I've always fancied the idea of an automatic music generator: it turns you into a sort of band leader, but you can tell the (electronic) musicians what to play without having to put up with any backchat, or buy them drinks. A little while ago I mentioned SSEYO's Koan Pro as a way of producing MIDI files. To recap, Koan allows you to create a music track by defining the overall characteristics of the piece and then letting the PC generate the actual notes. I won't go into any great detail, but you can think of Koan as letting you generate instructions for a number of electronic musicians, with each individual musician playing their own particular melody line. This means that the music produced by Koan can be different each time it's played, as you can give each 'virtual musician' a certain amount of choice about the actual notes they play.
Brian Eno, who virtually invented the New Age and Ambient music styles, coined the term 'Generative Music' to describe this kind of music; in fact, he used Koan Pro to produce a recent work -- called, not surprisingly, Generative Music 1. Eno described Koan as "the beginning of a new era in music"; it's certainly no toy, rather a serious and, above all, very sophisticated tool for creating music. My only reservation about the software is that, while it is quite easy to produce a pleasant piece of music, it's difficult to get your head around all the different parameters available in Koan. SSEYO's new software release -- Koan X -- goes a long way towards addressing this problem, as well as adding a few interesting bells and whistles.
Unlike Koan Pro, which provides detailed control of the internal workings of the Koan music engine, Koan X is more of a mixing and production tool, allowing you to take Koan Pro templates and define their stereo position, volume, instrument type and sound. You also have control over the musical behaviour of the icons, how they perform over time, and a number of options for producing output files.
Koan X has a simple drag-and-drop interface that allows you to select one template from a list and then drop it into a two-dimensional Mixing Window. The position of the template icons on this window determines the overall volume and pan position of the generated sound. Clicking on a template icon with the right mouse button lets you change the instrument sound, and mute, solo or copy the template into the Windows clipboard (for pasting back into the same or other Koan X pieces). You can even make the templates drift around the Mixing Window, giving a constantly changing soundscape as the icons' volumes and pan positions change.
You also have basic control over the way each template icon in the Mixing Window behaves over time, using the Mix Window. This floating window has a row of boxes for each template icon in the Mixing Window; when a box is filled in, the icon will play at that time; if it's blank, the icon will be muted. The window has a indicator that shows where the current playback point is in relationship to the total length of the arrangement. Like the icon controls, this can be altered while Koan X is in Play mode, and any changes will take effect after a short processing delay.
The overall musicality of the Koan piece is controlled from the Music panel, which lets you change the underlying scale, scale mode and tempo of the piece. As all these controls operate in real time, they can be used to change the parameters governing the piece when it's playing back. This means that you can alter the feel of the music as it goes along, giving you overall performance control -- like being the 'super' conductor of an electronic orchestra! For instance, you can make the playback sound 'sadder' by switching from a major to a minor mode, more frantic by upping the tempo, and so on. This performance control can also be used when you're 'printing' your Koan composition to a MIDI or WAV file -- that's right, I said WAV file. One of the new features incorporated into Koan X is the ability to directly create audio files from within the application. This lets you incorporate any special features on your soundcard -- such as the AWE32's Sound Fonts -- into your final sound file, so that it can be played by anyone with an MPC soundboard. This is where the real-time control becomes very important, since any changes you make when recording is active will be incorporated into the final file. You can also use the native SKD and SKP files with the Koan players and web browser plug-in to take full advantage of the generative elements of the Koan music process.
Koan X is a particularly easy way of taking advantage of the Koan music creation process and should be tried by anyone who wants to see what's possible with the system. Koan Pro users can also take advantage of the intuitive interface of the new software, by creating 'seed' templates on their editing package and using Koan X to mix them. Koan Pro owners won't be able to use the new features until SSEYO release a new version of Pro software. However, when this happens you'll be able to swap SKD files between both applications, allowing you to generate new templates in Pro, construct your piece in X and then use Pro to tweak the final music file. Koan X comes in three versions: Silver (which is essentially available as shareware), Gold (£16 inc VAT) and Platinum (£33 inc VAT). The Silver version is also available for download from SSEYO's web site (http://www.sseyo.com); the other two versions can be purchased on-line using Uunet Pipex's secure credit card transaction service (The Bureau).
Leighton Buzzard-based Evolution Electronics have just released the latest addition to their range of MIDI and audio sequencers. The new product is called Sound Studio Pro Gold and brings all the different elements of PC-based audio technology together into one comprehensive music package. You can record and play up to 256 tracks of MIDI and up to 16 tracks of stereo digital audio, and auto-accompaniment, chord recognition, score display and printing, and a host of other features are also on offer. One interesting feature is the program's ability to load in any AVI file and play back the audio and MIDI tracks in sync with the picture. This makes it a good choice for developing soundtracks for video, either AVI multimedia or traditional tape-based video -- AVI playback is far more responsive than sync'ing to a timecoded video tape, since the AVI doesn't need to wait for the timecode to settle -- typically, this takes one to two seconds -- when playback begins. The package is fairly cheap as well, with a recommended retail price of £150 (inc VAT). You can contact Evolution on 01525 372621, email them on firstname.lastname@example.org or check out their web site at http://www.evolution.co.uk
More folk are piling onto the World Wide Web keen to promote your music. The Music Of The Future (MOTF) web site is designed to promote bands and musicians. MOTF say that what makes this page different from all those other 'unsigned music' pages is that they offer free web space for your band, or you if you're a solo performer. They'll even design the page for you if you like, all for free. There are no restrictions on the type of music, and if you don't think that you fit into any of the categories they already have, they'll create a new one for you. Also, if you already have a web page, they'll include a link to your current web space. To find out more, email email@example.com or check out the MOTF web page at http://www.joelscom.demon.co.uk/music/