Al Biles

Prof. Al Biles playing with GenJam at the Little Theater for Fringe Festival.

- by Alyssa Rodriguez

RIT Professor and jazz musician, Professor Al Biles recently performed at the First Niagara Fringe Fest with his musical software program GenJam. A project 20 years in the making and still evolving, GenJam uses genetic algorithms to improvise jazz music.

In a way the ultimate collaborator, GenJam "hears" the performer's musical ideas and mutates them using various functions (i.e. inversion, retrograde) to create its own musical material. "It can't play a theoretical wrong note (unlike me)," says Prof. Biles. While not controlled by the performer in performance, GenJam can be trained to perform favorable melodic material, so that it performs solos to the performer's liking. "It's a very safe improviser; it derives its notes directly from the rhythm section's chords'. I want it to always sound competent and right," says Prof. Biles. When originally developed in 1994, GenJam could only play the blues, a basic and standard chord progression. Now, it knows 18 chords of varying complexity, and can play more than 330 tunes. "GenJam is creative because it makes me more creative," says Prof. Biles. "Creativity is in the collaboration."

To read more about GenJam, go to: