Sunday, 20 August 2017

Using Chromatic Remapping To Generate Musical Inspiration

Previously, I looked in some depth at the Ableton 'Scale' effect, one of the quieter backwaters of the 'built-in' MIDI effects. That blog started out concentrating on how to invert a keyboard, but ended up producing lots of chromatic maps that take incoming notes and map them to different outgoing note pitches. Which led to another investigation, the results of which you are now reading...

While I was producing the variations on chromatic inverted scales for the previous blog, I realised that these were all specific cases of a much more general set: the set of remapping of incoming notes to single outgoing notes on a one-to-one basis. In other words, each and every incoming note is converted to one, and only one, outgoing note. There are a lot of these maps: there are 12 input notes and 12 output notes, so I think that means that there are 12! combinations, which is just under 480 million. So me making 30-odd of them available is a tiny fraction of the whole set! And that's where I realised that I could make them all available in a MaxForLive plug-in utility, and MIDI_ChromatixT_mr was born.

In the screenshot, MIDI_Chromatix_mr is shown in its normal location in the MIDI processing chain - just in front of the Scale effect (Alternatively, you could use any of the many available MIDI Scale-type effects available in MaxForLive). The diagram below shows how everything fits together:

Incoming notes are mapped to different pitches by MIDI_ChromatixT_mr, and then restricted to the chosen notes in the scale set by the Scale effect. In the example screenshot above, the C minor preset scale has been altered so that only 5 output pitches can occur. This constrains the output notes to just the pitches C, D#, F, G# and A#. Incoming notes can be at any pitch, and they will be mapped to new pitches by the map. So an incoming A might be mapped to C, whilst an F could be mapped to a D#, etc. 

The grid in MIDI_ChromatixT_mr sets the mapping of incoming notes. In the screenshot above, the vertical cursor line is showing an incoming D (moving across from left to right), whilst the orange marker is in the A# row (counting up from bottom to top). Now, whilst it is possible to edit the mappings (Click on the 'Auto/Fix' button so it shows 'Fix', and the mapping will be fixed and editable), the 'Generate' button creates new random mappings with a single click. So it is easy to just keep clicking on the 'Generate' button until it has created a random mapping that you like - the usual M4L store/recall buttons on the left can be used to save it if you wish. 

But the really interesting part of MIDI_ChromatixT_mr is the 'Auto' button, when it is set to 'Auto' then the 'Generat' button will be pressed every time the bar count to the left of the 'Auto' button matches the number set in the pop-up selector on the far left. So if the selector is set to 4, then every 4 bars, a new chromatic mapping will be produced, and incoming notes will be mapped using that new mapping instead of the one used in the previous 4 bars. This then repeats every 4 bars.

What this means is that every time the bar count reaches the number of bars shown by the selector, then incoming notes will be mapped differently, using a new one of the millions of possible chromatic mappings. So whatever notes are in the (monophonic is recommended) track sequence that is driving MIDI_ChromatixT_mr, the output will be a scale-constrained version of the remapped versions of them. The D to A# mapping in one set of bars could be replaced with a D to G# in the next set of bars, then a D to F mapping in the next set of bars. 

It's a bit like shuffling cards and then dealing them out for a card game. The shuffling means that you get a different hand of cards each time, but the number of cards you get (and the game you are playing) are fixed. So whilst the notes get remapped to new pitched notes, they are still constrained to just the notes in the scale you have set. 

What this does musically is take a monophonic sequence in a track, and play those notes, remapped to new pitches whilst still being constrained by the scale, and yet the timing and velocity of those new notes remains exactly as it was in the original sequence. So it's a bit like an randomiser and a bit like an arpeggiator, but until that 'Generate' button is activated, the mapping is fixed, so if you find a mapping that you like, click on the 'Auto' button so that it says 'Fix', and then session record the output with the 'doughnut' session record button in Live. Of course, an easy alternative is just to let it free run, generating new mappings every 4 or 8 bars, and to record everything, and then just extract the bits you like. 

In a few minutes, MIDI_ChromatixT_mr will run through lots of variations of your monophonic track sequence, all following the timing and the velocity exactly, but with different pitches every time the 'Generate' happens. It's a bit like having an assistant who can keep running through variations, one after the other, and who never gets tired or bored, and never loses patience. MIDI_ChromatixT_mr is an automatic 'Can you just do that twisted around a bit?' generator.

Demonstration 1

The problem with random music generators is the they are often too random, and when they do come up with something interesting, then it has happened and gone almost before you realise. MIDI_ChromatixT_mr repeats each random variation for the number of times that you set the bar selector, and so if it is set to 4 bars, then you will hear the same variation 4 times, before it moves on to the next one. This is probably best heard rather than described in words, so here's a demonstration of a simplee piano and bass duet produced entirely from an 8-note track sequence and a 4 note bass track sequence, with MIDI_ChromtixT_mr producing all the variations every 4 bars. Once the 12 notes have been set in the track sequences, everything else is just a straight recording. 

Demonstration 2

This second demonstration has the same bass, and has two independently variations piano lines using the same technique, spaced an octave apart. 

The top line adds a 16 note sequence, but with a random velocity added to provide additional variety. Again, once set running, the recording has had no user manipulation. 


As usual, MIDI_ChromatixT_mr can be downloaded from Enjoy!

The Name?

Why such a weird name? Well, I thought about all sorts of variations (!) on chromatic remapped, or even diffuser (cryptographers call this type of device a 'diffuser') and the first version was completely manual and was 'Chromatix. When I then added the automatic 'every n-bars' generation feature, then it needed something to indicate time, so I added a 'T' at the end. As a result, you aren't likely to forget this M4L device.


Yep. Try poly tracks and see what happens...

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