Sequencers by definition traditionally lock musical patterns into repetitive, unchanging blocks of time. But a new generation of generative sequencers can instead form organic patterns that change and transform.

Nodal is a totally free-as-in-beer (closed-source) sequencer for composing music. (A license is needed for commercial use.) As the name implies, it uses a matrix of nodes to represent musical structure. The best way to understand what that means exactly is to check out the examples and give the app a shot, but is good fun – and capable of creating some lovely, unusual musical textures.

The good news now is that if you’re on Windows XP/Vista, you’re no longer left out of the fun: the app now runs Universal on Mac and on Windows, as well.

Aside from Windows support, also new in version 1.1:

  • New, more polished UI
  • Keyboard shortcuts
  • Internal MIDI synth support on Windows

It does sound as though Nodal may not remain free-as-in-beer, but with some significant updates coming later this year will move into the cheap-as-in-beer territory. Stay tuned.

Composer and co-developer Peter Mcilwain sends along the video here with a live improvisation made in the software. It’s a bit Minimalist-influenced, but shows how you can use Nodal to drive some musical inspiration. Peter also explains just what Nodal means musically to him and the small but growing collection of users taking advantage of Nodal’s paradigm:

Interest in Nodal probably centres around the fact that the software enables sophisticated, or “deep”, generative approaches within an intuitive graphical user interface that is simple and easy to use. Many users say that the program can be learnt within a short space of time and that is fun, inspiring and is fascinating to use. Once a little experience is gained people come to recognize the rich possibilities that the network approach gives them. Nodal offers a wealth of compositional possibilities that enable users to explore transformations of musical ideas quickly and easily.

Much music has been made using processes such as looping. Nodal does this too, but with a number significant additions. For example, it is possible to have loops within loops. The musical diversity that is possible takes Nodal beyond from the concept of a loop into a territory that is more like creating maps of musical pathways with which musical possibilities can be navigated. Musical materials can be played forwards and backwards, recombined or played with different rhythms. All of these transformations can happen in real-time making it a rich tool for computer assisted improvisation.
In fact working with Nodal can be very similar to more traditional composition processes. Here a small musical cell might be created which is then developed, elaborated or transformed into new material. Seen in this way, composing does not necessarily involve making a string of new ideas but instead it is the exploration of different aspects of a single idea. By limiting a composition to a small number of ideas the music maintains coherence and a sense of unity. While composers have done this manually, and in some cases masterfully, Nodal enables the transformation of idea to be automated and extended to transformational processes that would be very difficult to achieve with pen and paper.

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Nodal: Generative Music Software for Mac (Free for Non-Commercial Use)

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