GenJam GenJam Logo

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 Ignite presentation 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 TEDx talk 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).

GenJam's current repertoire includes around 300 tunes in a wide variety of jazz-influenced styles, and I play gigs with it, formerly under the billing of the Al Biles Virtual Quintet, but these days, simply as Al Biles and GenJam. For holiday gigs, I've worked up a bunch of Christmas tunes.

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. I hope to publish GenJam as an open source title through the RIT's MAGIC Center in the not-too-distant future.

The other gear I currently 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 - Selected Upcoming and Past Performances

Fringe Festival Logo Mini Maker Faire Logo ImagineFest Logo Al performing at President Destler's inauguration Poster for Hamilton gig

Publicity (Radio, TV, Print)

GenJam has attracted some media attention over the years, which includes:

Recordings

Virtual Quintet at New City Art Gallery

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 playing 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:

Jeru: Gerry Mulligan's chart for Miles Davis's Birth of the Cool band, produced by Dave Duncan
Lovey: 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
Jeanne: 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
Street Singer: A classic Tina Brooks tune from the Blue Note vaults, produced by Dereck Padden
Thetis: 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 on GenJam. 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. The tune, 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 GenJam CD, which is featured at the end of this page, so scroll down and check it out!


Publications

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 Academia.edu.


Tuesday at the Clock

GIGS!!!

GenJam and I are certainly available for bookings. We are 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 (jabics@rit.edu). 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 over the years.

GenJam and I have performed in concert at:

The Virtual Quintet has performed at well over a hundred private receptions for (among others):

Computer History Museum

The Virtual Quintet has appeared at several venues in the Rochester area, including:


GenJam as Recording Star

I completed a CD project in 1996 (cover image at left) featuring GenJam in the Virtual Quintet, which consists of me 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 lovely review written by Jeff Spevak in Rochester's Democrat and Chronicle.

The CDs are still available, and here's an MP3 sample track, specifically an original called 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 < jabics@rit.edu >
Last modified: August 6, 2014