What’s in for this season in music software? Cellular automata. You may have been exposed to a cellular automaton in the classic Game of Life; it’s basically a very simple biological simulator exposed as an intuitive, 2-dimensional grid of squares. If tic-tac-toe, Charles Darwin, and a petri dish of bacteria got together in one wild evening, you’d come up with something like this as a result. The Game of Life has been around since mathematician John Conway invented it in 1970, but lately it’s been cross-bred with music software to help patterns escape the rigid, boring repetition of traditional sequencer grids.

Cellular automata is in fine form on the beautiful, strange homebrew sequencer for the Nintendo DS, GlitchDS, which has had ongoing updates. It’s still fun as ever in Reaktor 5’s Newschool preset (old news, but enjoyable nonetheless). But in what’s so far the most anticipated plug-in release of the fall, CA takes on particularly powerful sonic possibilities in the first “experimental” release from beloved plug-in boutique Audio Damage:

Automaton [Product Page, Mac AU/VST; Windows VST]
Cost: US$49.99

Since the cellular automata grid can control anything, it’s what you hook it up to that matters — and that’s especially important, because it means instead of a set of knobs or sequence grid doing the same thing over and over and over and over again, CA “evolves” on its own, bringing much-needed change to your music. Automaton is a combination of a flexible CA sequencer with four effects:

1. Stutter (modulates a buffer, so you can combine Automaton with existing beat loops and patterns)
2. Modulate (a self-modulating ring modulator)
3. Bitcrush (which includes AD’s own “error” setting)
4. Replicate (based on their Replicant effect, which goes even further in the beat slicing realm a la Ableton’s Beat Repeat)

I’ve been playing around with the beta, and it’s just fantastic. I hope to finish off some special CDM presets and share them with you, though I’m a bit behind — let’s see if I can top the presets that come with the tool. One of the hallmarks of Audio Damage’s software in VST format is lots of MIDI learn support, and since it supports VST automation I anticipate some fun combining this with Kore. Either way, think easy tweaking and live performance control.

Now, question math geeks: any other cellular automata aside form the Game of Life that work well with music? I’m sure there are some experimental music projects out there that have used other CA, so link away.

Here are two tutorial videos of the tool in action, in case you haven’t seen them already:

Automaton Overview Pt. 1 – Sequencer… from Audio Damage on Vimeo.

Automaton Overview Pt. 2 – Effects… from Audio Damage on Vimeo.