which appeared on the Spanish television program Redes
a live interview on the BBC with Julian Sands
a delightful article
in the December 6, 1997, issue of The Economist
an article on GenJam, which
appeared in the European edition of Time Magazine
a nicely done excerpt from an article titled
Geek Laboratories, which appeared in RIT's Reporter Magazine in 2007
an interview in Avant,
a British magazine on jazz, improvisation and contemporary classical music
that appeared in Business Week
on the Generation 5 Web site
In the summer of 2003, my friend and colleague Jay Jackson and his wife
Jiu Li graciously recorded and produced a 15-minute DVD of GenJam and me
tunes while I wandered around the New City Art Gallery in Easthampton, MA.
Jiu Li's camera work adds much-needed visual interest (see image at right),
and Jay did a great job mixing and producing the final product.
The clams I hit are all mine...
I've compressed the video to a 17.4 mb
Quicktime movie, which eventually will download
if you're patient.
The three tunes are:
Bb Demo Blues, a simple arrangement that I often use to demonstrate
GenJam's abilities to take solo choruses, trade fours and collectively
improvise with me.
Open Wide, my scaled-back arrangement of a great Don Ellis
big band chart.
Milestones, the mid-60's modal Miles Davis tune, which I do in 7.
Several years ago (January, 2005) I made my students record GenJam and me
as a mixing exercise for my Digital Audio and Computer Music class.
Each student had to record a complete tune,
with GenJam and the rhythm section on a stereo pair (left and right)
coming directly from the tone generator,
and the trumpet recorded with one or more mics (their choice) at the same time.
As the alleged talent, I did my best to nail the first take,
which I pretty much did, but
I hit at least one clam on each tune (only once on purpose)
to give them some experience editing in a correction.
The goal was to mix the "live" trumpet track(s) to blend nicely with the pre-mixed
synthesized tracks from the tone generator,
which is more difficult than you might think.
The results were mixed, so to speak,
but here are some tunes that came out pretty well:
Gerry Mulligan's chart for Miles Davis's Birth of the Cool band,
produced by Dave Duncan
A 5/4 Bossa I wrote to commemorate the passing of a family cat,
produced by Nattapong Ratanapongsakorn
I Dream of Jeannie:
My arrangement of Hugo Montenegro's theme for the old
TV sitcom, produced by Ryan Peterson
A Gato Barbieri tune from his soundtrack for Last Tango in Paris,
the notorious Marlon Brando film ("Bring me da buddah!"), produced by Rod Razavi
A classic Tina Brooks tune from the Blue Note vaults,
produced by Dereck Padden
A Hank Levy tune for the Don Ellis Orchestra,
produced by Regan Messenger
In 2001 I composed and recorded two demo tunes that appeared on the
CD-ROM accommpanying the book,
Creative Evolutionary Systems,
edited by Peter Bentley and David Corne, which includes a chapter I contributed
The tunes are
Lady Bug, which uses the chords to Tadd Dameron's
Lady Bird, and
The Rake, which is named for the garden implement
that always comes to mind when I play the chord changes I used for this tune.
I also composed a minor blues line at the request of Robert Rowe,
which was intended for the CD accompanying his book,
Machine Musicianship, in which he discussed GenJam.
Here's How, is a musical answer to the question
I get all the time, "Well, how does it sound?"
For yet another sound sample, check out our arrangement of the
Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozzo tune,
Manteca which features GenJam and me trading eights.
Finally, I've ripped Analog Blues, an original track from the 1996
which is featured at the end of this page, so scroll down and check it out!
The papers and other stuff below cover most of my work on GenJam from an academic perspective.
For a more complete set of downloads of the GenJam papers, go my space on
Evolutionary Computer Music:
I co-edited a book with Eduardo Reck Miranda
for Springer, which was released in April, 2007
(available at Amazon).
I contributed two chapters, Evolutionary Computation for Musical Tasks,
which expands the survey of EC-based systems I did for GECCO, and
Genetic Algorithms for Improvisation: GenJam,
which features the definitive description of how GenJam works today
and how it evolved to that point.
Springer's Web page
on the book for more information.
I once again gave a tutorial on Evolutionary Music at
in Washington, DC, on Sunday morning, June 26, 2005.
The slides appeared in the Tutorial Proceedings, and I've prepared a
to provide references to the example systems I surveyed in the tutorial.
GenJam and I performed again at the conference's opening reception
on Sunday evening, June 26.
I gave a tutorial on Evolutionary Music at
in Seattle on June 27, 2004.
GenJam and I also performed at the conference's opening reception.
The Virtual Quintet performed in concert at the 5th
International Conference on Generative Arts
in Milan in December, 2002.
I also presented a paper at the conference,
GenJam in Transition: From Genetic Jammer to Generative Jammer,
which considered GenJam as a Generative Arts system.
The Virtual Quintet performed for the Opening Reception of the 3rd
Conference on Information Technology Curriculum
in Rochester in September, 2002.
I also presented a paper
GenJam: Evolutionary Computation Gets a Gig,
which gives a fairly recent overview of how GenJam works.
The Virtual Quintet performed for the Opening Reception of the 2001
Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference
in San Francisco on July 8 to help launch the new book,
Creative Evolutionary Systems (see below for links).
I also presented a paper at the July 7 Workshop on
Non-routine Design with Evolutionary Systems.
The paper didn't make it into the proceedings, so I present it here:
Autonomous GenJam: Eliminating the Fitness Bottleneck by Eliminating Fitness.
Creative Evolutionary Systems:
As I mentioned in the Sound Samples section,
I contributed a chapter titled "GenJam: Evolution of a Jazz Improviser"
to Peter Bentley
and David Corne's book, which was launched in July at GECCO-2001.
This chapter presents the definitive explanation of how the pre-autonomous
version of GenJam worked.
GAVAM @ GECCO-2000:
I presented a paper and played several tunes for a workshop
on "Genetic Algorithms in Visual Art and Music," which was part of the
Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference in Las Vegas in July, 2000.
The paper was titled "GenJam in Perspective:
A Tentative Taxonomy for GA Music and Art Systems,"
and it has been reprinted in Volume 36, issue 1 of Leonardo
(first issue of 2003), so I cannot include it on this Web site.
SMC 99: I presented a paper on human
at the 1999 IEEE Systems, Man and Cybernetics Conference in Tokyo.
The paper discusses the interaction between GenJam and its mentor,
the human performer, and the audience.
ICMC 98: I did a live demonstration of
at the 1998 International Computer Music Conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
This paper, from the Proceedings, goes into some depth about
how GenJam trades fours by focusing on an exchange between me and GenJam.
It includes a sound sample of my four and GenJam's response.
- ASA 97: I was invited to participate in a computer jazz
improvisation session at the 134th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America
in San Diego in December, 1997.
The session featured technical presentations, with a concert following the
In my presentation, I gave an overview of GenJam and focused recent enhancements.
At ASA's request I wrote a
geared to the media, which gives a general overview of GenJam.
- Paper given at
(Soft Computing Conference) describing updates
to GenJam and initial attempts to train a neural network fitness function
- Summary of demonstration given at
which introduces audience-mediated performance
Original paper given at
(International Computer Music Conference)
(Postscript, 1.1 MB)
The Virtual Quintet is certainly
available for bookings, and is especially effective in background
and mid-ground settings like receptions, dinners, parties and coffee houses.
If you want a live jazz quintet, can only afford a single musician,
and don't want to settle for a pianist, harpist, guitarist,
or (heaven forbid) a DJ, give me a call (585-301-8367) or an email
I also do a fun presentation/demo for clubs and organizations, and
I have done several gigs where the quintet played during a pre-dinner
reception and I explained the technology in an after-dinner talk.
The following lists are a representative sample of the gigs we've played.
GenJam and I have performed in concert at:
Live Algorithms for Music Concert (London)
International Conference on Generative Arts (Milan)
Artificial Life Concert (Toronto)
Studio of Electronic Music (Hartford, Connecticut)
IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center (Yorktown Heights, NY)
International Computer Music Conference (Aarhus, Denmark; Banff, Alberta;
Ann Arbor, MI)
Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference
(Las Vegas, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, DC)
Acoustical Society of America (San Diego)
Rochester Fringe Festival
Park Avenue Arts Festival
WGMC-FM Meet-the-Artist Concert
Onondaga Community College - Arts Across Campus
Day of Brass
RIT Brick City Festival
RITSMA Tuesday at the Clock (seen above in October, 2002)
RIT Open Houses (we perform from 8:00 to 9:00 AM as up to 2500 potential
students and family members get settled in RIT's Gordon Fieldhouse for the
Admissions presentation). Large, captive audiences are great!
Starry Nites Coffee House
Earthtone's Coffee House
First Unitarian Church
Dynamic Recording Studio
Blue Sunday Bookstore and Coffeehouse
Village Green Bookstore
The Virtual Quintet has performed at well over a hundred private
receptions for (among others):
Rochester International Council
Project Lead the Way
ACM SIGITE (Rochester and Newark, NJ)
International Fibonacci Association
Society for IT Education
Association for Computing Machinery (San Jose and Rochester)
IEEE Computer Society
New York State Association for Computers and Technology in Education (NYSCATE)
Insights Community College Conference
New York State Technical Educator's Conference
RIT Information Technology Education Conference
RIT Alumni Association (Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA, and Rochester)
U of Rochester Computer Science Department
The Virtual Quintet has appeared at several venues in the Rochester area, including:
Oak Hill Country Club
Locust Hill Country Club
George Eastman House
Strasenburgh Planetarium, Rochester Museum and Science Center
Rochester City Hall
Bausch and Lomb world headquarters
Daisy Flour Mill
Shadow Lake Golf Club
Eagle Vail Golf Club
Harbor Town Belle party boat
Golden Ponds Restaurant
GenJam as Recording Star
I completed a CD project in 1996 (cover image at left)
featuring GenJam in the Virtual Quintet, which consists of
on trumpet/flugelhorn and GenJam on tenor sax and other instruments.
The material is mostly jazz, ranging from straight ahead to (please don't
gag, it's just a term, not a way of life) "new age."
GenJam and I trade choruses and fours, and I, at least,
have a good time anticipating and responding to GenJam's ideas.
Check out the liner notes
from the CD booklet for more details.
Also check out the
written by Jeff Spevak in Rochester's Democrat and Chronicle.
The CDs are still available, and here's an MP3 sample track, specifically an
Analog Blues, which is named after the
instruments I used in the arrangement.
For more info on the CD, including a list of tunes, better quality
sound samples, and ordering information, visit GenJam's page at
Dynamic Recording Studios.
The CD also can be ordered through the
Electronic Music Foundation.
In the Rochester area, the CD is available at the new Barnes and Noble @ RIT
(the RIT Bookstore) and several area music stores, including
Barnes and Noble in Pittsford, CD Exchange, and Record Archive.
Al Biles <
Last modified: April 30, 2012