Can A Sequencer Replace Formulaic Dance Music Artists?


Mungo Enterprises – creator of the State Zero polyphonic modular synthesizer – created this unique sequencer, Infinite Horizon, that is designed to generate electronic dance music on the fly:

The basic concept behind it is that most “classic” dance music is so formulaic it should be easy for a computer to generate. Generating all patterns and sequences from a small set of rules the unit is able to deliver new and original tracks in realtime.

The original implementation ran autonomously but the tracks lacked the (often criticized as predictable) build up/down structure so critical in forming a flow. Rather than trying to implement such a complex concept in such a simple and elegant piece of code I decided this task should be performed by a human.

Here’s what it sounds like using a trance sound set:


Infinite Horizon features 5 sequencer channels:

  • Chord This forms the base from which all the other sequencers derive their notes.
  • Lead 1 The most complex of the channels, it is capable of generating different length patterns and variations on loops of the pattern.
  • Lead 2 Based loosely on Roland’s TB-303 sequencer, ties and slides included.
  • Bass 1 The most simple of the channels, it was the basis for and shares all of its code with Lead 1.
  • Bass 2 Similar to Lead 2 but biased specifically for basslines.

As the picture shows, the controls are minimal. The big red button arms all channels to generate new patterns at the end of the 8 bars, effectively creating a new track. For each of the 5 channels, there are 3 controls:

  • Mute Deferred latching switch with LED indicator.
  • Forward/Back Generates a new pattern or restores the previous one.
  • Clock Shift Slides the clock by a 16th for that channel.

This is not a commercial product at this time, but goes into the ‘Unobtanium’ category.

What do you think of the idea of generative sequencers? Do you see this as a crutch for creating more formulaic dance music or as a useful live performance and compositional tool?

21 thoughts on “Can A Sequencer Replace Formulaic Dance Music Artists?

  1. Hmm… As in a public place/supermarket/parking lot/public parks with different styles why not. Make it totally open for children to tap away and have their soundtracks play for a little while until the next kid comes along, etc…

  2. I view it as just another creative tool for generating ideas not unlike Korg’s Karma technology. One still has to use one’s own musical sensibility to separate the wheat from the chaff. Rather than releasing it as hardware, Mungo would be smarter to release it as a VST/AU.

  3. Some of the sound choices are unfortunate, but the arrangements were as reasonable (or more so) than I’ve heard many humans make. It would be interesting to drive this with human based input that wasn’t consciously involved. For instance, run this as the music in a restaurant… the number of patrons at any time could dynamically effect parameters, as could their relative motion speed and conversation levels.

  4. There is a big difference between GENERATING music and actually CREATING it. It was inevitable that someone would do this as more than just an app. It doesn’t show humanity to me; its more like a means for highlighting how threadbare dance can really be. I like ambient and semi-grudgingly accept a music-for-purpose item such as Eno’s Scape, so I try to wrap my head around the positives of new things, but this one… the demo is so generic, its like being served a vinyl cheeseburger. ACK!

  5. I love the idea of generative music, but ultimately there has to be a person controlling what happens. If a device like this (or equivalent software) were more sophisticated then it might be a good tool for musicians to generate raw material which can then be added to or expanded upon. In its current form it seems bland, and I agree with the other posters who suspect it’s merely a statement rather than a practical tool. My favorite musical tools are ones that make it easier to express ideas, such as Tonespace, and alternative input devices like isomorphic or microtonal keyboards which provide a new perspective from which to approach creating unique musical ideas. If it helps a musician to create sounds they have never heard before then it’s a good thing. This sequencer is designed to create sounds you feel you HAVE heard before so where does that get you?

  6. ‘Composers’ hold themselves in too high of a regard. At least this stuff is apt to use notes that stray from the severe limitations of classical musical structure. That’s about 8 notes, (per scale) x 8 note lengths at any one time.

    “But just look how i arranged these 8 notes, of this scale!?”

    Whooo, your arpeggiation is so much more advanced then the one that sounds better. Yeah, some real 8 bit-ch genius, that a 64 bit computer could never have come up with. And when these ‘musicians’ get really technically amazing, then the music becomes almost completely inaccessible, that can only be enjoyed by other ‘musicians’. Stuff like Rush, or Yngwie Malmsteen; admirable, but borderline unlistenable.

    1. Not a bad point. Musical put-ons have always been part of the scene. I saw Allan Holdsworth live once. The endless 64th notes almost put me to sleep and I LIKE Allan’s overall work. There is a fairly large line between idiot simplicity and hyper-complexity. I like to slow a canned dance beat waaay down to a chill-house zone and play a sharp violin or e-guitar patch over it in counterpoint. Just that alone can sound pretty full. Small can be beautiful, but well-balanced is even better.

    2. If you can whistle “The Black Page” by Frank Zappa, today’s Air Force needs YOU. Or maybe even the Avengers. If you could do it at 300 db, you’d be more useful than Bow-&-Arrow Guy.

  7. Stick it in a grovebox with tons of LFO>Filter based presets and call it a “Dubstep Workstation”

    They will make billions.

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