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Intelligent Music

Intelligent Music's M Software

Here's a program that will banish your lack of inspiration forever! Version 2.0 of Intelligent Music's 'M' (for Macintosh and Atari computers) is considerably more than an isochronic pulse sequencer. Ed Jones puts on his thinking cap and delves deeper...

Here's a program that will banish your lack of inspiration forever! Version 2.0 of Intelligent Music's 'M' (for Macintosh and Atari computers) is considerably more than an isochronic pulse sequencer. Ed Jones puts on his thinking cap and delves deeper...

Figure 1. M's main screen.

The Apple Macintosh started out as being the easiest, most 'user-friendly' computer that enabled any sane person (assuming they did not have screen-phobia) to jump right in and run a software program with a user interface that was almost invisible. This 'invisible' interface has since become so easy to use that a great majority of level-headed Macintosh users now seem to boot up and get on with the job in hand without even as much as a cursory glance at the manual.

However, that ease-of-use can easily become a curse in disguise, as the Macintosh has developed at such a pace that it has left a trail of out-moded (but not out-dated) operating systems and hardware in its wake. Some programs (such as the latest version of PageMaker - Version III - the original desktop publishing program) occupy so much memory that they will only run on a hard disk, whilst others will only run when the Mac is booted up with the 'latest' system. As I have decided that my music workstation will be based around a Macintosh II, I have decided not to 'invest' any more pictures of the Queen in my current Mac and so I have been left to try and run the latest software using 'out-moded' and 'old' equipment (my dealer's descriptions) until the necessary amount of folding money has been accumulated for the Mac II. Thus, although I was once considered innovative in deciding to go down the Apple route rather than the Atari route, I now feel like a leper walking into my local Apple dealer and even more so when I walk into my local, extremely hi-tech, music dealer who suddenly seems to have gone Mac mad!

And so it was with some trepidation that I walked through the hallowed portals of MCMXCIX (no, I was no good at Latin either) the other day to collect my review copy of M.

My trepidation was compounded by the fact that Intelligent Music (who market M from the USA) had advertised M with cunning ingenuity, revealing very little about what is undoubtedly a very interesting software program.

Atari users should not switch off here, though, because (as you may have noticed in the Shareware page of this magazine) M has not only been updated from Version 0.91 to Version 2.0 for the Apple Macintosh, but has also been transported to the Atari ST environment. ST owners can also benefit from the excellent M demonstration disk that is almost a full blown working copy (mind you, it does bomb out after twelve or so minutes, probably just as you get hooked on it!).


The M manual is extremely helpful in getting you started at whatever level of Macintosh you are working with, including essential advice on 400K or 800K drives, hard disk installation (including de-installing - vital for working with a copy-protected program such as M on a hard disk system that requires periodic restoring). M even has a mini 'system update' that you can run to prevent 'mouse molasses'; this complaint only affects users of 512K Macs who have not upgraded their original 64K ROMs. Without Apple's upgrade ROMs the mouse slows down appreciably when a MIDI interface is fitted to either the Modem or Printer ports.

The opening screen of M Version 2.0 for the Macintosh looks about as cryptic as its monosyllabic title. However, everything that you need to run M is right there in front of you on just one screen (albeit with the usual set of sub-windows). The six divisions of the main screen (see Figure 1) give access to the following: Patterns, Conducting, Variables, Cyclic Variables, Slideshow, and last, but not least, MIDI.

Intelligent Music inspire one to greater heights by informing you, before even playing a note, that "M becomes part of the actual process of composition. M's powerful tools and musical controls let you work so quickly and interactively that the line between composing and performing becomes blurred".

So much for the advertising epithets, what about the way M works? Well, when you've delved deep into yet another musical interpretation of the English language (such as "a Voice in M is a 'path' through the program, which begins with a pattern") you'll come up smelling of roses because M helps making music as easy as riding a bike - you fall off a couple of times, scream a bit, make a few more efforts and then wonder what all the fuss was about!

M is described by Intelligent Music as "an interactive composing and performing system". What they really mean is that M automates a series of cyclic variations on MIDI information that is input in a 'pattern' format. 'How many patterns can I have?' I hear you ask. Well, it's not quite as simple as that...

The composing side of M allows you to create notes, chords and rhythms and place them in an automatic pattern cycle format (up to 999 notes in length), in a similar way to that in which a drum machine works. Intelligent Music also market UpBeat and Jam Factory as well as M, so how do they differ? UpBeat works with a drum machine-like grid and facilities such as 'flam' that are specifically useful for rhythm pattern programming; Jam Factory is more concerned with 'musical variations on a theme', where it understands the basic rules of music and can improvise (given some user-defined musical constraints) reasonably creatively. M is typically concerned with variations on cyclic MIDI data.

Almost all music is repetitive to some degree and the application of a computer to control that repetition does not have to end up with monotony and hypnotic, mechanical music. The real joy of music, to my way of thinking, is the interaction of sounds and rhythms; when these excite one person's ears he or she may consider that music 'interesting' or 'good'. 'Bad' music can probably be so described when it no longer stimulates that same pair of ears. M gives continuous human control over the amount of repetition in your music, and is thus the kind of program that will enormously excite some people whilst leaving others stone cold sober. It will also appeal to users at every level of music-making, although it must be said at this stage that it does not have the same instant appeal as Music Mouse (a budget MIDI music program for the Macintosh), where movements of a mouse send out realtime control of MIDI notes, thereby creating instant, new sounds.

M is as deep as you wish to make it. You could dig a hole for your music that is so big that it might never re-appear. If you aspire to the repetitive heights of Tangerine Dream or a certain Mr. P. Glass, then M could be perfect for you; equally, if you want to create cyclic, moving, pulsing music then M is just the job.

Creative tools don't usually come as cheap as M, which retails for £135; however, here we have an involved program that can be used at a variety of levels and can genuinely be of potential interest to a broad cross-section of the MIDI generation. If this review of M doesn't sound like an elaborate encomium it is for one very good reason - it will literally take you months to get the best out of M, but you'll have a hell of a lot of fun learning.


The basic MIDI information on which M works is input by playing data in real-time or programmed in step-time just as with any sequencer. This information is kept in four distinct 'patterns' (effectively the same as tracks on your sequencer). Simple things such as overall transpose, muting and offset, differing time bases, MIDI echo re-routing (so that MIDI information from your master keyboard can be recorded into M and be echoed at the MIDI Out socket to play a keyboardless MIDI module) are now taken for granted by most users of sequencing software and are, of course, included in M.

Four patterns may not seem much to play with compared to the average sequencer, however it is important to consider that M's main strength lies in the linear variation of these patterns (which can be very long). It is thus as suitable for music that evolves very slowly (such as in some modern dance music) as it is for cyclic variations on a theme.

Three record modes are provided: Record, Insert and Drum Machine mode. Each also has sub-modes that determine how the MIDI data will be stored; thus overdubbing, re-recording, insert and shuffle, step-time chord building are all available by selecting a mini graphic icon from the Patterns window. Drum Machine mode builds up patterns by adding notes on top of each other - just as in cycle record on (you guessed) a drum machine. However, if you do use M for drum machine-style programming, it will take you way beyond your average drum machine's capabilities by invoking variations in note order, accents, note density, time distortion and much more. It might sound involved but it's more comprehensive than complicated.

Figure 2. Examples of M's Pattern windows, extracted from the main screen display.

Double-clicking the mouse on the Select box in the Pattern window brings up a Pattern Editor window (see Figure 2) where notes can be pulled in or out using an editing grid display ranged against a vertical keyboard. Up to 999 notes may be included in a pattern and another pattern's notes may be viewed (in grey) whilst the active pattern's notes are edited (displayed in black). Notes within a pattern can be played from this screen (by clicking on the vertical key display or by dragging a black box along the pattern) without having to return to the main 'transport controls' in the main window. Both these short-cuts show that a great deal of thought has gone into ease-of-use for Version 2.0 of M.

The 'plunger' tool adds steps to a pattern whilst the 'scissors' tool removes selected steps and decreases the number of events in the pattern accordingly. Patterns can be rotated forwards or backwards (taking the last step and putting it at the start, thus shuffling the rest of the steps forward); patterns can be doubled or tripled in length by inserting rests after every step, and the order of steps can even be reversed. These little 'tricks' can produce some very interesting results. How can I begin to try to explain the useful musical applications?

Figure 3. Examples of M's Variables windows, extracted from the main screen display.


Once the basic patterns have been programmed in, the fun starts. You can now go to the Variables window (Figure 3) and start messing about with note densities, velocity ranges, note orders, transpositions, time distortions and pattern groupings. What initially starts out as quasi-random ideas can soon become ordered variables, thus keeping you in control rather than letting M's repetitive structure take the reins.

Each Variable has six positions and these are represented by mini icons in the Variables window on the left of the main screen. These six positions can be recalled at any time during playback of a piece or sequenced as a series of snapshots in what is called a 'slideshow' (confused? - all will make sense as you read on). However, let us delve into the actual variables themselves...

Double-clicking on any of the headers opens up a smaller window from which you can edit, say, note densities. The instant gratification demo provided with M has a C major scale of 16th notes (semiquavers) in Pattern 1 and the same scale of whole notes (crotchets) in Pattern 2 and, by simply varying the note density of Track 1, you can immediately start to create interesting crossrhythms and syncopations. By reducing the note density to 0% you will obviously hear no notes at all. Although you can sync the start times of the four different patterns, a 50% (say) reduction in note density doesn't just play every other note - it just plays the ones it wants to (adding up to 50% of the total number of original programmed notes). You thus have a 50-50 chance of hearing any particular note (provided it has only been programmed in once in a pattern). This is where M starts to get interesting! Imagine, you've only just started - you can now go on and alter note velocities, the order of notes, transpositions, and even more patterns in any of the six pattern groups.

Transpositions can be effected, as can almost everything in M using their Input Control System, by MIDI keyboard key equivalents in real time. For example, Middle C starts M playing, while the B below stops it. Useful, unless the Echo-Thru-Orchestration is turned on, in which case you will hear the note that you played! The Mac's space bar and return key can also be used to start/reset and stop M.


Rhythms start to build up in an interesting but indeterminate way with M. However, there is a more deterministic way to create a rhythm rather than by omitting notes. Check out the Cyclic Variables window to the right of the main screen: here, accent, legato and rhythm controls are set on another grid system. There are four grids displayed at one time, each one relating to a pattern in the particular pattern group that is playing. Each cycle can have a maximum of 16 steps and five levels (0-4). Several levels may be selected at the same time, and M can randomly select any of those five levels each time it comes around to that point. With judicious use of grid positions, it is as easy to create continuously variable or random sounds as it isochronic patterns.

Setting up a percussive, velocity-sensitive sound called 'SteelBalls' on my trusty DX7, I managed to get some really happening sounds within just a few seconds. I had begun to tame the beast! However, I haven't found the A&R elixir for that elusive record deal just yet...


Any configuration of controls may be stored and recalled as a 'snapshot' of the screen, giving simultaneous access to any grouping of controls. The Hold/Do button (with a camera and slides icon) is similar in principal to a synth's chord memory button and allows the gradual build-up of various options (whilst it is flashing) which can then be simultaneously activated by a further click of the Hold/Do button.

These 'snapshots' can be replayed in steps and quantised for accurate changes in the music or accessed by typing the relevant letter on the keyboard. However, should you wish to control the variables in real-time rather than in step-time, you can use the Conductor window. The mouse pointer changes into a conductor's baton as the Conductor window comes into operation. By selecting any arrow on the left of the Variables window, that variable can be 'conducted' by mouse movements in the Conductor window grid. Control of all variables (including tempo) can thereby be recorded in realtime.

Conducting can be controlled by moving around the four axes of the Conductor window's grid; thus one variable can be going up whilst another can be going down, both at the same time. The direction of the arrow in the Variables window determines along which axis that variable is controlled. The real power of the Conductor window thus comes when several variables are controlled simultaneously. For example, when reaching the end of a composition, not only can tempo be controlled in real time to create a 'rallentando' (gradually slowing down), but also fewer notes (using variable note density) can sound and with a diminuendo (using variable velocity).

True to form, M also has an Automatic Conductor feature (well it would have, wouldn't it?) that can randomise variables even further! However, even this robot conductor can be given certain constraints - such as maximum range for each axis.

"It can be confusing if you're new to M, so don't try to use all of M's whizz-bang features at once," says the manual! Frankly, the program is so interactive that it can be deeply confusing at times, with one variable varying another. What can be confusing is that you may hear changes in your music before you see the visual change on the screen; this is due to MIDI processing time taking precedence over screen display.

And there's more...

'Slideshows' are automated sequences of a series of 'snapshots'. Nine different slideshows may be kept in memory and each one can individually looped or not, as is one's wont.

A 'Movie' is a record of the MIDI output generated by a complete performance (twiddling and all) with M. You can capture the MIDI data in its entirety, save it as a MIDI File (song file format) and import that same data into another program. Currently, the most widely used Macintosh sequencer (Mark Of The Unicorn's Performer) does not import MIDI Files; however, almost every other sequencer program does. This includes Digidesign's Q Sheet, Passport's Master Tracks Pro, Opcode's Sequencer 2.6and Southworth's MidiPaint. M can also import MIDI Files, read the data into a pattern or play it 'straight' along with its four voices (pattern/tracks - now I'm getting confused!). Start/stop and tempo controls can be synchronised so that everything happens at the same time. You can 'run out of film', although no RAM size limitations are quoted by Intelligent Music.

When importing a MIDI File, an option box allows you to decide which of your sequencer's differing MIDI channel information goes to which of M's four patterns. Rests can be ignored and variable quantisation can also be implemented.


Having waded through a veritable quagmire of new terms and confusing language, I managed to obtain some extremely pleasing results from M. It is not particularly easy to get to grips with but all along I got the feeling that it is not a lightweight program. Considering its integration with the world of MIDI Song Files (both from an import and export angle), it offers real creative power for musicians who consider MIDI a serious compositional tool. At the same time, Macintosh owners who consider their computer to be a serious recreational tool could do no worse than buy M (and a multitimbral keyboard) for the sheer enjoyment of creating 'variations on a theme'. After all, it didn't do Mozart or Vivaldi any harm did it?

Price £135 inc VAT (Atari ST and Apple Macintosh versions).

Contact MCMXCIX, (Contact Details).

A demo disk, running on the Atari ST only at the moment, is available from SOS Shareware for £7. See 'yellowpages' in this magazine for details.

Also featuring gear in this article

Previous Article in this issue

Tascam 238 Syncaset

Next article in this issue

40 Sequencer Essentials

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


Sound On Sound - Aug 1988


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Review by Ed Jones

Previous article in this issue:

> Tascam 238 Syncaset

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> 40 Sequencer Essentials

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