You'll either love Music Mandala or hate it. Personally I love it, but then I also love dogs, Rachmaninov, warm Summer evenings, Chablis and Jenny Agutter. It draws pictures and plays music and it's so easy to use that even the combined force of John Major and Norman Lamont couldn't screw it up.
There are two versions - one for the Atari ST, TT and Falcon, and one for Windows 3.1 on the PC. They work in essentially the same way. The Atari version likes colour, but will run in mono.
The music it generates is based on six parameters - tempo, time signature, shape, scale, key and colour. You can select these or let the program choose them at random. All parameters except colour are selected by clicking on a dice icon which gives you values to scroll through or a list of settings to choose from. The time signatures run from 2/4 to 9/4 and the scale has seven modes including Phrygian, lydian, mixolydian and so on (so on?- Ed).
The shape determines how the music evolves. All the pieces start off fairly easy through the build-up phase. Then comes the variation phase in which the program sort of 'improvises' around the selected scale. This is followed by the end phase during which it quietens downs again. A cycle can last from 32 seconds to 32 hours depending on the settings.
However, when the program's doing its own stuff, it doesn't go for extremes so most pieces last for minutes rather than hours.
The patterns the program generates are based on the music. For example, a piece in 3/4 time will tend towards triangles and three sets of circles. You can specify how many colours each scale uses and this, in turn, determines how many sounds/MIDI channels are used. The program can use one of eight banks of eight sounds and also one of eight drum kits - and, again, you can preset these or leave it up to the program. It defaults to a GM setup but it's possible to define the sounds and kits used.
Other options include Loop mode - which will keep the thing running forever - and MIDI clock out. The major disappointment is the inability to save the music as a MIDI file in order to tweak and edit it or improvise over it or save it for posterity. But what does it sound like? Well, the term new age springs to mind - little melodic riffs, many repeats, easy harmonies, slow evolutions - and so on. The results can range from minimalistic to Tangerine Dream and from ethnic to oriental but are always harmonic - and often inspirational.