Software

Last check of all links: 2015-11-21

This is a list of software I used for musical composition and the visualization of my music since the year 2000 (and a bit earlier). Most of it is freely available on the internet.

How to turn your mainstream laptop PC into a microtonal composition workstation without spending a cent (except for accessing the internet)

Making Sound

Editing a Standard MIDI File

MIDI-based Algorithmic Composition

Implementing microtonality in a Standard MIDI File

Utilities

Standard MIDI File players

Visualizing a Standard MIDI File

 

How to turn your mainstream laptop pc into a microtonal composition workstation without spending a cent (except for accessing the internet)

Updated 2016-04-20

micromidi_screenshot
Tom's MIDI Player, intun and VMPK working together on my laptop via LoopBe1 (invisible)

  1. Download and install VirtualMIDISynth.
  2. Download and install the Yamaha Disklavier soundfont.
  3. Download and install Markus Schwenk's excellent MidiEditor and select VirtualMIDISynth as MIDI OUT.
  4. Create / compose MIDI data input for one instrument / timbre / MIDI "program" using an existing Standard MIDI File, some algorithmic composition software or by  playing a MIDI keyboard :-)
  5. Download and install LoopBe1.
  6. Download and install intun and select LoopBe1 as MIDI IN and VirtualMIDISynth as MIDI OUT.
  7. Make your mind up for a specific temperament. A huge scale archive is available here. You have to manually adapt this archive's scl files before you can use them with intun. Open them with Notepad and use intun's example txt files as templates.
  8. Download and install Tom's MIDI Player and select LoopBe1 as MIDI OUT.
  9. "Rehearse" your input data with Tom's MIDI Player triggering intun triggering VirtualMIDISynth. You are now able to listen to the music in different temperaments in realtime, while the actual Standard MIDI File remains unchanged. For me, this is the most important part of working with microtonality: I have to hear what a scale "does" to my composition in realtime to decide if it is usable or not. From a mathematical point of view, countless microtonal scales are possible. But, for me, it as a purely aesthetic decision which scale to implement.
  10. Download and install PianoTuner and process your Standard MIDI File with it. The chosen temperament (e.g. this one) is now hard-coded within the Standard MIDI File.
  11. (optional) Download and install VMPK, selecting LoopBe1 as MIDI IN and VirtualMIDISynth as MIDI OUT. Rendering your tempered Standard MIDI File with Tom's MIDI Player triggering VMPK triggering VirtualMIDISynth you can listen to the music while seeing a neat keyboard visualization of it :-)
  12. If everything sounds ok, download and install the TiMidity++ Windows Synthesizer, selecting the Yamaha Disklavier as your output soundfont (generate a textfile timidity.cfg in the TiMidity++ Windows Synthesizer directory and write soundfont /[path to your soundfont]/[name of your soundfont file].sf2 in it. Select RIFF WAVE file as TiMidity++ Windows Synthesizer output.
  13. Drag & drop your Standard MIDI File to TiMidity++ Windows Synthesizer, which will render your MIDI data (VERY fast) and create a microtonally tempered industry standard WAVE audio file using the selected soundfont :-)
  14. Congratulations, you're done. Relax and enjoy your favourite drug :-)

Using sfz files instead of sf2 files

The above howto is simplified a great deal using sforzando that can render Standard MIDI Files microtonally using Scala's scl files. The result can be outputted to a WAVE file in offline mode. Using sforzando, you don't need VirtualMIDISynth, intun, Tom's MIDI Player and TiMidity++ Windows Synthesizer any more. But sforzando cannot implement microtonality in a Standard MIDI File. So, good old PianoTuner is still useful, if you need to do this.

Making sound

Virtual Soundfonts of real Grand Pianos

Download the excellent (and free) Yamaha Disklavier soundfont here.

In recent years, some brilliant free piano libraries were published using the sfz format. An sfz file is a plain text file "choreographing" audio samples to build a virtual musical instrument using a specialized syntax. So, in a way, sfz established as a successor of the older sf2 format.

An sfz file is in many ways comparable to a mid file: It doesn't contain sound itself, but only a script which determines how exactly sound is generated. So, as with mid files, sfz files have nothing to do with sound quality. Sound quality depends on the samples that are used.

You can find a 2015 list of free "sfz pianos" here. My favourite one is the "Iowa Piano", a warm and flexible Steinway Model B Grand Piano. The samples were recorded at the University of Iowa in 2001, hence the name. They are here.

Anthony Deaton's Steinway is next best on my list, followed by a Yamaha C5 Grand Piano called "Salamander".

sforzando

sforzando

Free Windows software for offline rendering Standard MIDI Files to WAVE audio files using soundfonts in sfz format. Has microntal capabilities, Scala's scl files can be used.

TiMidity++ Windows Synthesizer

tws

Windows freeware for offline rendering microtonal Standard MIDI Files to WAVE audio files by using soundfonts (sf2 only, not sfz). The site says this software is "obsolete" (=outdated), which is true - but it still works fine for me under Win 7 64-bit.

VirtualMIDISynth

vms

Windows freeware to make soundfonts playable via a Standard MIDI File Player.

MIDI-based Algorithmic Composition

ASCIIMID

In 1992, programmer Randy Stack had the idea to develop a Text-to-MIDI conversion tool.

"ASCIIMID takes any DOS text file and outputs a corresponding Standard MIDI File Format 0, according to the following rules:
Any characters between ASCII codes 32 and 128 are mapped to MIDI notenumbers between 0 and 96.
Any code falling outside of this range is interpreted as a rest.
Each note or rest occupies a 16th note
The velocities for each note are randomly generated."

You can download ASCIIMID here, including Randy's original ReadMe. The software doesn't run under Win 7 64-bit, so you have to use a DOS emulator.

In 2006, I used ASCIIMID for processing a text of Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard, to help composing "Bernhard" for orchestra.

Music Mouse

Music Mouse

... by Laurie Spiegel (Shareware for Mac/Atari/Amiga computers, released 1988). One can use Music Mouse intuitively without any specialist knowledge except how to move a computer mouse around the screen. The musical output always sounds "interesting", but if you don't work on it really hard, you will get bored very soon. The diffculty here is not to produce musical structures that make "sense", but to compose something out of all the material the mouse is "suggesting".

Use an ATARI Emulator to run MusicMouse on a contemporary computers. It works fine :-)

In 2005, I used MusicMouse to compose a few pieces which were included in my 6 pieces for Player Piano of 2015.

Tangent / QuasiFractalComposer

t

... by Paul Whalley (Freeware for Windows, released 1997). Be patient! It takes some time to get something interesting out of it, but once you got the concept, its capability of creating melodic variations on a user-given scale is impressing.

Tangent was used for composing parts of my Septett in 2001.

The Music in the Numbers (MusiNum)

... by Lars Kindermann (Freeware for Windows, released 1999). Easy-to-use application. Its structure-generating capabilities are very limited, but this didn't bother me because of the playful concept. Good for beginners in algorithmic composition.

MusiNum was used for composing parts of my Septett in 2001.

Style Morpher

Style Morpher

... by Russian software company NTONYX (Shareware for Windows) has an original approach to generating music: It processes a given Standard MIDI File by transforming its metric, rhyhtmic and harmonic structure, thus outputting a new Standard MIDI File. NTONYX says nothing about the underlying heuristic (?) algorithms, but my experience with the progam's output indicates they may be not that ingenious. Especially when the input Standard MIDI File is rather complex, Style Morpher simplifies its rhythmic and harmonic content in a quite predictable way. But may be you have to go the other way round... Apart from this, the program's full version is absurdly expensive ($39,00).

In 2007/8, I used Style Morpher for manipulating MIDI renderings of piano music by Erik Satie and Igor Strawinsky.

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Editing a Standard MIDI File

MidiEditor

midieditor

Although MIDI is a widely accepted, known and used protocol in the music industry since almost 40 years, I can recommend only one (!) standalone software for a PC running Win 7 64-bit that was exclusively designed for manipulating MIDI data. It is MidiEditor by German programmer Markus Schwenk, which was first released in 2010. To put it briefly: It is brillant, and it's for free :-)

2015-12-12: A few days ago, Markus told me he released Version 3.0 of his software - including 3 new shortcuts I suggested some years ago: Ctrl+Left ("Align left"), Ctrl+Right ("Align right") and Ctrl+Up ("Equalize selection"). Why are those functions important for me? Well, when I "tidy up" my scatterbrained raw keyboard improvs, the exact left alignment of all notes of a certain chord is a standard procedure, which now can be done faster using Ctrl+Left. Subsequently, all notes of that chord can now be trimmed to the same length using Ctrl+Up. Thanks, Markus :-)

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Implementing microtonality in a Standard MIDI File

intun

... by Brad Smith (Freeware for Windows) "allows you to alter the tuning of your MIDI device. [...] It works by sending out each note to its own MIDI channel, where a pitch bend may alter the pitch as per the tuning you specify." This is a simple to use software to experimentally implement microtonality in realtime to existing Standard MIDI Files. The Standard MIDI File itself remains unchanged by intun. Great for rehearsals and live performances.

PianoTuner

pt

...by Fred Nachbaur (Freeware for DOS) is useful for the permanent microtonal transformation of a Standard MIDI File containing music for one polyphonic instrument (Piano, Marimba, Harpsichord, Guitar etc.). Analyzing the input file, PianoTuner assigns all notes to different MIDI channels according to their pitch class: All Cs are assigned to channel 1, all C#/Dbs to channel 2 etc. Then, each channel is (re-)tempered according to your specification (e.g. all C#/Dbs are lowered by 50 cents, all Fs raised by 12 Cents etc.) by inserting a pitch bend message before each channel's first note. The output file can be played on any Standard MIDI File player without any further ado (this works only for scales with 12 pitches, of course!).

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Utilities

LoopBe1

...is "an internal MIDI device for transferring MIDI data between computer programs", as programmer Daniel Schmitt puts it. You can also call it a very flexible, stable and easy to install relay to interchange MIDI data in realtime between several applications running on your computer. It's for free.

VMPK

The free Virtual MIDI Piano Keyboard by Pedro Lopez-Cabanillas displays a very big and highly customizable MIDI piano display on your desktop.

mf2t / t2mf

Piet van Oostrum's small, but brilliant (and free) DOS utility converts Standard MIDI Files to ASCII-Text and vice versa. You can edit the ASCIIfied Standard MIDI File easily in any text editor, e. g. Notepad. Here you can find a version of the software that runs under Win 7 64-bit. (look for "Program / Contents / Text To MIDI").

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Standard MIDI File Players

vanBasco's Karaoke Player

vkp

Despite its flashy name this is a rock-solid piece of Windows freeware by German programmer Daniel Pustka. The karaoke function is useful for displaying arbitrary messages on your desktop during the playback of a Standard MIDI File (e.g. containing annotations). The player's not-so-pretty default interface is easily customizable. Apart from playing Standard MIDI Files without any timing problems, you can build playlists.

Tom's MIDI Player

tmp

Windows freeware by Tom Grandgent, perfect for testing or "rehearsing" Standard MIDI Files, especially microtonal ones tempered with Piano Tuner. The interface comes with absolutely no decoration, there are no consumer-style options like building playlists or randomizing them :-) It's just f*cking naked Windows design (which is good here). While the Standard MIDI File is rendered, you can open the "Channels" subwindow and all current Pitch Bend and Controller values are displayed neatly and in realtime for each channel. The timing is great, as expected.

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Visualizing a Standard MIDI File

Music Animation Machine

... by Stephen Malinowski was released in 1985. It's Windows freeware.

MIDITrail

mt

...is developed since 2010 by Masahi Wada. It's available for free :-)

I used MIDITrail in 2013/14 for visualizing my compositions Ocean, Ego-Shooter and Ego Shooter Variation.

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