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A brief History of Chance

Incorporating elements of chance in musical composition and performance is not new: musical dice games date as far back as the late 18th century. Best known of these is the “Musikalisches Würfelspiel,” attributed – perhaps falsely – to Mozart; in it, two standard six-sided dice are used to string together composed phrases in random ways. In the twentieth century, Charles Ives, Pierre Boulez, and Karlheinz Stockhausen all utilized randomness to some degree in their work, mainly by leaving certain aspects of form up to the musician. It was John Cage, though, who pioneered the use of chance elements while actually composing – employing, among other things, the I Ching. In the latter part of the century, Brian Eno pioneered the use of chance elements in the studio, founding Ambient Music along the way. 

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