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Author David Luebbert
Posted 1/12/12; 9:18:36 PM
Msg# 5901 (top msg in thread)
Prev/Next 5900/5902
Reads 523152

Dave, what have you been doing recently?

Since my last home page posting, a good part of that time I spent developing a cool music composing tool for SongTrellis visitors to use called a Tonematrix.

What's a tonematrix?

A Tonematrix is a kind of music creation web interface that plays a small looped musical composition. It displays a square grid on a web page, with clickable grid squares, whose columns represent ticks of a metronome or the succession of durations of a rhythm pattern, and whose rows represent one pitch out of a harmonious collection of pitches.

Clicking on a blank tonematrix grid square causes that row's pitch to play starting at that column's metronome tick within the tonematrix loop's tick sequence.

How do you play with a tonematrix?

This URL will display a newly created, pristine but silent tonematrix, waiting for your first composing action:

You'll launch this URL whenever you follow the "Tonematrix" link that appears now in the middle of the top row of the link bar at the top of pages on the SongTrellis site.

You'll hear it play musical sound and perhaps see it animate that music (provided a capable animation-ready web browser is running) a second or two after you click inside any grid square within the matrix with your mouse. The time to respond to a click action at any instant reflects the current computing workload of the SongTrellis web servers.

By default, each matrix column corresponds to one tick of a metronome that clicks at a fixed tempo, and the pitches that play for a column are assigned from top row to bottom row using pitches of a specified chord or scale that are replicated over several descending octaves.

How does a tonematrix work?

As soon as a user clicks on a blank grid square in a matrix, they are taking an action that adds a sound to the music loop that the Tonematrix software plays. The instant a user clicks on a square in an empty Tonematrix, it's color changes to red, the pitch corresponding to that square's row at the instant specified by its column is added to the matrix loop, and the Tonematrix player begins to loop through the matrix performing it.

A tonematrix can animate a musical idea in an instant

On web browsers that run HTML5's Canvas animation package (Firefox, Safari and Chrome), a tonematrix will animate to show the pitches that are playing at any instant in the matrix loop. If animation is permitted, as soon as the next metronome tick occurs, all of the the red colored squares in the corresponding matrix column turn to green to show that they are sounding their pitches.

As soon as the next click takes place, all of the green colored grid squares in the last column are changed back to red, to allow the next column begins to play and show green. As an animation takes place you will see a vertical band of green squares that will loop repeatedly across the matrix from left to right.

If a person doesn't like how a particular square makes their piece sound, they can click on that square again to toggle it off, thereby silencing the pitch that this square added to the tonematrix performance.

What makes a tonematrix loveable?

I love this most about a Tonematrix: using one it's possible to show a person, who does not possess even one word of prior music vocabulary, how to compose, depending only upon the tiniest initial instruction and their own innate sense of musical rightness.


I love how quickly I can find new musical ideas when I use a tonematrix.

When a person clicks within a grid square, the SongTrellis server prepares a new, changed version of their loop. When that new version of the piece is delivered to their web browser a second or so after their click action, the new music plays and the animation restarts, to let them hear how their music sounds and see how it looks. If they discover that they've made an unpleasant change to their piece, they turn that square off with a mouse click and and click on another square that may please their ears more, and again they'll hear the audio reflection of their editing action, almost instantly.

Shape shift an idea into something better

Because the tonematrix is looping away playing the current version of the music, waiting for another user mouse click to change the music that's playing, it's easy for a tonematrix user to quickly decide if the new version of the loop satisfies.

Frequently, they'll feel that they had gotten the pitch of the next sound right, but that it might sound better if it happened at a later or earlier tick than their first try. They can make that pitch sound earlier by clicking a square to the left of their original choice in the same row. They can make it sound later, by clicking a square to the right of the original.

It will also happen that they might like the contour of their idea, the way that it rises an falls, but feel that their exact pitch choice is not precisely the right one for their ear. It's easy to toggle off the less effective grid square and listen to the grid square neighbors that reside in the rows above or below that first experiment.

If you compose at a piano or with a guitar, you must precisely remember the pitches and timings of the idea that you've just stumbled across, so that you can write them down. That skill develops while exercise it. A tonematrix though is a musical ratchet tool that precisely remembers your current best idea as you grow your piece, allowing you to compose even when your musical memory is still under development.

Intuition gained from tonematrix can motivate learning the musical lingo and concepts that will allow one to compose easier and with better control (my belief)

Once folks have acquired some intuition about how musical shapes work in a tonematrix, I believe it will be much easier for them to learn vocabulary that will allow them to develop their musical ideas ever faster, at whatever time they decide that such learning has value for them.

Remember this is a site dedicated to providing and tools and musical know-how for folks. Now that I've introduced the tool, I intend to help you develop your know how.

Perhaps parallel kinds of music animations can help

There's a "Launch Tunetext" button in the interface, which will launch a viewer to show the music notation translation of the current matrix in a new window. From the Tunetext window that launches, you can ask the SongTrellis server to prepare an animation that draws each note and chord on an initially empty music staff at the instant each of those objects sound in the score.

This kind of animation cannot be instantly produced like a tonematrix animation, but the server instantly returns the URL where the new animation will be delivered one or two or a few minutes later, and continuously posts a status report at that URL until the moment the animation replaces the status report and starts to play.

A tonematrix composer, who doesn't read music notation yet, can look at a notation animation and quickly appreciate that the rising and falling note series on a music staff shows the contour of a musical idea in the same way that the up and down transition of sounding squares in a tonematrix animation charts a melody's contour.

When a tonematrix is used, there's enough musical safety built in that it's hard to roll into an instant train wreck, which nearly always happens when a beginner touches a new instrument or music production tool.

Because the matrix pitches are assigned using a particular named chord or scale whose pitches harmonize with one another, it's relatively hard to find pitch successions in the matrix that are musically senseless, so long as only one chord is dialed in for the matrix, which is the default setup for a newly created tonematrix.

This is the opposite experience that beginning musicians have when they try press a succession of keys on a piano or strum strings on a guitar while fretting for the first time. Unless they are quite lucky, they nearly instantly run into a musical train wreck.

Your webmaster Dave Luebbert's Tonematrix testimony

Testimonial hat on:

As soon as I started to use this interface, I began to easily invent musical ideas that I don't believe I could have crafted previously. Finding chord accompaniments that satisfied me for the melodies I invented, became especially easy to do. Before I began to compose with a tonematrix, I had found that this was extremely hard work, given my level of skill.

I started to find new ideas with varied shapes in a few seconds time that would have been a laborious slog to discover using almost any of the other music invention methods I know how to invoke.

I'm thrilled whenever I can create software that turns nearly impossible to accomplish tasks into something that's easy to do and easy to teach, so working to better the capabilities of the tonematrix interface has been a thrill.

Testimonial hat off.

An amazing thing I discovered once I had a Tonematrix available to play with

Nearly always, once you've found an idea in a matrix that sounds good for a chosen pitch set, when you change the matrix controls to use a different chord or scale for its pitch assignments, you'll likely find that the matrix still plays a pleasing idea, albeit with a different emotional complexion. With this capability available, you can vary an idea in hundreds of ways and quickly find a variation that you can use to extend your composition in an interesting new way.

Once I've found an idea that I like, there's likely hundred's of different sensations and emotions that can be expressed by applying different pitch sets to that base idea which has been recorded in a tonematrix.

The Demos

Just to show what's possible, here are some example Tonematrix compositions

1) a loop that plays an idea composed in less than a minute that plays through a D6 chord. This loop has a cheerful, consonant sound.

2) this example performs the last tonematrix through a different chord, a Bb7Alt, which has a darker, more dissonant feeling to it. To create this, all I did was to change the Chord Root and Chord Type menus in the controls to the right of the tonematrix, and press the "Change Performance Now" button. After 15 seconds of effort I was able to audition this new music.

3) this two measure tonematrix is used to perform a 4 measure chord progression. This generates music that performs the tonematrix pattern using the first two chords of the progression and then plays a different but similar melody by interpreting the tonematrix using the pitch sets of the last two chords of the progression. This music took about 5 minutes to find.

4) this shows a 4 measure tonematrix that is played through a 12 measure chord progression. The tonematrix pitchset is stretched to fit each new chord at the instant it begins to sound resulting in a melody that accommodates each chord change. Composing this was a ten minute effort, with most of the time devoted to choosing the chords to include in the progression.

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Last update: Friday, January 13, 2012 at 12:24 PM.