Entrepreneur, composer and writer Ed Rex launched Jukedeck last month. A choristor and choral scholar at King’s Cambridge, where he later read Music, Ed’s pieces have been published by Novello and Boosey & Hawkes. Ed also writes about about arts and technology for The Spectator.

What is Jukedeck?

Jukedeck is responsive music software – a computer program that writes its own music, with the aim being to provide music that the listener can control. It creates an unlimited amount of unique music, in a variety of styles, that is generated on the spot by the software.

In the long run, the idea is to enable the music to be altered as its being generated so that it responds to its surroundings. So if you were  listening to it as you’re running, and you start to run faster, the music would speed up or get more intense.

How did you come up with the idea?

While I was at University, I started thinking that it should be possible to get computers to write decent tunes, but I didn’t get round to giving it a go until I left. My girlfriend was spending a year at Harvard, and, while I was visiting her, I went along to one of her computer science lectures. I’d never done any programming before – no one had even really mentioned that it was a thing back in England – and I immediately fell in love with it. So I got to work on Jukedeck straight away, and have been working on it since then.

How does Jukedeck work, both from a programming and music perspective?

I’ve essentially been trying to codify the process that goes on in a composer’s brain when they write music. When you’re at the piano, you make thousands of decisions about where to go next: some, like choices about overarching structure, you’re conscious of; loads more you don’t even notice. Jukedeck works by taking these decisions and putting them in the hands of a computer. All the elements of music that a composer considers – form, harmony, rhythm etc. – the software makes decisions about all of those. Because there are so many decisions to make, and each decisions is based in part on an element of randomness, every track is unique.

So, to take a really simple example, if by some miracle it were writing Beethoven’s 5th, it might choose a first note, decide to repeat that, decide to repeat it again, and choose to follow that with a descending third. At that point, with several possible ways to proceed, it would choose to look back at what it had done and repeat that whole motif at a lower pitch.

Jukedeck Beta

Do you see there being a place for classical music on Jukedeck’s genre list? 

Absolutely, and that’s something I’m hoping to embark on soon. The problem is, of course, that within each musical genre there’s such a wide variety of styles that it’s difficult to decide which style to focus on first – and classical music is perhaps the genre of which this is the truest. But I’m really keen to give it a go, and I certainly want classical music to feature at some point.

Do you use any classical music apps? Do you think there is space for more? 

Yes – I use ForScore and Notion. ForScore is the best iPad sheet music app I’ve come across – I’ve got a bunch of Bach keyboard pieces on there and it’s regularly open on my piano. Notion I only just downloaded, but it seems great – it’s essentially a Sibelius for iPad, and I’m pretty excited about using it for jotting down musical ideas on the go. Before I found it I had to resort to making my own manuscript paper in a drawing app, which never quite did the job.

I’m sure there’s space for more classical music apps. I think you can break them down into three categories: composition, performance, and discovery. Hundreds of apps have been pouring into the discovery category for the last few years – but I think there’s a lot more to come that will really bring music composition and performance onto mobiles and tablets.

You described the responsive aspect of Jukedeck in Wired as having a composer following you around. If you had to have a composer following you around, who would you choose and why? 

I’d love to say Bach or Debussy, but to be honest it would have to be Hans Zimmer – he’d really make waiting for the tube a load more exciting.