You can use the innovative Fractal Tune Smithy music generator software to create music as intricate as snowflakes - effortlessly - vary the parameters for the fractal music, and just see what happens.
For more examples, with animations, see the Videos page
I made those clips using high quality softsynths such as Giga Studio, and the FM7. Also I used the SB Live! soundcard which though not generally considered particularly high quality, has sounds that I liked for the fractal tunes. Anyway when you download the program, the sounds you hear will depend on your computer setup and hardware.
You will hear the tunes on your computer right away using its built in instruments - just as you do when you play midi clips. If the tune has a violin in it, for instance, you will hear some version of a violin-like sound when you play the tune, depending how your computer is set up.
But if you really get into the fractal tunes, then at some point you are likely to want to get more instruments for your computer - either extra softsynths or samplers or VSTi instruments or extra internal or external soundcards.
Some people wonder why the tunes sound so good and wonder if Tune Smithy is "composing" them in some way. No - it isn't, not really. It is more akin to e.g. wind chimes than a composition. Sounds good - but not composed by anyone. Though actually as a fractal, it is a complicated construction built on the basis of a musical form known as a "canon by augmentation" or Sloth canon, in a similar way to the way some fractal images are built up in more and more fine details all based on the same visual form.
Danish composerPer Nørgårduses another (different) endless self similar (fractal like) strict sloth canon structure in some of his compositions. For more about this connection and the background mathematics see Self Similar Sloth Canon Number Sequences
So it is a precisely defined musical form in fact - but one that is hard for humans to write and easy for a computer, and for some reason it sounds good to us. But the software can only make music in this particular form and variations on it (and a couple of other similarly fractal musical forms that it's programmed to do). It can't write e.g. a minuet, or pop song, or symphony - even if it might sound like other types of music at times, nearly all the tunes are based on a sloth canon transformed in various ways. I don't know really why this works as well as it does or why it sometimes sounds so similar in "feel" to more conventional musical forms - except perhaps that it might suggest that fractals are related in some way to the way we appreciate music. For more about this, see Might FTS or a program like it one day become a composer in its own right?
Also, it doesn't make any choice about which of the tunes sound better than others - that is up to the user. The program will quite happily play a tune consisting of a single note repeating for hours on end. It's like fractal images - the computer does all the complicated working out of the notes, but the human user has to do the artistic choices that make it work.
First, here is what you see when you choose one of the tunes that come with the program:
(screen shot, doesn't play notes, to play the tunes you need to download the program)
To find this feature in Tune Smithy, open the Player icon in your Tune Smithy Tasks folder on your desktop (see side panel for pics). The particular tune shown is from the [2.4] drop list - all the tunes composed for FTS 2.4.
You can use this as a player to play any of the tunes that come with the program.
After you choose a tune from the drop lists, this is what you see:
(the skin shown here is the Mandelbrot one from Opts | Skins).
Although designed mainly as a player for the fractal tunes, it is a lot more than that, as you can see from the screen shot.
To show the sort of thing you can do, I'll start with one of the earlier, somewhat simpler tunes from the 1.082 list, the guitar recorder tubular bells (if the other midi clip is still playing, you may need to go back and stop it first).
First I go to the Parts window, and change the instruments:
Here I have highlighted part 2, and type Gl into the instrument field at the bottom. That is enough for FTS to recognise the instrument as the Glockenspiel, so it puts the Glockenspiel into part 2. You can enter any readily identifiable fragmentary part of the name - e.g. Be would get you the Tubular Bells, and so on.
You can also select the instrument using the voice menu.
I will change the third part to the trombone, then using the octave shift field move the instruments down in pitch as they are too high. Then go back to the main window and try varying the tempo, and maybe try different seeds as well.
You can do all this while the tune is playing, as you will hear in the clip
There actually at the end, after varying the seed a bit, I decided to go to Parts | Order of Play | Other and show the effect of varying the formula using the randomise button - that's another easy thing you can try out with any of the tunes.
Another thing you can do - if you are sensitive to rhythm, you may notice that that tune has a very regular "metronomic" type rhythm. Well you can vary that using the Tempo and Volume variation window to give something that moves and breathes in a more organic way. You can even deliberately unsynchronise the instruments to sound more like a human ensemble with good but not quite mechanical to microsecond level type synchronisation of timing.
Here are some of the things you can do right away with all those buttons and icons you see in the Player task:
You can vary the tempo
Transpose the entire tune up and down in pitch using the Pitch window.
Change any of the instruments playing -from the Parts window, or change the number of instruments in play.
Choose another seed from the drop list - this often completely transforms the tune. Or enter new numbers for the seed (separated with spaces) or play a new seed from your PC keyboard or music keyboard.
Change how the instruments are selected as the tune continues using Parts | Choose Parts By
You can randomise the tune itself - this not only selects a random tune from the list, but also varies many of its parameters at random too, and randomises the seed.
Play along yourself using the mouse or pc keyboard to play notes in the same tuning as the tune itself
Use the mouse theremin, again you can play it along with the tune as it plays (see the separate page on the Mouse & Joystick Theremin )
Send your tune as a musical e-card to a friend - see the Musical e-cards page
Vary the tempo and volume in various unusual ways, and create more organic sounding rhythms, from the Tempo and Volume Opts window
Transform the tune in many other ways using the Seed Opts window and the menus, also using Parts | Order of Play
Record your tune to an audio file, mp3 etc using the Set File double note button
Show the Lissajous pattern visual effects, or Lissajous 3D if you have the companion program installed (see, What is Lissajous 3D and The musical connection). These will respond to any tunes that have two or more notes played simultaneously.
Notice also the More and Less buttons. Many of the Tune Smithy windows have this. Click on the More button, and you get some more options, including a couple of buttons to vary the scales and arpeggios.
Click on the Less button for a more compact version with fewer buttons - if you click on the Less button a second time, finally you get to:
There you can vary the tempo - and vary the seed for the tune. If you choose a new seed, or enter some new numbers (usually best starting with a 0) then the tune will be transformed into a new version with a new melody line, often sounding very different as we have just found out - you will learn more about that, and why the whole tune changes so much when you vary the seed, on the Seeds & Fractals page.
If you want to go on and do a lot of fractal tune making, then you will probably eventually want to migrate to the Fractal Composer task.
Here is a picture of it.
It removes some of the things not essential to actual composing, and focuses on the most needed features - and also shows the Scale and Arpeggio in the main window so they are easily accessible.
Note that you can move back and forth between the various tasks while the program is running using the Tasks menu, if you go to Tasks | More. So if you have been working with the Composer task and then maybe want to use the randomiser, or the option to send a musical e-card from the Player task, you can easily switch to it - all your settings get kept when you switch between tasks in this way. Also the and icons in the window take you to the next and previous task - in this case the - takes you to the Player and + takes you from the Player to the Composer.
I want to mention this here particularly because the fractal tunes may be of particular interest to blind users. If you are blind or partially sighted, and use screen readers to read out to you what is on the screen and tell you what you can do to interact with it - then you will be pleased to know that FTS follows the Microsoft Accessibility guidelines. So, it should work with your screen reader.
It is built up using the standard windows components, unlike many music programs that do everything in a customised way. It has nice graphics for sighted readers, but these are done by modifying standard windows components, which have all the functionality your screen reader needs built into them. So it was an easy task for me to make it accessible in this way, and I have done what I can to keep it that way. If you have particular requests for ways to make the program more accessible in any respect I am always delighted to hear from you and will see what can be done. I test it with Window Eyes, using their demo. Happy to test with any other screen reader that has a demo available to try.
Version 2.4 of Tune Smithy was reviewed in October's edition of Sound On Sound 2004, with particular attention played to its fractal tune generating possibilities. (clips for the tunes he mentions also given separately below).
Don't go away thinking FTS can only generate avant-garde meanderings for classical and jazz buffs. Although many of the offerings are 'off the beaten track', they may still inspire new songs, while others, such as 'string quintet' and 'shakuhachi and koto' are gently melodic, and still others (such as 'resting in the shade') create floating backdrops. You can also explore the more rhythmically-based offerings, such as the improvised 'percussion medley' and 'non-repeating bongos'."
Freeware / Shareware status: This feature is shareware.
To continue reading about the fractal tunes, go on to the Endless tunes - which explains why the tunes are endless, introduces you to fractals, and explains with music clips how many of the tunes are canons by augmentation (and explains what one of those beasts is).
You are recommended to try out the program first. If you decide to purchase, you need to buy the Play level. If you want to use a music keyboard with FTS as well, or use it to retune your notation software or sequencer, you need the Complete level.
To find this feature after you download Tune Smithy: Look in the Tune Smithy Tasks window for: or to mainly listen to the tunes: or run from the desktop shortcut.
The program comes with a Free Test drive with all the features completely unlocked (start the test drive at any time):