Emergence, in the computational world, is the phenomena by which data that is output exceeds the data used as the input. It is the results of algorithms interacting, statistical data being mapped to parametric representations… sets of probabilistic projections, tendency masks, mathematical equations, formulae or even ideas and concepts… that engender something “new”. They generate something new with regard to the fact that the results are not recognizable as being derived from their source. Asimov described it so masterfully and yet so fancifully when he called it the “ghost in the machine”.
One could say that stream of consciousness improvisation is the pursuit of a form of emergence as the players let go of conscious volition and allow themselves to perform without intention. Sometimes this results in music that is surprisingly unexpected to all involved from the audience to the performers themselves. Evolution is also an emergent activity. Human DNA in its immense number of possible combinations occasionally, yet consistently, comes up with new and unexpected aspects to our humanity.
So, what causes emergence? This question is as basic as the question of life itself. For the pragmatic thinker, emergence and life in general is simply the random results of circumstances. To a religiously oriented person life comes from God. Perhaps these perspectives are not mutually exclusive and are simply different perspectives on the same, perhaps incomprehensible, phenomena. The fact is that sometimes emergent properties occur in ways that seem to be completely unrelated to their source… so much so that they appear to be magically or divinely influenced. In the least we could say that the origins of emergent phenomena are elusive and perhaps even mysterious. We who are working with artificial intelligence as a basis for musical composition are as miners for this emergent phenomena through our algorithms. We establish conditions where the unexpected occurs and then bring it forth to be experienced.
If we consider this question from the perspective of being conscious creators who have realized that we create our own realities then the idea of emergence takes on a deeper meaning. Perhaps, for instance, ideas of telekinesis are restricted by our ability to accept them as perfectly natural. In such a case, moving data around on sectors of RAM memory or some other storage medium using our intentions alone is feasible. Or, beyond that level, perhaps we realize that there is no computer, there is no air… that we are simply effecting our experience in a way that manifests in whatever form the perceiver within has chosen to believe, explore and so call real.
Regardless of where it comes from and what causes it, emergence is the subject of much research and creativity in the areas of artificial intelligence, cybernetics and computer generated art and music. Such is the basis for all of this composer’s forays into musical composition.