Northwest Reef from Umcorps on Vimeo.

Aside from being toy-like mini-computers, could mobile devices take on a musical usefulness all their own?

At the Electronic Music Foundation’s 10th Anniversary Symposium in 2004, Morton Subotnik and fellow panelists imagined an iPod that, instead of playing canned music from your music library, would actually generate music for you on the spot. Believe it or not, commercial demand aside, that might soon be reality.

We saw Intermorphic’s fascinating generative music engine noatikl at the end of last year. It’s the “spritual successor” to the Koan generative system used by Brian Eno in 1996. Read up and see the videos here:

noatikl: New Generative Music Engine, So You Can Rock Out Like Eno

They’ve got various videos showing off what the results can be like, including the one at top, which combines noatikl and Apple’s Logic 8 synths. If you’re interested in learning more, Intermorphic has a page with some background on generative music with comments from pioneer Eno:

generative music @ Intermorphic

Enter iPhone, Mobile

Brian Eno, generative pioneer, composer for airports, maker of 77 million paintings. Photo: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid.

Here’s where this all goes mobile. Wonderful mobile music site Palm Sounds notes that Mixtikl will allow on-the-go music production for a variety of platforms. You’ll be able to work on your Mac and Windows PC VST/AU host, but you’ll also be able to support:

  • Windows Mobile 5, 6
  • iPhone, iPod Touch
  • Symbian Series 60 V2/3 smartphone
  • Antix Game Player

The basic idea is a music tool that blends generative music tools and playback with access more traditional loops and patterns.

Mobile functions will include:

  • Generative music playback and creation alongside loops, MIDI, and modular synths and effects
  • Quick mixing with selectable sources/loops and effects, and preset generative players
  • Cell-based performance mixers
  • Synth sound editing
  • Effect and “network” editing
  • Packaging for export

Intermorphic’s Peter Cole also tells us that non-commercial licenses for noatikl are automatically being upgraded to commercial-use launch — and price cuts are coming on all the products.

Now, I have heard lots of skepticism about generative music in general, in everything from games to composition to live performance. But I’d remember, too, that this approach to music is really new. Eno’s 1996 iteration was revolutionary at the time, and few have followed. The enabling technologies have only recently fallen into place. And whereas most musical creation systems have plenty of existing precedents from linear analog tape and mixing decks to musical notation, generative music requires new ways of thinking. So I’m very interested to see what happens. And while this didn’t get a demo onstage at WWDC’s iPhone bash today, it could wind up meaning deeper things for music in the future than even iPod.

mixtikl Product Page; product due later this year