‘He touched a nerve’: how the first piece of AI music was born in 1956 | Electronic music


On the evening of 9 August 1956, a couple of hundred people squeezed into a student union lounge for a concert recital at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, about 130 miles outside Chicago. Student performances didn’t usually attract so many people, but this was an exceptional case, the debut of the Illiac Suite: String Quartet No 4, that a member of the chemistry faculty, Lejaren Hiller Jr, had devised with the school’s one and only computer, the Illiac I.

Decades before today’s artificial intelligence pop stars, Auto-Tune and deepfake compositions was Hiller’s piece, described by the New York Times in his 1994 obituary as “the first substantial piece of music composed on a computer” – and indeed by a computer.

One of the four musicians who performed the piece…



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