Generative Music – Part II – Nodal

NodalScreenSnapz001Continuing my look at generative music software, here’s Nodal, also free (but not for much longer — it’s currently on a time-limit that expires on October 30, at which point an upgrade will be released, for a reasonable $25) that, like Tiction, generates MIDI pitches derived from user-placed (and defined) nodes. Where Tiction uses the distance between connected nodes (indicated by a 1, 2, 3, and so on, on the connector’s midpoint) to determine how many tics (of the MIDI clock) will pass between soundings of adjacent nodes, Nodal uses a graph to accomplish this.

Tiction allows you to determine the “physical” behavior (jiggle, attract, repel, plus another feature called “weight”) and pitch behavior of each node. The node can draw its pitch from a set of 16 pre-defined, user-selectable pitches, where it makes its selection according to where it’s drifting on the X/Y axis, OR you can assign that node a single, fixed pitch from inside or outside the set of 16.

With Nodal, on the other hand, the nodes are immobile. That doesn’t mean you are forced to live with the graph — I took the screenshot I took so you can see one of the examples that comes with the program (along with several other provocative examples), a beautiful miniature that is definitely free of the grid, called Nebula. Nested beside Nebula in the screenshot is the result of my following the tutorial. With Nodal, there’s more flexibility and possibility with pitch choices: each node can be assigned its own pitch list or something relational to another node using +/- n. Just for the record, here’s a short MP3 example of the result of the tutorial, not bad for 6 little nodes:


Despite their similarities, and while Tiction has the attractive feature of being hypnotically beautiful and is something that you can fire up and make music in minutes with ((my own technical synchronization/MIDI note-off problems with Tiction aside — I also couldn’t get Tiction to sync with Reason 4.0), I had no such problems with Nodal, as Nodal comes with a dedicated port built in, making (I think) IAC unnecessary). Nodal ultimately presents itself as something else, another way of composing. One of the downloadable PDFs at the Nodal website reads a little like a manifesto at times (but hey, then call me товарищ (comrade)):

“The goal of any Arti cial Life (AL) or generative composition system should be to off er possibilities and results unattainable with other methods. A number of authors have suggested that the emergence of novel and appropriate macro behaviours and phenomena — arising through the interaction of micro components speci fied in the system — is the key to achieving this goal. While simple emergence has been demonstrated in a number of AL systems, in the case of musical composition, many systems restrict the ability to control and direct the structure of the composition, conceding instead to the establishment of emergence as the primary goal.

This focus on emergence exclusively, while interesting in terms of the emergent phenomena themselves, has been at the expense of more useful software systems for composition itself. The aim of the work described in this paper is to design and build a generative composition tool that exhibits complex emergent behaviour, but at the same time offers the composer the ability to structure and control processes in a compositional sense. The idea being that the composer works intuitively in a synergetic relationship with the software, achieved through a unique visual mapping between process construction and compositional representation.

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