Fractal Music

Back before the dawn of time (ie, in the 1980s), I created this ancient and venerable MIDI software for the Atari ST with the help of my friend Laurence Glazier, operating jointly as Datamusic. A long time ago now, Laurence and I agreed to release the program into the public domain: yes, folks, it’s free!

Main screen of Fractal Music on first loading

Fractal Music’s main screen on first loading

Quaint though it may seem now in many ways, Fractal Music does still work, and produces results that are still, as far as I know, unique. It was even working in the NoSTalgia Atari ST emulator under Mac OS X up to version 10.6 (Snow Leopard), but unfortunately, NoSTalgia is a PowerPC application and no longer runs under Mac OS X 10.7 Lion and later, which are strictly Intel only. Fractal Music sort of worked under Lion in another emulator called Hatari, but that’s now failed in later versions of Lion. If anyone knows of a reliable Atari ST emulator that runs, with MIDI output, on Intel Macs, I’d be interested.

I can, however, happily report that, although I haven’t fully tested it yet, Fractal Music seems to run pretty well in Steem for Windows — and even better, this works in Parallels Desktop on my Mac, running Windows 7. That was a major surprise, but it now means all is not lost for us Mac users. (That said, as I write, it’s taking an awfully long time to load a 49k MIDI file ... but it’s finally got there.)
UPDATE: That was in Parallels Desktop 6 running in Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, but to my complete amazement it still works in Parallels Desktop 10 running in Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite (still Windows 7).

In any case, if you have the necessary technology to run it, the full product is available for free download, as is the manual.

For years now Fractal Music has been featured very favourably on Tim Conrardy’s Tim’s Atari MIDI World site. Sadly, I've just learned that Tim died in 2009, so many thanks, Tim, and rest in peace.

Here’s an edited version of the original sales blurb:

Fractal Music is a powerful real-time music generator and processor

A very approximate 2D graphical representation of one possible output

A very approximate 2D graphical representation of one possible output

As a music generator, Fractal Music:

The program uses a cyclical, iterative fractal process — a three dimensional extension of Clifford Pickover’s ‘fractal popcorn’ (although the visual result is very different as you can see here) — to generate monophonic lines of music. The three dimensions represent the pitch, placement in time and key velocity of each new note. The result is real music with melodic, rhythmic and dynamic interest — even including rests! Recognisable near-repetitions of musical shapes occur frequently, lending extra validity to the musical output. It is possible for the user, by judicious setting of parameters (and with the editing features described below), to produce subtle variations on the same music in a number of different ways.

As a music processor, Fractal Music offers extraordinary music editing facilities (and some standard ones), including:

Setting an absolute quantize value

Setting an absolute quantize value

Setting the angle of reflection

Setting the angle of reflection: the box represents the duration and pitch range of the music; the + is the geometric origin

Some of these techniques (transposition, stretching, squashing, inversion, retrograde) have been familiar to composers for centuries. Fractal Music does them automatically. Others (reflection, rotation) are logical extensions of these concepts, but extremely difficult to do manually, involving tedious and repetitive maths.

Other features include: