Algorithms are everywhere today, and at the same time they are hidden. We perceive them when we are presented with “related” items of interest in an online store or on a social media site, whenever we query a simple term on the web. Nonetheless, we would find it hard to exactly describe how any of these algorithms work. We take them for granted, accept that we are subject to their analysis and decision-making.

How can art contribute to understand the increasing influence of algorithms and translate them into aesthetic positions?

Algorithms have been used in music even before the emergence of “computer music” in the 1950s, but today we witness an entire new wave of interest, reflected in festivals, genres, publications and research projects. Interactive and real-time control of compositions has been possible already for two decades, so the reason must be sought elsewhere. It is the very notion of algorithms that is shifting. They are no longer an abstract formalisation, the image of thought, immaterial, static and timeless. Instead of being givens, algorithms emerge from artistic praxis and experimentation, they become entangled in material processes that produce space and time.

The project “Algorithms That Matter” (Almat) is grounded in this new idea that algorithms are agents that co-determine the boundary between an artistic machine or “apparatus” and the object produced through this machine. The central question is: How do algorithmic processes emerge and structure the praxis of experimental computer music? The hypothesis is that, instead of being separated from the composer—generators and transformers of infinite shapes—they exhibit a specific force that retroacts and changes the very praxis of composition and performance.

A series of methodical artistic experiments was carried out by the project team together with guest composers. Over defined periods of time, they developed series of interrelated sound pieces. The work process was observed and transcribed into complementary forms of presentation and discourse on which future research projects can build. This includes concerts and exhibitions, this online public “continuous exposition”, and gatherings and symposia that connect researchers across various institutions in Europe. The project not only aims at extending the praxis of experimental computer music using algorithmic processes, but also at contributing to the scope and methodology of artistic research, introducing a field of research so far disregarded.

Almat was hosted by the Institute of Electronic Music and Acoustics (IEM) at the University of Music and Performing Arts Graz, where it was integrated with ongoing research and teaching and performing activities. It seeks not only to be visible in the related research community, but also to reach out to young researchers and a general audience across different fields, raising the awareness of artistic research praxis.