the future of generative music – beyond bloom, scape and mixtikl…

as one of our readers recently pointed out, the ios is a fantastic place for generative music to blossom and grow.  already, we have a surprisingly high number of generative music applications available, and I am sure that list will grow over the next couple of years.

I’ve expressed before that I am a late arriver onto the generative music scene, but as with every new music that I discover, I tend to jump in head first, and continue to dive in as time goes on.  my purescapes channel on youtube is one example of this ambition – to eventually, over a number of years, to publish all 1100 scapes (and counting) so that the world can hear what an amazing, ever-changing, ever-surprising generative application brian eno and peter chilvers‘ “scape” is.  I could sit here and wax profound for paragraph after paragraph, trying to describe what a beautiful, generative, ambient sound “scape” has, but I realised early on, that the ONLY way to describe “scape“, would be to simply capture and publish every scape I’ve ever created.

and across those 1100 plus scapes, there is such a huge variance in sound, composition, approach, ambience, melody, dissonance, mood, atmosphere – and I allowed scape to “grow” organically, so I started out with the minimum tools, and allowed the app to “reveal” new sounds as I went along, so for many, many months, every few days, I would “get” another new element, which I would then experiment with, on it’s own, in multiples, with existing elements, through different “mood filters” – until the next new sound arrived.

so the scapes in the 300 range, will have double or more the elements of the first 30, and those in the 700 range, more elements still, until now, in the 1000s, where I have all of the elements and backgrounds exposed and at my disposal.  I had deliberately set scape aside for a few weeks, until last night, when I picked it up, and within 10 minutes, another 30 scapes are added to the ever-growing catalogue, and – the sound of a completed scape, with carefully chosen backgrounds and elements, based on my now many-months of experience – still does not fail to UTTERLY delight me – the sound of scape is mesmerising, I can and do listen to scapes for hours; creating them is a joy, and my only regret is that I cannot produce the next 1090 videos fast enough – I would give anything to be able to push a button and upload all 1100 scapes to youtube, just so the whole world can HEAR this music – it’s like I’ve made 60 new eno albums over the past several months – which in an odd sense, I have, since I am merely assembling, re-assembling, breaking down and building up, a lot of sounds either found or created by eno, and chilvers – so of course, that does make most scapes sound a LOT like…the music of brian eno.

and that, my friends, is a good thing.  I would go out on a limb and say that in some regards, out of some hundred or so music apps I now have (that in itself is gobsmackingly astonishing!), some of them absolutely incredible – that scape is possibly, my single favourite music application, and the one I probably get the most enjoyment out of.  but – I tell you what REALLY excites me – the idea that within a few years, I will have uploaded hopefully at least the first few hundred scapes, so that you can hear this amazing music – I feel like I have this secret cache of eno music, that I really want everyone to hear – so – hence, the purescapes video page – slow going I am afraid, but in time, I hope it will become a point of reference for anyone interested in acquiring and using scape – which I unreservedly encourage and recommend most highly.  if you are even thinking about downloading scape – I urge you – do not hesitate, just do it – you will have hours of fun, and, you will create your own library of “new” eno compositions – to enjoy now and for always.

and scape, of course, led me to it’s predecessor, mixtikl – an application that I am just now becoming familiar with.  and what an application it is!  massive sound libraries of the most astonishing weird and wonderful sounds; create your own sounds (I am dreaming of recording many, many samples of long, long ebow guitar notes, and then assembling them into strange mixtikl creations…) – and then load them either by design, or by using the random generator, into wonderful pieces of generative music.

mixtikl, despite sharing a founding  father figure in mr. brian eno, is the polar opposite of scape in terms of elements being exposed and available.  scape is entirely hidden, the rules are hidden, control of volume, eq, effects is primitive or non-existent, but in mixtikl – well, you have almost TOO much control of what is going on.  every cell, every sound, every effect, can be adjusted, tweaked, and modified to your heart’s content.  while scape creates it’s pieces using a very tightly limited set of elements, mixtikl allows any sound imaginable – and yet, both apps, create wonderful, ambient, generative music.

it’s true, that in mixtikl, you can easily create very noisy, very active pieces, but I am not particularly attracted to that – although I have used it to create a great quasi-ambient drum-driven backing track for ebow guitar – I tend to steer mixtikl down the ambient path, because, to my mind, that is what it does the best.  I am sure active music creators might disagree, and I am sure it’s extremely capable of creating great active music – but that’s just not my interest.  but what mixtikl can achieve in the ambient realm – well, I am just getting started, and so far, the pieces I’ve created do not disappoint – you do have to tweak things quite a bit to get it to sound truly ambient, but it’s worth the effort.

in scape, it’s almost too easy to make a good sounding piece – the samples, and the rules, just automatically add up to a great sounding, eno-sounding, eno-soundalike – almost every time.  very rarely, I produce a scape that is not quite eno-like, but – that is rare indeed.  in mixtikl, it takes much, much longer to assemble and tweak a piece of ambient generative music, but it’s always worthwhile, because once you do get things sounding good (usually, by removing elements and turning elements volume DOWN…) – it sounds REALLY good.

I feel as if I’ve been short-changing bloom this entire time, but for some reason, I always felt like bloom was a prototype for scape (which in many ways, it was), and while bloom can make some really lovely sounds, it just doesn’t seem like an instrument to me – it plays back some really beautiful eno-esque sounds, but when scape came along, with it’s infinitely more varied sound palette, plus the ability to capture scapes very, very quickly as finished pieces of generative music…it kinda knocked poor old bloom off the charts.  which is a shame, because bloom is a really lovely app, well worth spending time with.

I tended to just create a track in bloom, and listen to it, rather than capture it – so even though I’ve created many, many bloom tracks – I’ve never recorded one – which is a real shame, as some of them were downright beautiful.  I think though that eno went back to the drawing board, and came up with scape – which is a million times more capable – I just like the sound of scape a little bit more than I like the sound of bloom.

even though I am singularly unqualified to say, since I really have only had experience with a few of the many, many generative music creation tools that have come along over the past decade or so, I really believe that the next few years may be a real game-changer for generative music.  if I just take the toolsets of  the two generative music applications that I am personally most familiar with, scape and mixtikl, and I think about the power and choice on offer to create beautiful, or dissonant, generative music, it’s difficult to imagine where things might go next.

the change from bloom to scape was like a quantam leap, and the strange, secret complexity of scape’s hidden “rules” is most impressive.  since it’s been expressed out loud that folk would like a version of scape where they are able to, a) load in their own samples and b) create their own not-hidden “rules”…to which chilvers basically replied that it was very unlikely that eno and chilvers would produce such a thing, simply down to the way the programming had to be done, it’s not readily adaptable to either the use of user-created samples OR users being permitted to set and manipulate “the rules”…so knowing that eno and chilvers won’t do it, it’s my hope that some other enterprising application writer will.

the future: imagine then, if you will, a sort of open-source app that is like scape in design, but with one staggeringly different difference – the samples are created entirely by the user; the rules are written and set by the user, the coloured filters/effects are set by the users – like scape with a mixtikl-like level of control.  that would really be something, and I would imagine too, that the visualisation, regardless if it mirrored the scape “screen” or the mixtikl “visualisation” screen – probably this new super-generative app would allow for either approach – and all the VISUAL content would be user-generated.

this would mean, for example, instead of assembling a scape using the “shapes” the eno and chilvers created and related to a musical event, that multi-media artist/musicians could create entirely unique, and utterly personal, multi-media artworks, where each musical background, and each musical element, relates to a user-created music sample, and all aspects, from the visual design of the artwork, to the relating of the artworks’ elements to sound events, to the final EQ, mixing and filtering – the application of effects – all completely controlled by the user.

sort of an amalgam of mixtikl, bloom and scape, but with complete user control.  maybe no one will build it, but, because somebody asked chilvers the question, and he said no, scape isn’t going that way – then maybe, just maybe someone will pick up the fallen standard and carry it forward to a brave new world of generative music that right now, I can barely imagine, but then, three years ago, I would never have dreamed I would have 100 amazing sound creation applications on a tiny tablet from which I can produce world-class music of not just ambient, but of any time, that I would be able to play my guitar through virtual amps, cabinets and effects in an application such as ampkit+, and that audiobus would revolutionise recording of synths and other sound sources in the ios.

so the whole thing is impossible, so a future with super-generative applications that are far, far, beyond koan, mixtikl (and all it’s “-tikl” brethren, too many to mention!), bloom and scape – is totally and entirely possible – and I will actually be surprised if it DOESN’T happen.

I am continually astonished by what happens in the ios – someone conceives and then invents audiobus – and suddenly, every music app creator worth it’s salt, immediately adds audiobus capability to their apps (the latest entrant, addictive synth – that make me so, so happy, because that is one of my top three favourite ipad synthesizers of all time!) meaning that a huge number of sound producing apps can now be used together under audiobus – which, if you have something like auria or cubasis installed, makes professional multi-track recording a reality, not just for synths and MIDI devices, but also for guitar apps – that is astonishing.  I would never have dreamed, a year ago, that something as clever as audiobus would free us to make recording on the iPad very simple indeed.

a few weeks ago, there were at most, a dozen apps on the input side of audiobus.  today – there are 25, and more being added every day. some music apps have taken audiobus support so seriously, that they have configured their sound-generating app to work in all three audiobus positions – input, effects, output.  that’s dedication!

so when I see growth like that, I can readily imagine that generative music apps might go through similar startling adaptations, and great leaps forward, audiobus-style, which might eventually make the very, very complex and capable mixtikl and scape, seem simple by comparison.  I do not know – I could be wrong – but the ipad’s ios is clearly the place where developers come up with startling, innovative concepts like audiobus, not to mention several miraculously life-like and sound-perfect recreations of classic hardware synthesizers, or incredibly high quality amplifier, speaker, microphone, and effects modelling in a product like ampkit+ or stomp box (my absolute two favourite ipad guitar apps – hands down).

to me, all of that is magic, magic of a high order – and what it’s done for me, since I never had the money to invest in a lot of music hardware, I never could afford a moog of any kind, or a korg, and I absolutely would never have had the money to buy a hardware fairlight! – yet now, I “own” all of those instruments in the incredibly low cost application version – and more importantly, I can now have the experience of creating music with those tools that were always beyond my reach – because I can afford to pay twenty quid for a fairlight, but twenty grand – no 🙂

I think that music making on the ios has already exceeded our collective expectations, but I shiver to think what the future might hold, not just for amazing, super-generative music apps, but for all music-making, not wanting to particularly paraphrase the carpenters here, but I have no choice: we’ve clearly, only just begun.

I can’t wait, I am so, so looking forward to the next five, ten years of music development on the ios.  the sky is the limit!



4 responses to “the future of generative music – beyond bloom, scape and mixtikl…

  1. Interesting as always. I love scape as a music listener to create my own virtual Eno and would add Trope as an intermediary step from Bloom, with its slightly more complex sound world. Got Mixtikl on the basis of your previous comments and like it, but would say the 2 apps are for different users. As a consumer of sound I find M too detailed – I agree that the random mixes need tweaking to make them really smooth & I get lost and confused by the options. Similarly if I create it myself. But I am getting a feel for the random options to come closer to something I can enjoy.

    For a while I did have a version of Koan & the interface – dragging sounds into a field where the X/Y axis were variables (can’t remember what) worked well. Probably even more so now the sound sampled would be even better.

    But I think what make Scape work so well is that Eno/Childers have thought deeply about what works in ambience, dropped confounding factors like beats, and included rules that produce temporal change. It is generative in a clearly defined sound world where aleatoric music works.

    • Hello Jeremy

      Well, thanks to a catastrophe in Word Press, the 2000 word reply I made to your comment, was just lost forever in the blink of an eye. I should know better than to ever type online, I did not realise there was no auto save in the comment reply…

      Thank you very much for your comments, which I really appreciate. As I noted, I sat down and wrote a long, detailed reply, most of which I cannot possibly recreate from memory since it was so extensive….but I shall try. Apologies if this seems fragmented, the carefully thought out and documented version, is now gone!

      I missed out on Trope and other early generative music tools, and I moved straight from Koan to the second generation generative music tools: scape and mixtikl. that is probably good and bad, although I am actually thinking about going back and trying both Air and Trope if I can…

      I agree with you that the layout and controls of mixtikl are quite enigmatic and daunting at first, but if you are patient – well, it does get easier. The beauty of it, where mixtikl is as complex as scape is simple – is in the almost limitless options and the huge amount of control you have over the sounds in mixtikl. I should have warned you about how complex it is, and I can totally understand how you might find it daunting – I did, and sometimes still do, find it quite daunting myself! but you just have to keep trying things, never be afraid to push a button to see what it does…

      Scape is a closed world, the samples are what they are (and don’t get me wrong, they are beautiful!) but they do constrain scape to making a certain type of piece, using a very particular vocabulary. It’s almost impossible to make a bad sounding scape, while it’s quite easy to make a bad sounding mixtikl piece.

      That is strictly down to the closed world of very beautiful, carefully recorded and chosen sounds that eno and chilvers used, as opposed to mixtikl, where you have a big library of sounds, you can purchase many more sounds, and you can even create your own sound paks and use those in your compositions (something I very much look forward to doing at some point in the future when I have more time available) – so one main difference is – due to the lack of beats, the lack of drums, and an almost complete lack of any percussion sounds – scape is really only good for one purpose – making really beautiful ambient music. of course, that’s a good problem to have 🙂

      Whereas – contrasting again – mixtikl, can create ambient music of great beauty, similar to scape, but you can also create louder music, more active music, music with drums, music with beats, so it’s almost an open-ended sound universe, as compared to the closed system/small sound world that scape is.

      I don’t entirely agree that they are for different users, because I am one user, and I use them both – happily and often. I used scape a lot during the first several months, to the point where I had created an enormous library of scapes in a very, very short time (as of yesterday, over 1100) – which is easy to do, because the tool is so simple to use. mixtikl, which is really quite a recent acquisition – well, I am taking more time with it, trying to learn the gui, and really get the hang of how it works before I do too many pieces with it.

      I will make one observation, I do not know why this is, but, for me, as a guitarist, well, I had high hopes that I could use scape as a backing for improvisations, I thought, this will be fantastic. Strangely though, when I sat down to do it, the first three sessions, over a period of weeks, were nothing short of disastrous ! Nothing went right, and only a small handful of pieces out of many, ended up being usable. So I find it difficult but not impossible, to “play along” with scape…

      …whereas with mixtikl, even after a very short time, I created a purpose-built backing track that will be perfect for ebow guitar in the style of Bill Nelson. I can’t really describe this piece in words, but it reminds me of a piece entitled “He And Sleep Were Brothers” by Bill Nelson from one of his most interesting periods – a really atmospheric piece of music. So I can see mixtikl being useful for two or more purposes: one, to create really ambient work, and two, to create really interesting backing tracks for ambient or semi-ambient improvs…three, for other odd musics that lay between ambient and active…

      so I think that scape and mixtikl are for different uses, not users – or maybe that’s what you meant to type 🙂

      I should have warned you about mixtikl, after scape, it will seem very, very overly complex, but everyone of those buttons and options is designed to give you the maximum flexibility, in terms of effects and eq and mix and so on…the tools are well thought out, but it is biased towards musicians – they were perhaps not expecting brave laymen to tackle mixtikl – I don’t know.

      I have only just started using the random function in mixtikl – just yesterday, I created a random piece, removed a few overly active cells I didn’t like, turned everything DOWN, turned up the reverb, and within half an hour, I have the beginnings of a very, very soothing droney quiet beautiful ambient piece of generative music. I actually prefer choosing the sounds myself, and building the tracks up – but that DOES take a lot more time – and it’s sometimes fun to see what the random generator comes up with, too.

      I hope that you will persevere with mixtikl, because I feel it is really worthwhile, it’s a really, really good tool, it just takes a bit of persistence and tenacity and patience, and you will end up with some really beautiful pieces of music.

      scape is good for one thing: making very beautiful, ambient, atmospheric pieces of music. mixtikl is good for two or more things: making very beautiful, ambient, atmospheric pieces of music, and also, for making awesome backing tracks for live improvs, including drums and other “normal” instruments.

      about beats: I applaud eno and chilvers decision NOT to include beats in scape, for a very simple reason (and anyone with a different view to this, my apologies) – my own personal definition of ambient, does not include drums or percussions. that’s actually why I called my site “pureambient” – because I want the best ambient music to be drumless, beatless, almost formless moving atmospheres that are all about texture – rather than the traditional melody, harmony, beat.

      so I am glad of that, because it says to me that eno and chilvers – whether consciously or not, it matters not – agree with my viewpoint that “thou shalt not have drums in ambient” – of course, I love ambient music that has drums or beats, I make music like that myself all the time – but I probably wouldn’t characterise a piece as ambient if I’ve included drums – I would call it semiambient. but that’s just me 🙂

      but the lack of beats, as you pointed out – an intentional decision, and one that pushed scape into a very particular musical space – which they knew would be one of peace, meditative sounds, and an atmospheric, ambient feel.

      I really, really appreciate your comment, I am not happy that my initial reply was lost, but this one contains the gist of what I said in that reply, and I thank you again for taking the time to comment, and for your insights into scape, trope and mixtikl. I am no expert in mixtikl, but if I can help with any of the controls that don’t make sense – I’d be happy to try. believe me, it is very, very complex, but that means, very, very capable – so it’s probably just a question of taking your time, learn what one or two buttons do each time you use it, and eventually, it will seem much, much clearer – I found it to be UTTERLY baffling the first few times I tried to use it, but the more I do use it – the more I understand, and, the easier it gets…

      in the meantime – keep making music – always!

      all the very best

      • Dave
        And thanks for your long – can’t imagine the longer! – reply.

        I did mean users: and you went part way there when you talk about it being biased to musicians. I have been a music consumer for years (I know the Bill Nelson piece – I am old enough to have bought a vinyl version of trial by intimacy) and reviewed as &mpersand etcetera for quite a few years – but have never been a serious producer. I have dabbled with things (such as Koan, Bloom, Trope – I would not expect much from Air if I were you as it is simplified down dramatically) and once I got the iphone also got some synths to play (in the terms of mess around) with and make noises. The synth propers left me lost in terms of making useful noises, but I still knock out a few ellatron notes (trying to find Epitaph – which I had from it’s first release though it took me a while, and Larks to get into the sound {I enjoyed your post on the boxset – a desription of something I couldn’t begin to have a good excuse to buy!}[and at the moment I am donating a lot to DGM buying soundscapes and frippertronics]). So Scape suits me for wacking on a new Eno piece to listen to. I will persever with Mixtikl though as I can see the pleasures of working on a good track. Surprisingly I hadn’t thought of deleting sounds from a random generation, so I will work on that. Most controls are becoming less opaque (like finding that to turn a knob you use the slider) but I am still not sure what the four samples in the bottom row that appear with all randoms are meant to do – I think you can play/select them but I am not sure. Where most of the otehrs I have played with our minor timewasters, I can see that Mixtikl will keep me enthralled.

        And mixtakl is also demonstrating another reason why there are no beats in scape – it is difficult to get the right beat to randomly go with the samples you have assembled – it is probably the bit that most regularly goes wrong with a random one. And while I can’t totally agree with no beats in ambience, I accept your pure ambient position.

        Thanks for the blog, music and comments.


        • Thanks so much for this, Jeremy.

          I totally sympathise regarding the financial woes that ensue when you start downloading Frippertronics from DGM. I had the same problem recently.

          A few years back, DGM was taking money from me regularly for a lot of collectors club CDs,too 🙂

          I do have manetron which is similar to Ellatron, but I am hoping that g force will adapt their amazing soft synth MTronPro for the ipad,

          If they don’t, eventually I will breakdown and try the mellotronics….

          I have zeros issue with beats in ambient….and I do it all the time. But the purest ambient works,such as neroli or Thursday afternoon….well,you understand … It’s just my preference, for super ambient tracks….beats disturb the formlessness.

          I like my ambient very quiet, very minimalistic.

          Scape is great for that…

          Anyway, I want to encourage you to keep persevering with Mixtikl, and give those proper synths s whirl too.

          Synth apps are great, because you can learn the basics of synthesis from just messing around with them.

          Oscillators make basic sound…filters alter that sound….ADSR shapes the sounds’ envelope, and so on. And always,keep pushing buttons, turning knobs, and sliding sliders….really, that’s how we ALL learn…

          All the very best

          Dave 🙂

Please leave a reply.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.