Music of the Squares

Here’s a funky program that can help you make sweet(?) music with your PC. Plimbole is a sequencer for Generative Music that you can treat either as a standalone program or you can get the Smalltalk source and hack away to add new features of your own.

Plimbole is based on Otomata from Earslap. It uses the same cellular automata logic as Otomata but adds a few new features that, hopefully, make the results more compelling. Things like different grid sizes, colour palettes and the ability to play through MIDI with separate voices for the low and high parts. We’ve tried to keep the interface simple and stylish and not load it up with every conceivable feature. You can download the executable and run it straightaway or get hold of the latest Dolphin Smalltalk source code and fire Plimbole up from the Samples folder.

In order to get started, just click in the central grid area and place cells. Each cell has a direction that it will travel in and as it collides with the boundary walls it will create a note. The pitch of each note will be dependent on which part of the boundary is hit; pitches increase from left to right and from top to bottom. Clicking again on a cell will alter the starting direction by 90 degrees. Start the "music" with the Play button and the cells are stepped in their current directions. When one cell hits another each is rotated clockwise a quarter turn. You can stop the player at any time and add more cells, or you can simply add them while it is running.

Not everything you create will sound great. But sometimes you'll come across some rather nice patterns. Apart from just changing the cells, try altering the scale used and make sure you mess with the tenor and alto voices to see if that produces a better effect. You can also change the grid size from its default 9x9.

When you find something that sounds cool, you can copy the set up (let's call it a piece) to the clipboard. Then you can share it with others or just save it for later. The piece descriptions are compatible with the original Otomata link format so you can play pieces from there in Plimbole and vice-versa. For example, here's one from the Otomata page:

Try copying this (you actually only need the bit after ?q=) and clicking on the import button in Plimbole. But just to show you how you can liven things up, here is the same piece but with different tenor and alto voices (Marimba and ElectrcGuitaMuted respectively):


For even more craziness, try launching several Plimbole windows at once and create an ensemble piece. Use the + button to do this and each instance should stay synchronised with all the others.

Let us know any good stuff that you come up with and have fun!
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