Interactive Music and Synchronous Reactive Programming

Bertrand Petit1 and Manuel Serrano2

The Art, Science, and Engineering of Programming, 2021, Vol. 5, Issue 1, Article 2

Submission date: 2019-09-27
Publication date: 2020-06-09
Full text: PDF


This paper presents Skini, a programming methodology and an execution environment for interactive structured music. With this system, the composer programs his scores in the HipHop.js synchronous reactive language. They are then executed, or played, in live concerts, in interaction with the audience. The system aims at helping composers to find a good balance between the determinism of the compositions and the nondeterminism of the interactions with the public. Each execution of a Skini score yields to a different but aesthetically consistent interpretation.

This work raises many questions in the musical fields. How to combine composition and interaction? How to control the musical style when the audience influences what is to play next? What are the possible connections with generative music? These are important questions for the Skini system but they are out of the scope of this paper that focuses exclusively on the computer science aspects of the system. From that perspective, the main questions are how to program the scores and in which language? General purpose languages are inappropriate because their elementary constructs (i.e., variables, functions, loops, etc.) do not match the constructions needed to express music and musical constraints. We show that synchronous programming languages are a much better fit because they rely on temporal constructs that can be directly used to represent musical scores and because their malleability enables composers to experiment easily with artistic variations of their initial scores.

The paper mostly focuses on scores programming. It exposes the process a composer should follow from his very first musical intuitions up to the generation of a musical artifact. The paper presents some excerpts of the programming of a classical music composition that it then precisely relates to an actual recording. Examples of techno music and jazz are also presented, with audio artifact, to demonstrate the versatility of the system. Finally, brief presentations of past live concerts are presented as an evidence of viability of the system.

  1., INRIA, France

  2., INRIA, France