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This page Aleatoricism is part of the randomness series. Photo: Chimpanzee Typing (1907) - New York Zoological Society
This page Aleatoricism is part of the randomness series.
Photo: Chimpanzee Typing (1907) - New York Zoological Society

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Aleatoricism is the creation of art by chance, exploiting the principle of randomness. The word derives from the Latin word alea, the rolling of dice. It should not be confused with improvisation.



Aleatoric methods have been used in artistic composition for thousands of years, and were popularized in the early 20th century by the Dada movement. Leonardo Da Vinci said, "Look at walls spotted with various stains or with a mixture of different kinds of stones. If you are about to invent some scenes, you will be able to see in it a resemblance to various different landscapes adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, with valleys and various groups of hills." "The artist Wong Mo excelled in splattering ink to paint landscapes. . . . There was a good deal of wildness in him, and he loved wine. Whenever he wished to paint a hanging scroll, he would first drink, then after he was drunk he would splatter ink. Laughing or singing, he would kick at it with his feet or rub it with his hands. . . . According to the forms and appearances, he would make mountains and rocks, clouds and water."

Using chance in artisic composition is making a remarkable impact in the 21st Century as artists discover the potential of aleatoric principles combined with new technology.[citation needed] Digital cameras, Photoshop, and computer generated random art programs along with wildly improvisational use of cutting edge materials and equipment have opened up a new world of possibilities for today's art students and emerging artists. A group of international artists have formed a group called MAMA, or the Movement of Aleatoric Modern Artists, a worldwide collaboration of 21 century chance based artists who promote the principles and techniques of aleatoric methods in the execution of contemporary art in modern times.

Andrej Bauer invented the "Random Art" program (1998) which has been generating aleatoric art works since it's inception. The artist is actually a computer program, which generates artworks complete with titles entirely by itself, and every day new pictures are presented. One of the newest applications of this approach is a Dynamic Painting by San Base. See also: Automatic drawing, Surrealist automatism, Pareidolia, and Apophenia


An example of aleatory writing is the automatic writing of the French Surrealists involving dreams, et cetera. The French literary group Oulipo for example saw no merit in aleatory work and its members altogether eliminated chance and randomness from their writing, substituting potentiality as in Raymond Queneau's Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes (Hundred Thousand Billion Poems).

Luke Rhinehart's novel The Dice Man tells the story of a psychiatrist named Luke Rhinehart who, feeling bored and unfulfilled in life, starts making decisions about what to do based on a roll of a die.

Charles Hartman discusses several methods of automatic generation of poetry in his book The Virtual Muse.


aleatoric music

Pierre Boulez applied the term aleatoric music to his own pieces to distinguish them from the indeterminate music of John Cage, though both are often described as aleatory. While Boulez purposefully composed his pieces to allow the performer certain liberties with regard to the sequencing and repetition of parts, Cage often composed through the application of chance operations without allowing the performer liberties. Another prolific aleatory music composer is Karlheinz Stockhausen. Qubais Reed Ghazala, founder of the circuit-bending chance-music movement, is an important contemporary chance artist also pioneering aleatoric work in visual media (original techniques in suminagashi, dye migration, aperture shift photography).


In film-making, there are several avant-garde examples; Andy Voda's "Chance Chants" (1979) was created completely using various chance operations (coin flip, choosing words out of a hat, a recorded "telephone game", the vagaries of tracing over drawings) in the decision-making for each creative choice. It was a three part film, the first part being a hand-made computer film, the second a visualization of Allison Knowles'[1] computer poem "House of Dust", and the third a visualization of evolution through a children's telephone game.

Fred Camper's SN (1984, first screening 2002) uses coin-flipping to determine which three of 18 possible reels to screen and what order they should go in (4896 permutations).

Barry Salt, now better known as a film scholar, is known to have made a film, Permutations, six reels long which takes the word aleatory quite literally by including a customized die for the projectionist to roll to determine the reel order (720 permutations).

Grant Patten utilizes an I Ching-inspired aleatory method to predict the date of his death in his short animation "The (Rough) Date of My Death" (2007).

See also

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