Tim's Atari MIDI World

I had a dream: The Grid Sequencer!


[Screen-shot: Grid Sequencer 1]

I walked into a room of what appeared to be a pawnshop. Many mechanical and strange devices were strewn about on tables and shelves. I heard an interesting sound and looked up and saw to my eyes what looked like an "old" ARP 2600 synthesizer. It was a large rectangular box with many knobs and even small speakers on each side. It had a "gold" appearance and shimmered in the pawnshop lights. What was interesting about this "box" was that it had a large grid in the middle of it. The grid had many small pins inserted into it. Getting closer to the instrument, I pushed a button. Sounds started coming out of the speakers. Analog bass sounds. I tweaked the filter controls. Squeaks and squawks came out of the speakers. Then I took a pin from the grid and inserted it into another hole of the grid. The sound changed. The notes coming out were different. Then I realized that the grid was actually creating the notes. I could insert a pin in another location and that would change the notes coming out. I looked up and heard the sounds coming out of the speakers. I could almost feel the notes. Then... I woke up!

Feeling inspired, I posted to the Atari MIDI programmers forum and told them about the dream, and felt that the grid concept might be a good idea for a different type of sequencer and narrated some possibilities. To my wonder, Matucana (also know as Hellmuth Schomberg on the list) replied and actually created a program based on my dream! The result is Grid Sequencer. Instead of pins, you use the mouse to "insert" the pins into the grid. What's more, it is an interactive instrument with many more possibilities than I could dream of (literally). You could say it was a dream come true!

[Screen-shot: Grid Sequencer 2]

Grid Sequencer's features

  1. Start, stop with space bar or mouse.
  2. Random grid entries.
  3. Random pitch entries based on the scale being used.
  4. MIDI channel selection.
  5. Seven clock rates.
  6. Eight BPM settings.
  7. Patch change (SND).
  8. Transposition +12 to -12.
  9. Selectable start and end points.
  10. 17x24 grid.
  11. Selectable pitch row.
  12. Pitch/scale editor in separate window.
  13. MIDI clock out.
  14. Save performance as standard MIDI file.
  15. Save as Grid Sequencer format.
  16. All functions can use mouse or keyboard shortcuts with help screen.
  17. General MIDI (GM) patch display screen.

[Screen-shot: Grid Sequencer 3]

The best thing to do is to run the program (see the file section at the end) and start playing with it. Get used to the keyboard shortcuts. Try some different scales, as Matucana makes it easy to try new scales with the Generate Pitch selection from the file menu. The random settings can be used as well. Simply pressing [D] on the keyboard will generate a whole new sequence based on the scale used. This as well as using the transposition shortcuts, you can create a composition which can then be saved as a standard MIDI file. Grid Sequencer also works well with percussion voices. Set the channel to 10, and you can generate some interesting percussion patterns.

What's more, Matucana is continuing to upgrade the program as we are still implementing new ideas. What started out to be a very simple program has grown to a fully-fledged interactive tool.

[Photo: AKS]

After posting about the program, I got a comment from Laurie Spiegel (author of Music Mouse) that the idea resembled the EMS Synthi AKS (an early portable synthesizer used by many groups such as Pink Floyd, Gong, Tim Blake, ECT). Much to my surprise, she was right. Then I remembered I used to play with one that was loaned to me from my professor (Dr Allen Strange). It has the same speakers in the front as well. However, the grid was used for patch creation and was not a sequencer function. You can see the resemblance that might have been implanted in my mind when I had the dream. Wish someone would make a soft-synth out of this baby!

[Photo: Hellmuth Schomberg]

About Matucana (Hellmuth Schomberg)
Here is some background about the programmer in his own words:

My musical career started in 1976, when I started listening to a lot of pop music. I quickly went from Abba to Kiss to more sophisticated stuff. In 1981, I listened to records like "Blackouts" by Ashra, "Caught in flux" by Eyeless in Gaza, "Leichenschrei" by SPK, and to "99 red balloons" by Nena...

1984 was a real landmark - 'e2-e4' by Manuel Göttsching was released. Since then I listened to it for about 1,500 times... and I still like it no less.

However, my interest in quiet music developed further. Records like Steve Roach's "Quiet music", Ashra's "New age of earth", "Deep listening" by Oliveiros/Dempster/Panaiotis, "Triadic memories" by Morton Feldman, "The place where the black stars hang" by Lustmord, or "Piercing music" by Robert Henke are found among many others in my CD collection.

Starting in about 1976, too, I learned to play classical guitar. I was quite lazy and not very talented, so I quit after five years. Meanwhile, my mother had bought a portable keyboard (a Yamaha, if I remember right) - coooool. I had been interested in keyboards all my childhood, although I very rarely got a chance to "play". In 1982, I had a Casio VL-1 as well - yes, the one the size of three cigarette boxes. I experimented with tapes and played very childish stuff.

Skipping the years to 1988, I then had a Casio CZ-1000 and a Yamaha DX-27. Oh yes, and the Alesis Microverb I still use. I love its sound. My father had just bought "Inside the great pyramid" by Paul Horn, which sounded so simple yet elegant... I tried to play something similar, and it turned out to be the first of my music I consider to be worth releasing - and it will be.

Since then, my music and myself have developed constantly. Friends tell me my music can be listened to either if you concentrate on it or if you do something else while it plays - which I approve of. Light to the touch on the surface and worthwhile if you look closer - I could not wish for anything more.

New on TAMW (Tim's Atari MIDI World)

Main site:

This has been a very busy month for me as we have many new exciting releases. Grid Sequencer reviewed above was also released so you can see there is no stopping the flow!

  1. The Variegated Collection. MIDI improvisation tools for the Atari ST. A new set of excellent easy-to-use algorithmic applications, provided by Jonathan Bisset. Steem compatible. In the same tradition as the Wolfgang Martin Stroh's algorithmic package:
  2. The Codehead MIDI software is now released, this includes GenPatch, MIDISpy and MIDI Max. I have been trying to get these released for a good long time and it has finally happened. Thanks for all those involved with the release!:
  3. General MIDI (GM) compatible instrument definition file for the Atari Mozart's Dice program. Created by Martin Tarenskeen (programmer of the YS editor series):
  4. Updates to the FMC (Fractal Music Composer by Hugh McDowell) page.
    • FMC manual now released: Hugh McDowell has now agreed to release the manual. Using the initial hard copy manual I was able to create a Word document with the screen shots and numbering system as presented in the original manual. It was converted to PDF format by Trond Einar Garmo of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Trond is also a member of the Atari-MIDI forum.
    • Special Steem version of FMC: For running FMC in Steem, the Atari emulator for PC. Contains a special program made for this version by the authors of Steem. I was also hosting a "software of the month" clinic at the CN-Fractal Music Forum as we were exploring Steem and FMC. Made some converts to the platform via Steem (thus the special Steem compatible version of FMC).

    If you would like to join the forum, the link is on the new FMC page:

  1. Take Note released. Take Note is an educational ear training program which can also be used as an alternate mouse controller (for those of you who think of such things, myself included!). Thanks go to Alexander Maas for pointing the program out to me. I was also just contacted by the author and he is digging up a new version and also the source code which will be made available:
  2. Last but not least: Pulsar version 2! Neil Wakeling and I have been beta testing a new version of Pulsar, so it is now in version 2. Lots of new features. It's amazing we are still coding for our platform! Neil has put in over 30-40 hours on this new version (with a little help from the TAMW whip!). Please visit my newly created page and help yourself to the new Pulsar: the Analog Sequencer Simulator! This will be next month's topic as Pulsar is a fantastic program worthy of review:

Program file

Useful links


Top of page ]

MyAtari magazine - Feature #6, November 2002

Copyright 2002 MyAtari magazine