Code as music notation. Examples or thoughts?

Hi all,

A colleague and I have been discussing code and licensing, and I came to think about code which encodes music and its status as music. Do you have any thoughts or pointers to resources on this subject? Anything regarding code as notation for electronic music really.

My thoughts are essentially that since music notation is already instruction based with varying degrees of rigour, detail and randomness, it would not be strange to consider code (e.g. a SuperCollider program) as the notation of a piece of music, and therefore also in some sense the piece of music itself. An example of a state in between music notation and code would be Wolff’s Prose Collection. Those pieces would produce quite different music each time they are played/interpreted, but they are still the same music in some sense, due to the definition of the piece being its notation.

Therefore, code which is music could fall under the same copyright as other kinds of music notation, with all the consequences that brings.

Would love to hear your thoughts!


Therefore, code which is music could fall under the same copyright as other kinds of music notation, with all the consequences that brings.

Which legislation are you in?

Swedish law, although I think international differences are interesting as well.

If I understand Austrian copyright law correctly, computer code (both in
binary and source code form) is protected by it as long as is constitues
a work of art as defined by the same law.
I suppose swedish law is very similar in that regard, as they are both
under the umbrella of the European copyright law. Others might have more
detailed and qualified information though.

As a jazz musician who works with a lot of great musicians from different cultures who can’t read/write music notation, I feel obliged to chime in here to make the possibly obvious point that using writing or a score to define the value of an artwork is a western imperialist/colonialist phenomenon and in my opinion needs to be criticised and deconstructed every time it turns up.

With that said, I understand the strategic value of arguing that code is a score, so that electronic composers’ music is protected by music rights laws, but on the other hand it kinda feels like betraying all of the great musicians whose work isn’t seen as art because it’s not written down.

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I agree that the western primacy of the score needs to be questioned. I don’t mean to imply that the notation of music increases its value. My intention is rather to question the separation of code from its execution and its output, as is usually done when licensing software, when it comes to software that is music.

I don’t think the protection of non-notated music is in question; it has, AFAIK, the same protection under copyright law as does notated music (if maybe harder to prove), electronic or not.

Even outside the legal aspects, I find it fascinating to assign artistic merit to code and the execution of code, not just what results from its execution. Other strategies for this include code poetry and esoteric programming languages, but we also have programs like Electric Sheep which I would consider one with its visual output. I think music is interesting from this perspective since music is so very broad, especially after the 20th century. Now I want to deepen my understanding of the nuances, artistic, legal and philosophical. Hope that makes sense!

Jordan via scsynth skrev: (8 december 2021 17:46:14 CET)

I’m currently reading a book called Programmed Visions by Wendy Hui Kyong Chun that goes in to this. She goes into this a lot in the first few chapters and the bibliography is full of other papers and books on this topic. The book is about 10 years old now, but still I believe the trend is actually the opposite, to consider source, execution, and output as ultimately the same thing.

She also discusses the trend away from code as public domain in the early days of computing toward copyright-able and considered as IP.

Ahh yes, I started reading that but never finished, thanks for reminding me, I’ll try to get back to it over the holidays.