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Datamusic Fractal Music

Fractal Composition Software

Article from Sound On Sound, June 1992

Martin Russ looks at one of the current rash of fractal music programs and finds it anything but chaotic...

Fractal Music's Main Screen.

Datamusic's Fractal Music is a fractal program without the distractions of fancy graphics images. Instead it concentrates on making music from mathematics: it offers complex and unusual MIDI File manipulation and non-random fractal composition, with loads of settings and lots of control.

The program runs on any ST with 512k of RAM, although 1 MB is preferable if you want a sensible amount of work space. It works in high resolution (monochrome) or medium resolution (four colours) and uses GEM. Each individual copy is stamped with the owner's name, location and a serial number, which should prevent blatant copying and distribution by pirates. There is one main screen, which is used for setting parameters for the music generation, whilst most of the editing is actually carried out using pop-up dialogue boxes.

The main screen looks quite like a conventional 16-track sequencer, with named tracks, triangular 'data present' indicators, arrows to show play/solo/mute options and MIDI Channel selectors. The rest of the screen is filled with parameters to control the 3-dimensional 'fractation' process, which uses fractal mathematics to produce musical notes rather than pictures. Some of the parameters set the high and low pitch and velocity limits and starting points, whilst others are deliberately less obvious. To change values, you use either left-down/right-up mouse clicks, or you can quickly replace some parameters with random values.

The Rotate function.


Once set up, you click on the Fractate button to start generation of a monophonic track of music. The program runs through a countdown of the nested loops, and you can see the values changing as the music is produced. The 'check passes' menu option lets you see exactly how many loops will be carried out — on an ST with 1 MB of RAM, the maximum number of loops is about 50,000, or about 80 minutes at 120bpm. At any time, you can stop the playing and save or discard the results, which can then be named and manipulated like any other track. You can build up tracks in this way, or import MIDI data via a MIDI File.

The Stretch/Move function.


Once you have the basic tracks, you can manipulate them — the menu options are Quantise, Stretch/Move, Invert, Retrograde, Reflect and Rotate. Invert merely inverts the pitch information, whilst Retrograde reverses time; both of these can be used to make conventional 4/4, 120bpm music. Stretch begins to move into more experimental music territory, as it enables you to expand or compress pitch or time, as well as simply transpose. Rotations and reflections alter pitch and time simultaneously, with results that are unusual and often rather avant-garde. Only the fractating produces velocity (dynamics) variations — the edit options always leave velocity unchanged. Although fractating produces monophonic music, some of the editing functions (quantising, rotating and reflecting) can 'squash' notes, so that a track can end up as polyphonic.

All the track manipulation functions make careful and clear use of graphical representations of the data, with dotted lines used to show the pitch limits, rectangles to show the original track data and lines to show the axis of rotation or reflection. Although many of the edits you make can give the impression of simply randomising the data, the processes are actually repeatable — and, to some extent, reversible. The fractating is exactly the same; even though it sounds random, the same parameters produce identical results. You can explore this by giving two tracks the same settings except for the starting pitch; the result is two 'melody' lines which play the same rhythm with notes a fixed interval apart.

Fractal Music's pull-down menus.


You can control most of the operation of the program with either the mouse or the keyboard, and the program uses a very interactive interface. For example, to store an edit, you click on the track you want to edit, and then click on the track where you want to store the edit. There are lots of reminder dialogue boxes, especially for major changes, and the whole program has a polished, professional feel, from the context-sensitive help screens to the warnings as you approach the end of the memory space. The indexed manual is very clear, easy to read, and features lots of screen shots and careful explanation. The documentation makes it very clear that Datamusic not only understand music and MIDI Files (some famous names apparently don't!), but that they respond to user feedback too — in fact, the review copy was updated to version 2.4 whilst I was researching version 2.3 for this review.

Fractal Music reads format 0 and 1 MIDI Files, and always saves as format 1. During loading, quite a lot of processing takes place, and a neat 'thermometer'-style bargraph keeps track of progress. Tempo settings are based on those of the Hybrid Arts SMPTE Track sequencer, and so provide a musically useful logarithmic range of settings from 41.18 to 480bpm. You can save your favourite parameter settings to disk as an Autoload program, which will load in your preferences each time you run the program.


Fractal Music's mix of generating and processing functions produces a powerful tool for exploring some of the more experimental and mathematical areas of music, and the emphasis is on the music rather than the maths. You can try out this fascinating program for yourself by getting the demo disk from the SOS Software pages, but be warned: fractating may be addictive!

Further information

Datamusic Fractal Music £65 plus £2.50 p&p.

Datamusic, (Contact Details)

Also featuring gear in this article

Previous Article in this issue

Novation MM10

Next article in this issue

Yamaha MDF2 Data Filer

Publisher: Sound On Sound - SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.

The current copyright owner/s of this content may differ from the originally published copyright notice.
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Sound On Sound - Jun 1992

Gear in this article:

Software: Algorythmic > Datamusic > Fractal Music

Gear Tags:

Atari ST Platform

Review by Martin Russ

Previous article in this issue:

> Novation MM10

Next article in this issue:

> Yamaha MDF2 Data Filer

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