12 Rows of Schoenberg
reviews an algorithmic application which
recently has picked up some interest
story: One time Derek Johnson (who writes
the Atari Notes column for Sound On Sound
Magazine published in the UK, http://www.sospubs.co.uk) told me about an
algorithmic program called Schoenberg Composer
by programmer/musician Gareth Jones. He
said he would dig up his PD versions for
me and send them. After a long time (and
my diplomatic pesterings!) he finally found
them and sent the disks to me. He also sent
PD versions of the programmer's other software.
Needless to say, I was very thankful, and
posted them on the Atari-MIDI file section
for members to try out.
this, during my web searches for Atari MIDI
programs, I actually came across Gareth
Jones' web site (link below) with an excellent
section describing his Atari applications.
With the advent of Steem, the Atari ST emulator
for PC now working with MIDI programs, he
decided to release his applications as freeware.
This is wonderful for those using an Atari
as well as Steem. These programs are easy
to use for musicians and non-musicians alike.
I have done some work with it myself, contributing
to the CN-Fractal CD project, Key Scapes.
Have a listen at the CN-Fractal Music web
page at MP3.Com (http://www.mp3.com/CNFractalMusic) and look for, "Fairhaven".
According to Gareth
Jones, "Schoenberg is an algorithmic
serial music composition emulator for the
Atari ST and related computers. This program
emulates the serial (twelve-tone) music
composition techniques developed by the
Second Viennese School of composers, Schoenberg,
Berg, and Webern. These techniques are still
widely used by many of today's "serious"
It is not
a sequencer, although there is a type of
sequencer built into it. It is not a "real
time" application in the same fashion
as other algorithmic programs such as Jim
Johnson's Tunesmith, although there are
some real time functions represented. It
is a music generator, that is, it composes music for you from
parameters that you specify. A session with
Schoenberg Composer (or SB5 for short) entails
not even touching your MIDI keyboard at
all, but typing in different parameters,
selecting the COMPOSE and PLAY buttons and
hearing the results. During a single session
you can generate many MIDI files or SB5
files, then choose which ones best represent
your ideas, or even using the ideas generated
from the program as a framework for a larger
piece after importing the MIDI file into
your sequencer of choice.
hearing you might think that the only kind
of output it produces are "serious"
type compositions in the 12 tone style.
After some experimentation, I have found
that this is not the case and many different
styles can be explored. You can generate
some very tonal pieces that are not at all
dissonant sounding as what much of the 12
tone serialism represents. What follows
now is a tutorial I wrote for the Atari
MIDI mailing list when we were exploring
SB5 together as a group.
with SB5: How to create "tonal"
By Tim Conrardy
on the SB5 application. If this is the
first time you have run the program
it will ask what "mode" of
SB5 you want. Read the Installation
notes in the SB5.TXT file that came
with the program.
two opening screens finally load and
you are presented with the main SB5
to get some initial output from the
program, select the COMPOSE Button.
It becomes highlighted. When finished
it un-highlights itself. Now click on
PLAY. You will hear an interesting flurry
of notes in the 12 tone style. If you
are using a GM module you will hear
some interesting percussion added to
the sound as well. While this may be
interesting, there are ways to get some
"tonal" output from the program.
Hit the space bar. SB5 stops playing
thing to change is the MIDI Channel
row for number 10. Change it to 11,
or another suitable MIDI channel. This
way we get rid of the percussion sounds
(unless you want that, but for now let's
there are three rows or sections. PITCH,
NOTE LENGTH, and VELOCITY.
- Go to
the PITCH row and click into the box
above the . All the notes in that
row are erased waiting to be filled
in with your own note (pitch) selections.
- I have
found that using only three or four
notes, you can get tonal output from
SB5. This is accomplished by clicking
on the notes right below the empty row
and they are filled in by your selections.
For this example, select C, E, and G.
Repeat that sequence all the way through
the 12 slots for pitch. Notice this
is a C major triad chord.
I have also found that by just selecting
the "black keys", that is
the sharp notes, you can get excellent
we will be selecting parameters for
NOTE LENGTH. The selection is the same
as above. Click in the box above the
 and the previous note lengths are
erased. Click on  (for our example)
through all the 12 positions in the
VELOCITY, we can leave this alone for
now. We can come back to it at any time.
on COMPOSE. Then PLAY. You will hear
an interesting progression created from
the C-Major triad. Press the space bar
to stop it at any time. It will stop
by itself as well after it has finished
change some things. Click on STYLE.
You are brought to the STYLE screen.
Lots of things here to experiment with.
If you noticed when you play the piece,
the timing was fluctuating a lot. To
get rid of this and make it more constant,
right-click on LENGTH ROW (so it is
unhighlighted) on the INVERSIONS column.
Click on COMPOSE, then PLAY. You will
hear the output a little more constant.
Hit the space bar to stop it. Let's
I did not want to hear so much transposition
in the piece. Right-click (so it is
not highlighted) on TRANSPOSE ROWS under
TRANSPOSER at the bottom-left corner
of the screen. Now COMPOSE and PLAY
to hear the results. It does not transpose
anymore but stays in one key (more or
less!). Stop it with the space bar when
you are ready.
try some more variation. Left-click
on ECHOES in the PLAYBACK column. COMPOSE
and PLAY. You will hear some arpeggio-sounding
output. STOP, now try clicking on MULTIPLIER.
COMPOSE and PLAY.
rather nice now. Let's slow it down
a bit. Click on the tempo. For some
reason, a higher number means slowing
the tempo down. Right and Left clicks
make it go up or down. For our purposes,
change it to 70. Now just select PLAY
(no need to COMPOSE). Much Nicer!
let's save your piece. First click into
MIDI FILE at the top menu bar. You have
several selections there on how you
want your MIDI file saved. I would select
FORMAT 1. 192 PPQN, and GM DATA as well
as GM NAME if you are using a GM module
or plan to post on the internet. Now
go to SAVE. Select .MID. The file selector
appears. You may want to save the .MID
file to the MID folder in the SB5 directory.
Select that folder. Then name your piece
and put in the .MID extension otherwise
it will not save.
can also save your parameter settings
by saving as a SB5 file from the save
menu. Remember to put the .SB5 extension
when saving your file!
is also a screen for assigning patch
changes in GM format (GM EDIT). You
can even save your patch change references
as a GMF file. The same applies above
when saving this file type as well.
thing to do now is explore by putting
in different settings for pitch, note
length and velocity as well as transposition,
and any of the style parameters. The
key is to put in some new values, COMPOSE,
then PLAY to hear the results. SAVE
if you like it and keep on going. You
can generate many fine little pieces
this way that you can export into your
favorite sequencer for embellishments,
or keep as-is. It is up to you.
Gavin Stevens (of the Atari MIDI and CN-Fractal
mailing lists) has composed some excellent
piano pieces using Schoenberg Composer.
He does not use a real Atari, but the Steem
STE emulator on his PC. He has given me
permission to include examples of his work,
see the file section below. This is what
he has to say about his piece, waltz.mid.
pleased with this piece - it is not dissimilar
from some of my freely composed work. It
is based on a pentatonic note row but with
"transpose" turned on. The result
is a piece in Eb major, but with frequent
A naturals and Db's, which I think colours
the harmony quite nicely. However, if my
memory serves, I think I used only values
of 3, 6, 9 and 12 in the rhythm row and
then went through the usual time stretching
in Cakewalk to make it readable."
another SB5 user via Steem has composed
some remarkable tonal pieces. You can hear
his examples below. In discussing serialism,
he came up with some excellent pointers
on how to apply it to SB5.
you check out the site below it explains
the way a serial matrix is constructed.
be helpful for participants in your investigation.
In real serial
composition, the composer would look through
the matrix and decide which of the possible
rows produce interesting musical lines or
chord patterns and use and re-use them in
different transpositions. This decision
making process is next to impossible for
a computer, unlike harmonic progression
rules in a tonal setting, so SB5 does the
next best thing by producing random selections.
It is unfortunate in some respects, because
serial music is anything but random. The initial tone row
is normally carefully constructed with a
view to producing sensible intervals or
chord patterns more often than not, and
there is nothing to stop the same row being
used many times. The only rule here is that
the whole row must be played before the
next row starts. SB5 follows that but there
is obviously no required connection between
the different rows, so the sound world is
an accident rather than a deliberate creation.
above illustrates another difference between
orthodox serial inversion and that possible
with SB5 palettes. The palette offers a
custom scale order different from the natural
chromatic progression explained on the site.
It can be used as described on the site
by entering the chromatic scale starting
on the first note of the row, but it can
also be used to create a secondary order,
so it allows a real muddling up of the pitches
and rhythms with inversion switched on."
Now comes the questions prevalent
in using any generative software: Is it
your composition? Or simply the computer
spitting out random numbers? There is a
fair balance between the two worlds. It
is the composer who decides which parameters
will be used and it is these choices which
will decide the outcome. Choosing one or
another parameter to use will drastically
change the nature of the generated piece
after selecting the "Compose"
button. Many composers see generative software
as stepping stones or skeletons of a larger
composition which is pieced together meticulously
into a final creation. Some use it as a
background to play acoustic instruments
against, thus bringing in the "human"
element. Another factor to generative software
is it lets people who have no or little
musical background still get involved with
the music-making process, thus getting a
certain satisfaction that they have created
something meaningful, despite the methods
used. Others, such as myself, see generative
software as a futuristic music which is
now starting to open on the horizons of