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Seasoning with MSG


[Screen-shot: MSG main screen]

A member of the Atari MIDI mailing list pointed me in the direction of Matucana's web site where he describes his software called MSG (MIDI Sequence Generator) for the Atari platform. I contacted him, informing him of the Atari MIDI mailing list where Atari is still very much alive. Needless to say, he joined, and then produced for the group a new version of his program as well as taking out the shareware code thus releasing it as freeware to the Atari MIDI community.

What is MSG?
MSG is a sequence generator, in that its main purpose is to create patterns using the many tools and modules available within MSG, and export them as MIDI files for auditioning and finalizing in a MIDI sequencer of your choice.

For example, you can generate files algorithmically from within the program without loading in a file. You can also import your own MIDI files for modification. You can take a picture (a Degas or Pic file) and transform it into music. You can take any text file and transform it into music. It also has a drum pattern generator and transform module much like Cubase transform. Also a very nice feature of transforming your own MIDI events into the style akin to Steve Reich's Drumming, which has to be heard to be appreciated. MSG is not really a "real-time" application, although you can play a sequence from within the program. It is meant to be an addition to your present sequencer with functions not normally present in most sequencers. Anyone can have fun with this program. You don't have to go into all the screens, you can just work on one section at a time and see what is generated.

Some features to generate

  • Generate sequences with random, Lissajous, sine, math or fractal functions independently in pitch, velocity, and length.
  • Unusual arpeggios.
  • Weighting of values for pitch, velocity, and length possible.
  • Generate sequences from the graphical display of any file.
  • Transform a text into Morse code.
  • Drum pattern editor with eight independent and editable instruments.
  • Graphical input of MIDI notes.
  • MIDI standard file interface.
  • All sequences can be modified, like harmonise/dis-harmonise.
  • Multi-copy with transposition.
  • Legato function (keep note length or note position).
  • Matrix transformation.
  • Add, multiply, logical (X)OR, sort.
  • Vary according to Steve Reich's "Drumming".
  • Musinum module: generate sequences in the same fashion as Lars Kindermann's Music In the Numbers (MusiNum) application for PC.

[Screen-shot: Musinum screen]

A new feature just implemented by Matucana is the Musinum module, which incorporates the same ideas presented in Lars Kindermann's Music In the Numbers (MusiNum) application for PC. As a matter of fact, the manual for Lars' program can be used to make use of this module. You can set up many tracks generating at the same time as well as custom scale set-ups. The difference between the two programs is that Lars' application is real-time, while Matucana's is not. However the same results can be obtained.

My suggestion is to make a nice manual for MSG. Go to this site, print all the MSG material, including the snap shot page. Copy the MSG picture from the site, and paste it into a document processor, so you have a cover page. Then export the text file from the MSG docs to your document processor and put it all in a nice binder. This keeps everything together. Also print out the tutorials and have them available in the binder as well.

Tutorial: the Make module
When you first open MSG you are presented with the Make module. A lot of interesting music can be generated with this one module.

  1. Decide how many events you want to generate. The dialog at the lower-left determines this. For the sake of this tutorial, left-click in the box until it reaches 50 events. A right-click will decrease this amount.
  2. Decide how many MIDI channels will be used. The next dialog over allows you to input this information. Select 1 to 6. This function is similar to the Yamaha TX81Z parameter of alternate mode. It will alternate the notes between the MIDI channels. You can use up to 16 channels to alternate notes.
  3. You will see Make divided into three sections: pitch, velocity, and length. Let's look at pitch.
  4. At the top you can see Lower limit and Upper limit. This dialog allows you to set limits to the pitch distribution when Make generates a sequence. The default is C2 to C5. This gives a good range to work with. Just keep as is for now, or change it if you want.
  5. Next you will see Mode. Clicking into this box, you can scroll through many modes already set up for you. These are the scales of pitches that Make will use when generating sequences. The default is minor/eolic/asawari. For the sake of this tutorial, scroll to penta major I.
  6. Below the Mode dialog is Key. You can select the root key the sequence will be generated. For the sake of this tutorial, left-click until you change it to the key of D. This means our pentatonic major scale will be in the key of D.
  7. Below Key is a graphic of the scale being used. Clicking into it will bring up another dialog allowing you to edit the scale and save it into six presets. For now, click on Cancel. You can explore this later.
  8. Below the scale graphic is a dialog for edit probab. table. Clicking into it will present the table used for pitch generation. This is an advanced sub-module. Reference the manual for this. For now, leave it alone, just as long as you know it is there for further exploration. Click on Cancel.
  9. Next we come to Function. The default is Random. Clicking into Random, you will see many more possibilities: melody, math, arpeggio, fractal... Reset it to Random.
  10. Below that is the parameter table. This is used for the function generator.
  11. Finally we come to Env or envelope parameters that allow more control over upper and lower limits. Clicking into Edit envelope brings you to a graphic dialog where you can graphically change the envelope settings. See chapter 4 of the manual for more explanation. For now select Cancel. You know it is there now.
  12. Looking at the Velocity and Length sections we can see the same type of parameters used in Pitch, with a few parameters left out. For now, keep the values the same as the default (of course you can change them if you want).
  13. We now come to the point of creating a sequence. To do this simply hit [Return] (not [Enter]) The status display at the bottom-right will now show,"Sequence: 50 of 256".

[Screen-shot: MSG editor screen]

  1. Let's hear something of what it sounds like. Hit [F1]. You are switched to the editor, which resembles Steinberg's Pro-24 editor. Click on the Play button. You will now hear the sequence play. Nice, eh? It might sound different when exported to a real sequencer, however. Click on Play again to stop it, or simply hit the space bar on the computer keyboard.
  2. Now let's save it as a MIDI file. Hit [Control]+[F], and the file selector comes up for you to name your file. Name it PENTA1.MID. MSG goes through the creating writing process. Hit [Alternate]+[M] to get back to the Make module. You can also select it from the menu under process.
  3. Create another sequence. Change the mode in the pitch window. Try changing other parameters. Remember, this program is to experiment with different possibilities, so now you can try things out. Once done, hit [Return]. You are presented with another dialog with choices to merge or insert. To start a new sequence, select Delete old, and the parameters you just set will replace the previous selections.
  4. Hit [F1] again and play back your sequence, then save it as a MIDI file as before. To have another view of your sequence, hit [F2]. You are presented with a graphical view of the generated events. Selecting Axis display will bring up a dialog so you can change how the events are displayed. For now just select OK. Then [Alternate]+[M] to get back to the Make screen.
  5. Keep on generating new sequences until you have several MIDI files. Then quit MSG by hitting [Alternate]+[Q] or from the menu under Process.
  6. Now start your sequencer program and load one of your sequences generated from MSG. It will sound a little different, but still interesting. Using the tools in your sequencer develop the MSG generated sequences (or several MSG sequences) into a larger piece.
  7. One suggestion is to load many MSG sequences into KCS Omega Open Mode and play the sequences right from the QWERTY keyboard.

Other tricks using the Make module

  1. Go to the Pitch section and select under Mode penta minor I scale
  2. Now just press [Return]. At the bottom-right of the screen you see how many events you have generated. It should say 32 of xxx.
  3. Now press [Return] again! A dialog comes up on "how would you like to proceed?" Select Merge to point. The default point setting is 1/1/0. This is the beginning of the sequence. Normally I would select Delete old if I want to generate a brand new sequence, but in this case, I want to merge a second round of events on top of the first set of events generated.
  4. Once you selected it, it calculates the events generated and brings you back to the Make screen. You now have 64 events.
  5. Press [Return] again and Merge to point again! You are creating an intricate pattern by layering events on top of events. You have now generated 96 events.
  6. Let's hear what we have done so far. Press [F1]. You are now in the editor and can see the events generated as a graph in the same fashion as the Pro-24 edit screen. Then select Play. Sounds cool, eh? When done listening press the space bar. Then [Alternate]+[M]. This brings you back to the Make module. Now press [Control]+[F], and you can now save what you have created as a MIDI file using the file selector.
  7. Let's modify what we have done. Go to Process on the menu and select Ornament. You are presented with a dialog. Click into Harmonic shift. We will just use the default values. Then [Alternate]+[M] to get back to the Make module. You now have 96 events generated. Hit [F1], and have a listen to it from the editor by clicking Play. It changed, right? Sounds more in a minor key. Hit [Alternate]+[M] to go back to the Make module. Then [Control]+[F] to save the MIDI file.

Of course, you can change and alter any of the settings on the way with what we have done so far, so I leave it to you to experiment, but the above method gives a way to create some intricate patterns using MSG.

MSG: Spice up your sequencer
MSG can be an excellent seasoning to round out the tools found in your present sequencer and can also be a source of inspiration that may develop into your next masterpiece. You can even run it as an MPE module in KCS (using the Make MPE utility provided in the KCS4.ZIP). This enables you to create some sequences in MSG, then quit MSG and you are taken right to the KCS track screen so you can open the MSG generated files from there to audition them properly and also assemble them into a larger piece. MSG is also Steem-compatible.

TAMW news

  • Symbolic Composer shareware release
    Thanks to Trond Einar Garmo of the Atari MIDI mailing list, Symbolic Composer for Atari has been released as shareware. It is downloadable from the Symbolic Composer homepage (shareware price is 39.95 Euros):

    It is a hefty 6 MB download, which also has all the documentation, which comprises most of the size of the ZIP.

    What is Symbolic Composer?
    In the words of Trond, "This program is in my opinion the most comprehensive composing environment ever written. It was developed on the Atari from 1987 to 1996, but was ported to the Mac in the beginning of the '90s. The Mac version has a much nicer user interface with menus and is a quite different beast today, but the main set of functions are the same for both programs. A PC version is in the works also, but the project has been delayed a few years.

    Symbolic Composer is a LISP-based programming language. It kind of lives on top of LISP, although LISP functions can also be used directly in the source code. When you have written your source file the LISP interpreter/compiler compiles standard MIDI files. In the Atari version these files must be edited in a sequencer to add MIDI channels, programs, controllers... The best environment for the compiler and text editor is KCS with MPE, although both Cubase with MROS and Notator with Softlink can be used.

    The program takes some time to learn fluently, but the package comes with good tutorials and many example files in a number of styles - rock, jazz rock, new age, electro-acoustic and C20 classical style compositions."

    I will be creating a web page on TAMW soon so look for it.
  • Music Mandala and Session Partner removed from TAMW
    This is a bit of sad news, as there was some confusion on the release of the Atari versions of these programs between the programmer and his partner. Hopefully this will get cleared up and these wonderful programs can be put back on-line. In the meantime, these programs are now off TAMW.



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MyAtari magazine - Feature #6, June 2002

Copyright 2002 MyAtari magazine