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Fractal Music Composer

By Hugh McDowell

Fractal Music Composer
Version 2
By Hugh McDowell

Hugh McDowell has produced a new version of his FRACTAL MUSIC COMPOSER program. In the First Incarnation (which is widely available on most Atari FTP sites) it was a set of 3 seperate programs that ran independantly of each other. In this "new" incarnation, he has combined these programs to form one composite application with many new functions and features.

I am now happy to announce the FREEWARE release of Fractal Music Composer. Hugh managed to find the sourse code and give us an "unbridled" version of his program for all to enjoy.


FRACTAL MUSIC COMPOSER will work on all Atari computers: 520St,1040St, Ste, TT030. and since it does work on the TT, it probalbly will work on a Falcon. ST medium Res and ST HI Res. It is most impressive in St medium because of the color involved in the mandelbrot Images. However you will need to set your prefered colors in the CONTROL.ACC (supplied in the ZIP)It looks best in "reversed" display: that is Black background with White or "yellow" highlight. However the display on a Monochrome is still good.(St Hi)


FRACTAL MUSIC COMPOSER(2) has three main parts:

* MANDELBROT ZOOM PROGRAM is for exploring the Mandelbrot set, and, in the full version of the program, allows fractal Plots to be saved, output to a printer, and used to create music with FRACTAL MUSIC COMPOSER.

* FRACTAL MUSIC COMPOSER generates music for up to six instruments playing together. The software translates the visual patterns of the Mandelbrot or Julia Sets into sound patterns according to rules set by the user. Every composition is entirely unique, and may be influenced by various options of pitch, duration and tonality provided in the program. In the full version of the program all the music created can be saved to disk in standard MIDI-FILE 0 or 1 formats, allowing the results to be used with other music software. The lengths of compositions are only limited by available memory

* MIDI FILE PLAYER/CONVERTER will play standard format 0 or 1 MIDI-FILES. Data can be muted or filtered out and files can be converted between the two formats. In the full version the files can then be saved to disk.

What is Fractal Music?

"All music may be thought of as consisting of patterns. In nature, music and fractals there is a happy blend of form and irregularity, structure and surprise, or, if you prefer, theme and variation. FRACTAL MUSIC COMPOSER(2) is a program which allows the infinitely varied patterns of fractals to be translated into sound. This infinite variety contains no randomness - just endless patterns with no copyright attached!"

-Hugh McDowell

" Fractals are infinite squiggles. Imagine zooming in on a coastline from outer space: the closer you get, the more detail you see, the longer the coastline becomes. Eventually you start measuring around the pebbles on the beach. Fractals are rigorously self-similar (generated by a grammer which dictates how each piece of detail unfolds from the previous one)semi-random or random self simular (where there are alternate unfoldings of detail at each level) and other which unfold from a formula, or boundry of stability which are harder to summarize but are constructed non-linearly. To understand the Mandelbrot set mathematically you need to understand complex numbers. The Madelbrot and Julia sets are boundries, such that the boundry gets longer the more you magnify it. Computer graphic zooms can magnify the sets to a greater degree than you would need to see the atoms in your hand and the detail, indeed infinite (infinitly sqiggly) continues on and on..... Music is fractal in many senses,one of which is that there are patterns occurring at different time scales. Music which has these same patterns is called self-similar since levels of basic skeletal structures within it are similar to it's surface patterns."

-Lawrence Ball


There are several sets on screens on Fractal Music composer.

After selecting FRACTAL MUSIC COMPOSER from the main menu you are presented with the MAIN COMPOSER SCREEN. This is where you choose your midi parameters such as MIDI channels, patch changes, octaves,high and low notes as well as auditioning them.You can also load Fractal Images,choose your Fractal Types (Mandalbrot, Julian sets) and your edit parameter screens (rhythm and tonality)

This is where you can map out rhythms the composer will use in generating the music. Once you have created a rhythm, you can save it for later recall in another piece.Lower numbers create faster rhythms, while higher numbers create longer note durations. Combinations of lower and higher numbers create a wider variety of rhythms. Experimentation is the key here. Try short patterns to get used to how each value sounds like when generating a piece in FMC.

This is where you choose the scale tonalities the Composer will use in generating the music. Scales such as MAJOR, MINOR,DOMinant 7,DIMINISHED, WHOLE TONE and CHROMATIC are provided with the ability to Edit and Save your own scales! Transposing is also available meaning you can change to different Root "chords".(for example from the root of "C" to the root of "F".)This is where the meat of the program is as far as structuring the "song".

After you have completed your settings , you can select the SET COORDINATES field in the MAIN COMPOSER SCREEN where you are taken to the actual Mandelbrot Image to place your coordinates for pitches and durations (by dragging the mouse into the image itself).Then you are brought back to the MAIN COMPOSER SCREEN where you can select COMPOSE and you will hear the beautifull permutations of Fracal Music being generated in real time.

Initial Tutorial:

To get some good initial sound from the program(once you get to the main screen) by first clicking on RHYTHM MAP(under Edit Parameters), then hit RECALL. It will recall a set of parameters for preset no 1.Hit EXIT.

Now select TONALITY MAP, then RECALL and OK.

Now you are back on the main screen. Select SET COORDINATES. You are brought to the mandalbrot images where you can drag and sweep with the mouse anywhere on the image which will be the coordinates setting for how FMC2 will "compose" the music. You left click, hold, sweep and let go 12 times. Then it automatically brings you back to the main screen. At this point,select COMPOSE,then START, and it starts composing the music from what areas you have set in the mandalbrot image. Pretty cool stuff. You can actually see what area it is working on in the image.

When you have heard enough select ENTER and you are brought back to the main screen.At this point you can save it as a MIDI file.

To create custom music,You can also change any of the parameters on the front screen, create your own presets in the the other screens, and even create your own scales and save them for use in the tonality screen. This is a very nice program!

Hope this tutorial helps in exploring FMC2. Read the tutorial that is in the ZIP as well.


Hugh McDowell has now agreed to release the manual . Using the initial hardcopy manual I was able to create a Word Document with the screen shots and numbering system as presented in the original manual. It was converted to PDF format by Trond Einar Garmo of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Trond is also a member of the Atari-MIDI forum. Download it below.

For running FMC in Steem, the Atari Emulator for PC

The Steem programmers found a fix for the bug that prevents FMC from writing MIDI files to the hard drive while running under Steem. To impliment this fix, I have created a special version of FMC as an .ST file for installation in Steems virtual A drive folder. Simply copy the Fmc.stt file to the folder you are using for A drive. Run Steem. Hit the pause/break key to access the Steem menu. Then under DISC MANAGER, you can drag over the FMC.ST file and mount it in the A drive. Close. Start emulation by selecting the green arrow. Once you are on the Atari desktop, open A drive and run fixdfree.prg. This will fix the bug. Then when you run FMC.prg, you can save your MIDI files to C drive, and not just the A drive.

Also within this .st file is a file of my own scales for use in FMC. Enjoy.

I cannot recommend this program enough for those that want to explore the "nature" side of Music on a Atari.


Fractal Music LINKS

  • To MusiNum:Music in the numbers. For PC

  • To Fractal Vibes: Phil Jackson . For PC

  • To Fractal Tune Smithy . For PC

  • To Fractal Music Software page . For PC

  • FMC Article by Derek Johnson of Atari Notes

  • Forrest Fangs FMC Composition "Angel" on Phil Jacksons Fractal Vibes site.

  • Check out the CN-Fractal Music Forum.