Issue 19: May 2002






New Software from Poland


Tip of the day


Mouse of a Time


Stochastic Screening - Color Correction


8-bit Games Fair in Germany


Casting a light on DRAM


Atari in the USA 2002


6.5.02 Day


Game On

[Tim's Atari MIDI World banner]
Mouse of a Time


Back in the late 1980s a certain Laurie Spiegel coded a new type of music software called Music Mouse that turned your computer into a musical instrument. It created quite a stir in the computer music world in that it allowed non-musicians as well as accomplished ones to make music just by moving the mouse. At the time it was called "algorithmic music", "interactive software" and "expert system". These types of programs were just beginning to get under way and now (2002) are seeing a new interest.

[Screen-shot: Music Mouse]

Originally coded for the Mac in 1985, Music Mouse was ported to the ST platform in 1988 with the help of David Silver. Basically it takes mouse movements inside a grid on the screen and transforms them into four moving voices that can be assigned different MIDI channels and sounds, depending on what you do on the QWERTY keyboard. Other QWERTY keys are live in real time as controller faders and for playing with tempo, transposition, and a host of other features. Musicians as well asnon-musicians can benefit from this simple-to-use yet deep program. Laurie is continuing to upgrade it for the Mac platform, but the Atari version is still pretty much identical to the current Mac revision.

Specifications (reproduced by permission of Laurie Spiegel)

High level real time musical controls:

  • Chromatic, diatonic, pentatonic, middle eastern, octatonic, and quartal harmony
  • Transposition, and interval of transposition controls for harmonic modulation
  • Parallel and contrary motion, voicing, and grouping switches
  • Loudness and tempo faders
  • Four rhythmic treatments: chord, arpeggio, line, and "improvisational"
  • Mute/punch-in keys for each of the four voices
  • Global sound on/off Staccato / Legato /Half-Legato switch keys
  • Display user input (mouse position) or musical output (notes being played)
  • 10 preset melodic-harmonic patterns, with real time adaptation to harmony type, scale degree, transposition, voicing, and tonal or modal inversion

Real time MIDI controls (via keyboard faders)

  • Velocity
  • Preset (sound number) control
  • Global channel loudness
  • Portamento rate
  • Breath controller
  • After-touch
  • Modwheel
  • Foot controller
  • User-selectable MIDI output channels
  • MIDI Through (MIDI merge for live input from an external source)
  • Real time on-screen display of all values

In order to record Music Mouse you need an external sequencer, either hardware (such as a stand-alone or the sequencer built into synth workstations) or another computer running sequencer software (another Atari, PC or Mac). An alternative is to record live directly to tape, or whatever medium you use to record.

In my own applications, I run Music Mouse on my 1040STE or Falcon and record directly into Cubase on my TT030 (it also works on the TT030 with the cache off). I can run several tracks of Music Mouse material, then add percussion and other parts as the piece needs. To synchronize the music, I use the Match Quantise tool in Cubase to match Music Mouse tracks to other tracks. Another trick to get more scales is to use the Input Transform option and transform Music Mouse in real time to any of the selection of scales available in the Input Transform window. Dr T's Omega II also has an option to map notes to other notes or scales, so the same thing can be applied. I have also tried running Music Mouse through the Hotz Translator software, giving me 128 more scales.

I also use different MIDI channels for each voice. For Example: one voice is assigned a marimba sound, another an acoustic guitar, while the remaining voices I assign a sustaining type sound such as strings or a pad sound. Of course, anything can be changed at any time while you play. Another application is to record rhythmic patterns into Cubase at a tempo of 90 or 100. Then record another track in Cubase using MM as a melody or lead instrument (using a single voice) with the tempo at 300 to produce fast "licks". Using this technique in combination with pitch bending (using the wheel on your regular MIDI keyboard) you can play some wild Jan Hammer style licks! Sometimes I assign MM to MIDI channel 10 to produce percussion tracks, which can be a lot of fun. Hitting the [A] key starts MM in auto-compose mode, where you can change the textures by moving the mouse and changing the pattern with the number and function keys.

It takes a little practice to move the mouse to produce the results you want. My technique is to use small circular motions in one area of the grid, then move all four voices slowly up or to the side or downward. Sometimes I leave three voices at the bottom of the grid slowly moving back and forth, while moving the horizontal axis upwards to produce a melody. Another trick is to start with one voice, then slowly add voices (un-muting them with the numeric keys). Yet another trick is to put MM in the Octatonic mode, use only one voice each on the horizontal and vertical axes, with a tempo of 120. Then start doing circular motions starting at the bottom of the grid and expanding upwards. Instant ELP (Emerson, Lake and Palmer) style! Sometimes I move the mouse slowly to produce chords at certain parts of the grid. Hit the space bar to silence the mouse, and then move the mouse to another part of the grid, then hit the space bar again and another chord is produced.

Hitting the [Help] key brings up the menu. In this mode, you can select individual MIDI channels for each voice, select MIDI Thru, and also MIDI Output selection for patch change which include General MIDI, Casio CZ-101 and the Ensoniq Mirage. With these selections, you sure can tell what era the program was coded in! However if you have these instruments (and they are quite cheap now) you are in luck!

Laurie still has some copies of the Atari version left. If you are interested they cost $29.00 (including US shipping). For international orders add US$6 for postage. You can order it from the link below. Show your support. This edition comes with an excellent manual as well.

Which Mouse?
Even though there are many alternate mouse controllers available for the Atari platform (MIDI Joy, Quaderno, MIDI-Mouse Music, MousMuso, to name a few) I keep coming back to the original and only Music Mouse. It packs a lot of power in a 40 KB program! The ease and depth of Music Mouse keeps me coming back for more. I find it invaluable for any musician as well as anyone using an Atari for MIDI. All you need is an Atari and a simple MIDI module to make music only Music Mouse can produce.

To listen to what Laurie has been doing in her own compositions with Music Mouse, check out her CD called, "Unseen Worlds." Information on her home page as well as sound clips on the Kalvos Damian Composer Page. Her own home page is also worth exploring with many fascinating topics, including a section on her most recent work, "Obsolete Systems" which explores her past encounters with electronic and experimental music.

Have a mouse of a time, with Laurie Spiegel's Music Mouse.

MIDI files: Examples by Tim Conrardy

    East Race: Music Mouse used exclusively including the percussion. No MIDI keyboard was used
    Patterns: Using the Loopy tool in KeyKit, a PC algorithmic program. The initial source was a Music Mouse pattern. Recorded the performance into Cubase. Added Mouse Mouse melody lines, percussion and bass. Edited velocities in KeyEdit (Cubase).
    A short Music Mouse example.
    Produced from a live performance using Dr T's KCS in Open Play mode with 128 Music Mouse sequences programmed. Example of manipulation of pre-recorded Music Mouse Patterns.


Useful links


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MyAtari magazine - Feature #4, May 2002


Copyright 2002 MyAtari magazine