Fort Worth, TX
Algorithmic Arts is the business name of independent software developer John Dunn.
The worlds of art and science have been bridged by sound artist and software developer John Dunn, who has been a pioneer in computer music and art since the 70's when he combined microcomputers and analog sound and video synthesizers as a graduate student at the Art Institute of Chicago. where he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree, mentored by Generative Systems founder, Sonia Sheridan.
Dunn was one of the early programmers for Atari video games, and he developed the first ever professional paint program for a microcomputer, Cromemco's "Slidemaster," released in 1981. He went on to write a ground breaking professional paint program for the IBM-PC, called "Lumena," and founded Time Arts Inc. of Santa Rosa, California, to market "Computer Tools for Artists."
In 1986 Dunn wrote one of the first algorithmic composing programs for MIDI, "MusicBox," which was released with full source code to the public domain two years later. In 1989 he expanded MusicBox to include algorithms to convert DNA and protein genetic sequences into music, and released it as KMM (Kinetic Music Machine).
In 1995 on a 2 year Research Fellowship in the Arts grant from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Dunn reworked the basic concepts of KMM - generative algorithms and functions represented by interactive, game-like graphical objects - into a more comprehensive algorithmic art workstation that produced graphics and wordplay as well as MIDI music. This was released as KAM ("Kinetic Art Machine").
Since 1996 Dunn has continued to produce interactive algorithmic art software under the Internet company name, "Algorithmic Arts."
In 2002, after developing "SoftStep," which grew out of and greatly expanded the capability of KAM, I began to lay out the architecture for a more obsolete-proof meta program for algorithmic art. "Meta" because I wanted it to be more of an environment for creating algorithms and generative processes than an end product to use premade ones. And "obsolete proof" in that it would utilize a generalized data base to define the modules and their connections, so the program could be revised and expanded indefinitely without ever obsoleting the user's prior work.
For this project I reached out to friends, colleagues, and users of my previous software, to provide input and wish lists. Three in particular have provided such extensive contributions that their role often has been as much collaborator as consultant. These are long time friends and colleagues, artist Jamy Sheridan and composer Dr. Warren Burt, who provided (and continue to provide) deep conceptual knowledge for algorithms in graphics and music respectively; and biologist and my wife, genetics professor Dr. Mary Anne Clark, who contributed deep background for the DNA and protein bio sequencing.
ArtWonk became, to me, a sort of "Die Kunst der Fuge," a project that distilled all I had learned over the years about algorithmic art processes, from tape splicing and looping in the 60s to modular sound and video synthesizers in the 70s through Lumena and MusicBox in the 80s to KMM and KAM in the 90s and on to BankStep and SoftStep at the turn of the century.
ArtWonk was to be my last major program, not because I was finished programming but because it was designed from the start to be less an end product than an evolving, extensible language-like workspace. Now, over 10 years after 1st release, I'm continuing to expand and update ArtWonk while maintaining user's compatibility with their earlier work files. As long as users keep sending me feedback and suggestions for new functions, I expect to continue with my schedule of roughly two minor updates a year and one major update every two years.
Sometimes plans don't work out as expected. Due to an unexpected loss of my vision in April, 2015, I am unable to continue software development, so now there are no further upgrades planned. Because of this, I am releasing the final version of ArtWonk as freeware, and Algorithmic Arts has transitioned from a commercial small business to a not for profit support site.
Having gotten my start with music concrete in the 60s with a tape splicer and a bank of tape recorders, I've never been a traditional music maker. From splicing tape I went on to the big modular video and sound synthesizers. What fascinated me even more than the unique sounds and abstract moving images these monsters were capable of was the sequencing and control of them, with their dozens of knobs and switches to manipulate in real time. And of course the ultimate control module was the personal computer that was just emerging in the late 70s.
I learned to program PCs as a student at the Art Institute of Chicago under the tutelage and encouragement of Prof. Sonia Sheridan, the visionary founder of Generative Systems, who provided a kit computer, lab space to build it and connect it to an analog synthesizer, and a Teaching Assistant stipend that enabled me to focus full time on the project. I was to build it over the summer and teach it in the fall. "But I don't know anything about computers," I warned her. And smiling Yoda-like she replied, "But you will learn."
Most modular synthesizers, if they had a sequencer at all, had only one or two which were rarely used for anything beyond riffs and arpeggios, with the synths mostly controlled by a keyboard. I never wanted a keyboard but I did want as many sequencers and logic modules as I could get. To me, this is where the magic happened, where these machines could go that human players could not. By setting up multiple banks of sequencers and clocks and other logic, with sequencers stepping other sequencers and in turn being controlled by them in a giant feedback loop I could build the most amazing fugue like constructs, that went on and on, Zen-like, a river of flowing sound, always changing, ever the same.
First with the modular synthesizers and later with software, I found it far more interesting to explore this new musical space unbound by a tradition based on human capability. And in listening to these super sequences for hours on end as I programmed and reprogrammed them, they revealed a different musicality, an unexpected subtlety and, to me, beauty.
So I've pursued a sound that is frankly mechanical. Machine music. Mostly I keep the rhythm rigidly unvarying as a lattice for the pitches, which impart a sense of virtual rhythm. Often I play two voices off each other, using various types of delay and wandering pointers to provide a sense of space, but otherwise treating them as a single voice. Pitches are usually data derived. DNA and proteins, pixels from image scans, star charts, fractals and random generators. I pay attention to the physics of sound but not to musical tradition, Western or otherwise. So there will be harmony of a sort, even chords; but not chord progressions.
It has only been in the last generation that music has become free of human player constraints, so we explorers of this new territory are just at the threshold. It's not so different from the state of aviation at the time of Kitty Hawk: the bounds of what was possible have dissolved, but we have yet to learn quite what that means or how to make it fit into society at large. I am well aware that my musical efforts are as awkward and primitive as those first flights, but I am pleased to have developed some of the new tools and to have participated in the launching.
Software written by John Dunn
Music written by John Dunn
Just for fun: An interview about the Atari Video game days from Game Chambers.
Archive of download site links & certifications of no virus, no adware, no spyware in our downloads.
© 1996-2014 by John Dunn and Algorithmic Arts. All Rights Reserved.
Algorithmic Arts logo created by Jamy Sheridan from original design by Pierre A Gauthier and André Bazinet