M software

Here’s a blast from the past — an algorithmic compositional blast from the past, that is. M is a unique piece of software for “interactive composition.” With patterns, cycles, and conducting options, you can create algorithmically-generated music, adjusting various parameters for sophisticated results rather than sequencing directly. It’s a totally different approach to working, something that’s easier to experience than to describe. M launched way back in 1987 and eventually support Atari, Amiga, Mac, and Windows; it was a big hit in the years afterward. The creators were David Zicarelli (now with Cycling ’74, and a sort of father to Cycling’s Max/MSP), John Offenhartz, Antony Widoff, and Joel Chadabe. (Check out the whole history.) I saw it for the first time at a summer program at Oberlin and loved it immediately. Now, with a computer stacked full of soft synths and the recurring desire to get out of my head, compositionally, I think I actually have more use for it in 2007.

It’s not very often that vintage software gets update
d with current tech while retaining its original interface, but that’s exactly what Cycling ’74 has done with M 2.7. Intel compatibility means it can run on your brand-new Mac Pro, but the angular throwback interface will make it look like a Mac II. (Got a good System 7 skin, anyone?) But the real story here is Core MIDI support. It allows you to plug M into your existing soft synths. Imagine M plus Logic’s Sculpture, or combined with a monster Max/MSP patch.

M 2.7 @ Cycling ’74

It’s great to see someone recognize that it’s not only about the upgrade that’s just around the corner. Virtual Console games are selling by the millions on Nintendo’s Wii. Hopefully creative technology, even in limited form, could be next. I’ll be testing M soon; I’ll let you know how it goes.

PC users/Atari lovers: See details in comments on the freeware Atari version. But what’s this about an emulator? Time to scour eBay for an Atari ST, I think.

  • The Atari version is freeware (though not as advanced as the Mac version) and running it with the STEEM emulator and midi loopback software you can have it running softsynths through Windows (or Linux).

    You can pick it up over at the rather wonderful Tim's Atari Midi World along with a whole host of other alogrithmic gems for the ST, synth editors, sequencers, etc. Tim has worked for years bringing all this stuff together in one place, getting freeware and open source releases of fromerly commercial software. Put some time aside, get STEEM running, and spend some times with Atari's forgotten midi gems.

  • Excellent; thanks, Mike! Being insane, of course, I may try running all of these versions at once, for no very good reason…

  • tomax

    try running this through Five12's Numerology and a percussive decaying/reverb'd synth; endless bliss! PS buy the real software, it's cheap and so worth it!

  • What a great surprise! I own a M license since a very long time, never really used that much it and already thought I won't be able to touch it anymore. Here we go! 🙂

  • bliss

    "…endless bliss!" Indeed, bliss knows no bounds. 😉

  • I'm still holding out for an update to Dr. T's Algorithmic Composer……

  • this app was my intro to midi like 7 years ago my teacher showed it to us not only because of how innovative it is/was but because of how it allows you to think about music composition… i would love to mess around with this again.

  • tomax, that sounds sweet. can't wait for num2 to be finalized… i'm so ready to give up Live.

  • Any chance they are going to do this with UpBeat, which was another great piece of 80's mac software from M?

  • Unfortunately, I don't think we'll see UpBeat revived. David Zicarelli, who started Cycling '74 and did the main coding for M, took it with him when Intelligent Music folded, and so kept the codebase alive all these years. There were some efforts to sell UpBeat to other publishers after the fall, but without success.

    As far as I know, John Offenhartz, the principal coder for UpBeat, took the codebase with him when he left IM, but never did anything further with it. I haven't been in touch with him in years; as I understand it, he's more interested in motorcycles than music software these days.

    Richard Lainhart (former Intelligent Music Technical Director; tech support specialist and principal author of manuals for M for Mac, Atari, and Amiga, UpBeat, RealTime, OvalTune, MIDIDraw, etc.)

  • steph

    anyone know where i can buy the old mac version old this?

  • Am I wrong or is this a tracker?

  • It's not a tracker; strictly MIDI. Nor is it a sequencer as such – we always called it "real time interactive composition and performance software."

  • James – you brought back a boat load of memories for me! Proud former user of Dr. T KCS software.

    And what's that about running an Atari emulator on a PC? Kids these days! In the old days we ran a Mac emulator on our Atari 1040ST!

  • David Zicarelli

    Hi Richard! I actually have the source code for UpBeat, which I received from John Offenhartz a few years ago. I haven't made much progress in updating it but I do have sort-of-working versions of Jam Factory and OvalTune and once I finish some current projects I'll dust them off again.

    By the way, there was a really embarrassing bug in M 2.7 for people who had registered the software that I have now fixed. Just go to our web site to get the 2.7.1 update.

  • Jim B

    Wow – this does bring me back. I remember using M back in 1989 on my Mac SE, driving a TX81Z (4 way multitimbral!)

    I might just have to get this. Now if only my white Flock-of-Seagulls hair could reappear…

  • so i bought this, and i tried to load the included demos, and it crashes every time.

    apart from that, it's cool and worth the money.

  • Rudolf

    I want a system 7 makeover of OS X. It's time for a grander eighties revival in computing, like this one.

  • I think that Upbeat is the definitive rhythmic seq. for many reasons: the idea of rhythmic devices, the looping tool, the fill utility, the concept of songs and patterns, the possibility of introducing casual variations, the user interface responds in REAL time.. this all speeds up the work and you can really create music!! Also jam factory is a great software I used it live with flute and a pitch to midi conv.. not to mention M that is fantastic ( a little steve reich oriented!!).I think that the world of music software needs a reissue of Upb. and JF and some of the basic concepts could be applied to audio seqs..

  • Garman

    I agree with the request to do this for Upbeat. That was a fantastic tool for blocking out any song. I miss it so much.

  • ouzoman

    I've kept my Mac SE just to run Upbeat . . . Upbeat syncs well via MIDI clock from the latest sequencers (Cubase, Logic, Live, etc) and makes any destination come alive . . . . there's nothing like it.

    Kudos again to the Upbeat designers – a product unsurpassed after all these years!

  • Please let me add my voice to the chorus begging for UpBeat on the new Macs! I've never found a tool that was quicker for putting a song together, and I've done some of my best drum programming on it. Please, please, please…

    I keep an old Mac Classic alive just for this program, but I find the speed of the machine too slow, the screen too small. I had it installed on a MacIIX where it was great to work with, but the drive died.

    I believe Dr. T's bought the program and released an update. They didn't mention whether it worked with later systems. Does anyone know the latest system it works with? I just inherited an LC 575 which runs 7.5, but I don't think my 2.01 UpBeat will work with it.

    UpBeat, UpBeat, Upbeat!!!!

  • Pingback: david offenhartz()

  • I am collecting examples of algorithmic music generators and putting together a little amateur studio that includes older macs and wintel machines to run classic midi software. I would appreciate any pointers to archives of midi, mac and wintel algorithmic software.

    Since I am soon to be retired and living in a cardboard box, I don't have the budget to buy commercial software. I do have some resources to compile source code on different machines, such as think c on versions of mac < 7.5, and most programming languages on various generations of wintel.

    I am extremely interested in discussions of the coding/design strategy of M and similar software…pointers to such discussions will be greatly appreciated.

    Contact me at Jeff (a>t) zeitguide o/r#g

  • Lowell Angell

    I have a working commodore 64 and the original Dr T's algorithmic composer on floppy disk. Is there a software emulation of the commodore 64 that can successfully run the algorithmic composer? I have a 5 and 1/4 disk drive for my PC and I would like to be able to use that with the emulator if one is compatible.

    What is the best way to make a disk image of the algorithmic composer?

  • Good things live on.

    I once coded a polyrhythmic MIDI sequencer for DOS to get

    complex structures. But M has such a great conducting mode, kind of kaoss style, but much earlier. Remember Theremin.

    Is the AMIGA version freeware or available?

  • BDD

    I still run some old mac and once had Upbeat. Anyone know where I can get a copy of the old original Mac Program for system 7.6? Help Barry

  • BDD

    I still run some old mac and once had Upbeat. Anyone know where I can get a copy of the old original Mac Program for system 7.6? Help Barry

  • rfigueir

    M is truly one of the most imaginative musical softwares I ever encountered. I spent a whole year creating abstract music. Where is it for the IPAD?

  • rfigueir

    M is truly one of the most imaginative musical softwares I ever encountered. I spent a whole year creating abstract music. Where is it for the IPAD?