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). Some of it is freely available on the inernet.
How to turn your mainstream laptop PC
into an industry-standard microtonal composition workstation without
spending a cent (except for accessing the internet)
Editing a Standard MIDI File (SMF)
MIDI-based Algorithmic Composition
Implementing microtonality in a SMF
Visualizing a SMF
How to turn your mainstream laptop pc into an industry-standard microtonal composition workstation without spending a cent (except for accessing the internet)
Published 2015-11-20, updated 2015-12-12
- Download and install (=d&i) VirtualMIDISynth (VMS).
- D&i the Yamaha Disklavier soundfont.
- D&i Markus Schwenk's excellent MidiEditor and
select VMS as
- Create / compose MIDI data input for one instrument / timbre / MIDI "program" using an existing SMF, some algorithmic composition software or by playing a MIDI keyboard :-)
- D&i LoopBe1.
intun and select LoopBe1 as
MIDI INand VMS as
- Make your mind up for a specific temperament. A huge scale archive
is available here. You
have to manually adapt this archive's
sclfiles before you can use them with intun. Open them with Notepad and use intun's example
txtfiles as templates.
- D&i Tim's
MIDI Player (TMP) and select LoopBe1 as
- "Rehearse" your input data with TMP triggering intun triggering VMS. You are now able to listen to the music in different temperaments in realtime, while the actual SMF 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.
- D&i PianoTuner and process your SMF with it. The chosen temperament (e.g. this one) is now hard-coded within the SMF.
- (optional) D&i VMPK, selecting
MIDI INand VMS as
MIDI OUT. Rendering your tempered SMF with TMP triggering VMPK triggering VMS you can listen to the music while seeing a neat keyboard visualization of it :-)
- If everything sounds ok, d&i the TiMidity++ Windows
Synthesizer (TWS), selecting the Yamaha Disklavier as your output
soundfont (generate a textfile
timidity.cfgin the TWS directory and write
soundfont /[path to your soundfont]/[name of your soundfont file].sf2in it. Select RIFF WAVE file as TWS output.
- Drag & drop your SMF to TWS, which will render your MIDI data (VERY fast) and create a microtonally tempered industry standard WAVE audio file using the selected soundfont :-)
- Congratulations, you're done. Relax and enjoy your favourite drug :-)
sfz files instead of
The above howto is simplified a great deal using sforzando that is able
scl files in realtime and render the result
in offline mode. Sfzorzando comprises the functionality of VMS, intun,
TMP, PianoTuner and TWS.
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
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,
established as a successor of the older
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
sfz files have nothing to
do with sound quality. Sound quality depends on the samples that are
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.
Free Windows software for offline rendering SMFs to WAVE audio files using soundfonts in sfz format. Has microntal capabilities, Scala's scl files can be used directly :-)
TiMidity++ Windows Synthesizer
Windows freeware for offline rendering microtonal SMFs 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.
MIDI-based Algorithmic Composition
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.
... 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
... 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.
... by Russian software company NTONYX (Shareware for Winows) has an original approach to generating music: It processes a given SMF by transforming its metric, rhyhtmic and harmonic structure, thus outputting a new SMF. 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 SMF 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 Strawinski.
Editing a Standard MIDI File
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+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
Ctrl+Left. Subsequently, all notes of that chord can
now be trimmed to the same length using
Implementing microtonality in a SMF
... 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 SMFs. The SMF itself remains unchanged by intun. Great for rehearsals and live performances.
...by Fred Nachbaur (Freeware for DOS) is useful for the permanent microtonal transformation of a SMF 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 SMF player without any further ado (this works only for scales with 12 pitches, of course!).
...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.
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 SMFs to ASCII-Text and vice versa. You can edit the ASCIIfied SMF 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").
vanBasco's Karaoke Player
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 SMF (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
Windows freeware, perfect for testing or "rehearsing" SMFs, 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 SMF 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.
Visualizing a SMF
Music Animation Machine
... by Stephen Malinowski was released in 1985. It's Windows freeware.
...is developed since 2010 by Masahi Wada. It's available for free :-)