A Musical Suite Composed by an Electronic Brain: Reexamining the Illiac Suite and the Legacy of Lejaren A. Hiller Jr.

  • Tiffany Funk
  • Leonardo Music Journal, December 2018, The MIT Press
  • DOI: 10.1162/lmj_a_01037

Research involving the first musical score composed by a computer

What is it about?

In the evening of August 9th, 1956 on the University of Illinois campus, Lejaren Hiller and research associate Leonard Isaacson debuted the Illiac Suite, a composition for string quartet. It was the first score composed with the first institutionally-owned supercomputer. Their programming feats and the Suite's public reaction tell us a lot about the early days of computers, and also reveals how current digital artworks owe much to these early computational artworks.

Why is it important?

The Illiac Suite is the first computer-generated score, performed on the University of Illinois campus. Lejaren Hiller would go on to found the Experimental Music Studio (EMS), internationally renowned for creative and technological advancements in the field of electroacoustic music.


Tiffany Funk
University of Illinois at Chicago

While the composer Lejaren Hiller Jr. has only recently gained distinction in experimental compositional circles, his accomplishments in programming and performance should be of great interest to contemporary digital artists. His pedagogy and writings are inspirational to those working in the digital arts who strive to build relationships with others through skill-sharing and performance.

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The following have contributed to this page: Tiffany Funk