One of the things that I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while has been having some way to jam, rather than making music in a DAW with a mouse. I’ve made a lot of music “in the box”, as it were, and I like it, but I wanted to see what it was like to do stuff live-ish.
Being the kind of person that I am, this of course meant I had to write my own sequencer.
It is sort of an odd duck. You’ve got 5 tracks, and each event in any track is a point on a grid. The Euclidian distance between each event determine the time between them. This means that you get irrational rhythms (1 vs √2, say) for free.
You’ve also got five areas, and each of those has a sound or a MIDI note associate with it – and any events in an area play that sound.
There’s also no sync between tracks, and you can run functions on each track that move the events left or right, rotate them, expand them, and so forth: =>R4, say
This, to make a long story short, make something that sounds a lot like itself. It is loose, the patterns tend to drift away from each other, and you can make dramatic changes in notes or tempo by throwing a function at a given pattern.
The default version of the sequencer plays back 808 samples by default – so I made a series of drum tracks with it. But it also does MIDI, so I also pointed it to Ableton, and did a bunch of semi-ambient FM synth jams with it. These are not bad! They’re on Bandcamp, if you want to check them out.
Oddly enough, the fact that I’ve edited and produced these tracks a bit sort of makes them a bit less compelling. Having the visuals of the sequencers really helps to make the arc of the thing more obvious – for example, one of the synth tracks is basically me slowly drawing smaller and smaller triangles across the screen, ending with vertical lines.
I keep thinking that I’d like to add macros, or patterns of pattern changes, to make dealing with form easier, but I know that way lies chaos and sleepless nights.
I’d also maybe like to spend some time focusing on the synthesis side, of some way of controlling the Ableton FM synths in a way that makes sense with the sequencer and the patterns – but that way lies a lot of wrassling with SysEx and weird MIDI commands, I am sure.
You can, of course, try what I’ve got here – I hope some magic comes out of it!! (The code is also on Github, though it sure is not the nicest code I have ever written.)