An offbeat package for Mac owners with an artistic slant
Whether you are interested in music, graphics or perhaps a zany mixture of the two, Ovaltune will certainly break the ice at parties (or perhaps stifle a yawn at the odd gig!)
Ovaltune is, on the bottom line, a graphics package - plain and simple, it offers various graphics primitives that affect (or effect ) the way MIDI information is transmitted from machine to machine - it is all about creating through a performance - the performance of images and music.
Being a program running on the Mac, the performance is at least partially controlled through the mouse, and with the other hand you type in keys that determine what your hand gestures do.
What you will need is either a Mac Plus, a Mac SE or (if you have the money) a Mac II with colour screen - with this you can have up to 256 colours. At this point I was very pleasantly surprised to note that the Ovaltune doesn't actually need to have a MIDI rig! You can use samples ported directly from Sample-Maker which clips onto the back end of the NuBus port of the Mac SE or the II.
The first time you will use the program, you will have to start up with assigning your MIDI rig - basically the more the merrier - if you have a half a dozen synths plugged into your computer then the results are going to be colourful and lively - if you just have a MT-32 or FB-01 or something like that, then you will want to make sure that each of the MIDI channels are individually assigned from the MIDI Sound Setup Box - a feature so damn useful I have used this piece of software with switcher to force different MIDI As signs for quick patches (hangs up the X-7000 though).
Like all good things, Ovaltune gets better the longer you use it - for example, if you are a dab-hand at using the mouse, then you are going to be in some luck, the mouse is a great way of controlling sound and graphics providing the audience is either drugged out of their minds, or they are just wanting shopping mall music.
Like all sociable hobbies, Ovaltune has a few restrictions - these are called OvalLaws (aaarrggghh!) This is stored on the second Ovaltune Disc. Starting Ovaltune either by double clicking the Icon in the application will display the loading box - select one of these (like Horn or Comb Trumpet) and you will start on your trip into the weird and whacky world of (Oval)toon town.
Once the document is loaded and all of the Samples and MIDI patches are set out, try moving the mouse - unlike most Mac programs, you dont need to push the button down in order to get results - the horn section will rumble (a bit like V'Ger in Star Trek the Motion Picture) and then the twiddly bits in my rig (traditionally ripped off samples from the DX-7 strings) start chirping away like Walton's "The Lark Ascending" - Now if you press
Of course it would take ages to set up all the presets so that if I draw an oval the synth will play something, so there are a number of presets in the machine. There are Circles, rings (in spotted patterns - like the patch of a calico horse), and a kaleidoscopic effect that shows distorted shapes twisted through 45 degrees and so forth (Acieeed!) - to all of these is a drum accompaniament - a constantly changing variation rhythm player that offers OvalTune users on the drums what M does for Jan Hammer!
Another feature is Drawing Mode, sometimes shapes are drawn with inverted colours or patterns that otherwise alter the colour or texture of the shape - when using the drawing mode option - you can directly alter the image on screen so that sound being affected is not just changing for the part you are working on, but also for the pieces of music being created by changing your shapes with previously drawn patterns - the more you have on the screen, the more adventurous the changes in tonality and hue.
Intermission time now ladies, the performer wants to get to the bar - grab a beer and talk about how the "first few bars were screwed up" well, because the music input can be either manually driven or even randomly created, the "=" equals option can happily use all of the preset options together to form a sort of live contrapuntal exegesis, a weird blend of random music and computer music (the two are not the same) - be careful though, people may prefer the lone warnings of the Mac Plus on the stage.
The music generated is obviously polychromatic with a high emphasis on tall order (or symmetrical) sequences ranging from penta to octatone developments - not normally popular - but easy to learn and master if you are looking to use the program to generate music - and not just add a few effects to it - I have successfully had the data blasted down to my other Mac (a IIx) with Dr T's running on it acting as a sort of real-time data capture unit, but this is not a good idea - Ovaltune is one of those "performance based" packages that really has to be seen to be believed (and used properly).
I could go through the way each preset (or OvaLaw) affects the music, but that would be specific to my system, and have no bearing on someone else's - even if the difference was just a simple synth.
The note clusters are, in my opinion, far too "safe" for my liking - there are none of the haemorrhaging note clusters of Bartok's folk pieces (or later Stravinsky), but then it never gets poppy enough you be a direct contender to "M" the famous algorithmic composer (to be reviewed next month - Ed) - Ovaltune is a bit of fun really - a silly sort of program that on occasion has a very real usage - it helps inspire when the ears are tired and the eyes want to do a bit of work.
I wish I could have said that it has helped my music, but it hasn't - oh sure I have used a few twiddly bits from the higher presets, (to suggest machinery getting out of hand and so on... but to be honest, Ovaltune is far too random to be considered as a serious contender to the sequencer/algorithmic composers on the market.
Creatively, it overshadows M (on which I was able to see a ported version on the Mac recently), but it cannot offer the control that all good algorithmic packages need if they are to be expected to be useful.
Something to whip out at Christmas and to incite a riot at a drunken gatherings of the techno folkies reunion gig - otherwise look to M for more musically satisfying fun and games.
PS - If ever I saw a program that deserved to be running on the Amiga then this is it. I have yet to see a music program running on the Amiga that really makes use of the far superior graphics the Amiga has on offer, it also suits the Amiga market down to the ground.