More surprise in your sequences, with ESQ for Ableton Live

With interfaces that look lifted from a Romulan warbird and esoteric instruments, effects, and sequencers, K-Devices have been spawning surprising outcomes in Ableton Live for some time now. ESQ is the culmination of that: a cure for preset sounds and ideas in a single device.

You likely know the problem already: all of the tools in software like Ableton Live that make it easy to quickly generate sounds and patterns also tend to do so in a way that’s … always the same. So instead of being inspiring, you can quickly feel stuck in a rut.

ESQ is a probability-based sequencer with parameters, so you adjust a few controls to generate a wide variety of possibilities – velocity, chance, and relative delay for each step. You can create polyrhythms (multiple tracks of the same length, but different steps), or different-length tracks, you can copy and paste, and there are various random functions to keep things fresh. The results are still somehow yours – maybe even more so – it’s just that you use probability and generative rules to get you to what you want when you aren’t sure how to describe what you want. Or maybe before you knew you wanted it.

Because you can trigger up to 12 notes, you can use ESQ to turn bland presets into something unexpected (like working with preset Live patches). Or you can use it as a sequencer with all those fun modular toys we’ve been talking about lately (VCV Rack, Softube Modular, Cherry Audio Voltage Modular, and so on) – because 5- and 8-step sequencers are often just dull.

There’s no sound produced by ESQ – it’s just a sequencer – but it can have a big enough impact on devices that this “audio” demo is just one instance of ESQ and one Drum Rack. Even those vanilla kits start to get more interesting.

K-Devices has been working this way for a while, but ESQ feels like a breakthrough. The generative sequence tools are uniquely complete and especially powerful for producing rhythms. You can make this sound crazy and random and IDM-y, but you can also add complexity without heading into deep space – it’s really up to you.

And they’ve cleverly made two screens – one full parameter screen that gets deep and detailed, but a compact device screen that lets you shift everything with single gestures or adjust everything as macros – ideal for live performance or for making bigger changes.

It seems like a good wildcard to keep at your disposal … for any of those moments when you’re getting stuck and boring.

And yes, of course Richard Devine already has it:

But you can certainly make things unlike Devine, too, if you want.

Right now ESQ is on sale, 40% off through December 31 – €29 instead of 49. So it can be your last buy of 2018.

Have fun, send sequences!

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A favorite sequencer gets more dimension: new Make Noise René

Forget about gear fetish: the delightful surprise behind the modular movement is that a whole bunch of people are interested in exploring weird new musical ideas. And one of the sequencer modules at the heart of it is getting a big refresh.

The René module wouldn’t strike anyone as something that’d turn into a big hit. This is an esoteric little device: a grid of touchplates and a bunch of knobs, which you then spaghetti-wire into other modules to make, uh, odd patterns.

But making weird patterns you can then shift around – well, that’s a lot of fun. And René liberated modular rigs from one of their major weaknesses: too often, people were stuck with rigid step sequencers that produced overly repetitive loops that would drive you insane. Basically, the “Cartesian” bit is, instead of having a line (those marching steps), you get a grid (x + Y).

So, here comes the René refresh. This is three-dimensional chess to the original model’s checkers.

The new model is three channels instead of one, three dimensional sequencing instead of two, and boasts expanded memory so you can save up to 64 states – no more long modular performances that sound great for the first three minutes and then … sort of exactly like that for the next hour, too.

This “three-axis” business is maybe a little exaggerated, but basically what you get is z-axis touch sensitivity, so added expression. Combine that with three channels of output, though, and you can in fact route a lot more control from this one module than before. And no doubt the additional memory will be useful in performance.

Here’s the full feature set:

  • 3 CV outputs for controlling pitch or timbre
  • 3 Gate outputs for generating musical events
  • Snake and Cartesian patterns available simultaneously
  • STORE all Programming in one of 64 STATEs.
  • New Z-Axis allows for modulating through any combination of 64 STOREd STATEs
  • All programming done real-time, programming of René is a key performance element
  • Visualization of pattern activity always displayed on left half with 16 illuminated Knobs
  • Visual indication of Programming always displayed on right half with 16 illuminated touch buttons
  • Communicates w/ TEMPI via Select Bus to Select, Store, Revert, Multi-Paste and MESH STATEs
  • Maximum amount of artist controlled musical variation, derived from minimum amount of analog data input
  • All new touch sensing technology tested successfully on the most commonly used euro rack power solutions

Of course, since the René first came out, it’s gotten a lot more competition. So it could be fun to see how this stacks up against other modular (and desktop, or software, even) sequencers.

René is available to preorder for US$525.

Since that’s my monthly rent, it’s worth saying Eurorack is still pricey relative to some lower-cost desktop hardware, to say nothing of computers. Clever software patching is great if you’re broke, or if you’ve a little scratch, something like Five12 Numerology.

But that said, this no doubt will go high on people’s shopping lists in the modular world – and it’s an impressive piece of work. Look forward to seeing more.

Oh yeah – there’s a GIF, too.


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Watch an Ableton Live sequence made physical on the monome grid

The monome made history by transforming the virtual world of the computer into a low-fidelity grid of lights and buttons. But it’s no less magical today – especially in the hands of stretta.


Matthew Davidson has been an innovative developer of patches for the monome since its early days. And that’s a principle innovation of the hardware: by reducing the “screen” to a minimal on/off grid, and lighting buttons independently from your input, the monome becomes a distillation of the ideas in a particular computer patch. Just like a fretboard or the black and white keys of a grand piano, a music box roll or the notes on a staff, it’s an abstraction of the music itself. And its simplicity is part of its power – a simplicity that a mouse and a high-definition color display lack.

Matthew is using some features the first-generation monome didn’t have – the varibright lights, and a recommended 128-format grid. But otherwise, this riffs on the original idea.

And remember last week when we covered Berkelee College of Music introducing study of electronic instruments? Well, Davidson has developed a whole series of these kind of clever inventions as a set of studies in grid performance.

That is, the choice of Bach is fitting. This is classical grid from a virtuoso, a Well-Tempered Monome if you like.

Check out the full gridlab collection:


What do you play? Berklee adds electronic digital instrument program

Updated: so what about other grids?

Via social media, Matthew Davidson elaborates on why this setup requires the monome – which still says a lot about the uniqueness of the monome design:

First up is 64 buttons versus 512. It’ll work on a 128 kinda, barely, but it is awkward. An implementation of a fold mode might make that useable.

Second is the protocol. The monome protocol provides the ability to update a quadrant with a simple, compact message. This is what is used to achieve the fluidity. If you want to update the entire grid of a Launchpad, you have to send 64 individual messages, one for each LED.

Lastly is the issue of MIDI devices and M4L. The monome uses serialosc to communicate. Because of this, a monome M4L device can send and receive MIDI data at the same time as sending a receiving button/led data.

[Reproduced with permission.]

Of course, if you have other DIY ideas here, we’d love to hear them!

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AutoTrig and TATAT generate rhythms for Ableton, modular gear

Composer Alessio Santini is back with more tools for Ableton Live, both intended to help you get off the grid and generate elaborate, insane rhythms.

Developer K-Devices, Santini’s music software house, literally calls this series “Out Of Grid,” or OOG for short. They’re a set of Max for Live devices with interfaces that look like the flowcharts inside a nuclear power plant, but the idea is all about making patterns.

AutoTrig: multiple tracks of shifting structures and grooves, based on transformation and probability, primarily for beat makers. Includes Push 2, outboard modular/analog support.

TATAT: input time, note, and parameter structures, output melodic (or other) patterns. Control via MIDI keyboard, and export to clips (so you can dial up settings until you find some clips you like, then populate your session with those).

AutoTrig spits out multiple tracks of rhythms for beat mangling.

And for anyone who complains that rhythms are repetitive, dull, and dumb on computers, these tools do none of that. This is about climbing into the cockpit of an advanced alien spacecraft, mashing some buttons, and then getting warped all over hyperspace, your face melting into another dimension.

Here’s the difference: those patterns are generated by an audio engine, not a note or event engine per se. So the things you’d do to shape an audio signal – sync, phase distortion – then spit out complex and (if you like) unpredictable streams of notes or percussion, translating that fuzzy audio world into the MIDI events you use elsewhere.

TATAT is built more for melodic purposes, but the main thing here is, you can spawn patterns using time and note structures. And you can even save the results as clips.

And that’s only if you stay in the box. If you have some analog or modular gear, you can route audio to those directly, making Ableton Live a brain for spawning musical events outside via control voltage connection. (Their free MiMu6 Max for Live device handles this, making use of the new multichannel support in Max for Live added to Live 10).

Making sense of this madness are a set of features to produce some order, like snapshots and probability switches on AutoTrig, and sliders that adjust timing and probability on TATAT. TATAT also lets you use a keyboard to set pitch, so you can use this more easily live.

If you were just sent into the wilderness with these crazy machines, you might get a bit lost. But they’ve built a pack for each so you can try out sounds. AutoTrig works with a custom Push 2 template, and TATAT works well with any MIDI controller.

AutoTrig 29€ ($34 US)
TATAT 29€ ($34 US)
Bundle AutoTrig + TATAT 39€ ($45 US)

Bundle MOOR + Twistor + AutoTrig + TATAT 69€ ($81)

They’ve presumably already worked out that this sort of thing will appeal mainly to the sorts of folks who read CDM, as they’ve made a little discount coupon for us.

The code is “koog18”

Enter that at checkout, and your pricing is reduced to 29€ ($34 US) for both AutoTrig and TATAT.

Check out their stuff on the K-Devices site:

OOG part 2: AutoTrig and TATAT, lunatic Max For Live devices

See, the problem with this job is, I find a bunch of stuff that would require me to quit this job to use but … I will find a way to play with Monday’s sequencing haul! I know we all feel the same pain there.

Here we go in videos:

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This free tool could change how you think about sequencers

Context, built in Pure Data, is a free and open source modular sequencer that opens up new ways of thinking about melody, rhythm, and pattern.

Sequencers: we’ve seen, well, a lot of them. There are easy-to-use step sequencers, but they tend to be limited to pretty simple patterns. More sophisticated options go to the other extreme, making you build up patterns from scratch or program your own tools.

The challenge is, how do you employ the simplicity of a step sequencer, but make a wider range of patterns just as accessible?

Context is one clever way of doing that. Building on modular patching of patterns – the very essence of what made Max and Pd useful in the first place – Context lets you combine bits and pieces together to create sequencers around your own ideas. And a whole lot of ideas are possible here, from making very powerful sequencers quick to build, LEGO-style, to allowing open-ended variations to satisfy the whims of more advanced musicians and patchers.

Where this gets interesting in Pd specifically is, you can built little feedback networks, creating simple loopers up to fancy generative or interactive music machines.

It’s all just about sequencing, so if you’re a Pd nut, you can combine this with existing patches, and if not, you can use it to sequence other hardware or software instruments.

At first I thought this would be a simple set of Pd patches or something like that, but it’s really deep. There’s a copious manual, which even holds new users by the hand (including with some first-time issues like the Pd font being the wrong size).

You combine patches graphically, working with structures for timing and pattern. But you can control them not only via the GUI, but also via a text-based command language, or – in the latest release – using hardware. (They’ve got an example set up that works directly with the Novation Launchpad.)

So live coder, live musician, finger drummer, whatever – you’re covered.

There are tons of examples and tutorials, plus videos in addition to the PDF manual. (Even though I personally like reading, that gives you some extra performance examples to check out for musical inspiration!)

Once you build up a structure – as a network of modules with feedback – you can adapt Context to a lot of different work. It could drive the timing of a sample player. It could be a generative music tool. You could use it in live performance, shaping sound as you play. You might even take its timing database and timeline and apply it to something altogether different, like visuals.

But impressively, while you can get to the core of that power if you know Pd, all of this functionality is encapsulated in menus, modules, and commands that mean you can get going right away as a novice.

In fact… I really don’t want to write any more, because I want to go play with this.

Here’s an example of a performance all built up:

And you can go grab this software now, free (GPL v3) — ready to run on your Mac, Windows PC, Linux machine, or Raspberry Pi, etc.:

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Jazzari lets you sketch musical ideas in your browser, with JavaScript

Open up a browser tab, use code sketch musical loops and grooves (using trigonometry, even), and play / export – all in this free tool.

Jazzari has been making the rounds among passionate music tech nerds, as a lovely free code toy. There are a bunch of easy-to-modify tutorial examples, so you don’t necessarily have to know any JavaScript or code. But there’s no graphical control at all – that visualization and the cute cartoon characters are just to give you feedback on what the code does.

So — why?

Developer Jack Schaedler is quick to caution that this is neither intended for teaching code nor teaching music, that better tools exist for each. (Sonic Pi is a particularly accessible entry for learning how to express musical ideas as code, used even by kids!)

Then again, you don’t have to believe him. That same spirit that made him decide to do this for fun seems to be infectious. And this might be an entry into making this stuff.

For coders, it’s yet another chance to discover some code and libraries and perhaps bits and pieces and inspiration for your own next project. For everyone else, well, it’s a terrific distraction.

And you can export MIDI, so this could start a new musical project.

By the way, someone want to join me in building this actual inspiration for Jazzari? It could be killer by next summer, at least.

The name is a riff on the 12th century scholar and inventor Ismail al-Jazari. al-Jazari is thought to have invented one of the first programmable musical machines, a “musical automaton, which was a boat with four automatic musicians that floated on a lake to entertain guests at royal drinking parties.”

Bonus, for my Arabic, Kurdish, and Persian friends in electronic music – no one knows which of those accurately can claim this guy. We clearly need to get something going.

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Seaquence lets you make music as animated ocean creatures

Are the cold, mechanical buttons of step sequencers stressing you out? Do you enjoy the soothing sensation of staring into an aquarium? Then Seaquence for the iPhone and iPad might be the music production tool for you.

You can treat Seaquence as a kind of musical game, toying around with fanciful animated creatures dancing around your screen. You can look at it as a standalone instrument, with a now reasonably powerful synth engine. Or you can actually treat this as a powerful studio tool, and use it to sequence other apps and hardware – meaning this could be a way to get around mental blocks and try something new, with something that sounds nothing like the demos.

If all of this looks familiar, Seaquence began life as a Flash project, way back in 2010. This weird musical ecosystem grew out of the minds of the Bay Area art scene – namely Ryan Alexander, Gabriel Dunne, and Daniel Massey, with support from Gray Area Foundation for the Arts.

Now, it’s a ground-up rewrite for iOS, and you get all the key functionality for free.

So, while what you see on the screen is swimming alien-looking organisms, behind them are controllable sequencers, scales, amplitude controls, and controls over the sound (if you’re using the internal synth engine).

That is, all this playful stuff doesn’t hide functionality. On the contrary, there’s actually more happening here than you’d get out of many more conventional hardware-style step sequencers.



Of course, that still begs the question of whether you want to have all that stuff swimming around your iPad aquarium-style, but you can find out the answer to that question for free.

Free version:

Edit chromatic scales
Sequence in a 16×16 matrix (though then that matrix comes to life and swims around…)
Polyphonic synthesizer voices, and multitimbral (8-voice) engine
Spatial mixing (in stereo)
Waveform shapes and amplitude controls

Also, there’s a unique take on social sharing. You can quickly make links to send to friends – and the app of course is free, so as long as they’ve got a compatible device (iOS 8 or later), they can try it out. But you can also trace how those links have mutated over time, Darwin style.



Unlockable more advanced features

If you’re liking this and ready to use it as a serious tool, you get a bunch of extra stuff for US$6.99 – 10% of which goes to support San Francisco’s wonderful Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, a non-profit arts platform.

There, you get:

Step-by-step editing (up to 1/64 note)
Multimode filter (high-pass, band-pass, low-pass, notch) with resonance and frequency controls
Glide (with curve control)
Monophonic, unison/detune modes
MIDI in/out (CC and notes), 16 channels
MIDI clock sync (master, slave)

Here it is hooked up to a Moog Model 15 – proof again that part of what people love about apps is connecting them to hardware:

Unfortunately, no Ableton Link support yet, but there aren’t many sequencers with these capabilities for seven bucks.

It’s interest to contrast this with Auxy, which also has hardware MIDI support as an add-on atop a free mode.

Auxy, like Seaquence, is built around touch. But the approach is different. At its heart, Auxy isn’t fundamentally different from desktop software sequencers. It’s radically simpler, but it’s still basically built around a piano roll.

Seaquence maintains some of the more novel, game-like aspect of the mobile world, and it represents something that only makes sense as a visual interface. You certainly don’t have anything like this in any conventional DAW – whereas what Auxy provides is in some form in every conventional DAW.

Whether that’s a good thing or not kind of depends on how freaky you want to get.

Ashley Elsdon of Palm Sounds was talking over the weekend about the importance of keeping mobile distinct from desktop. I’d say that both Auxy and Sequence do that. But if Auxy hopes to change music making by making it simpler, Seaquence also would make it weird.

Anyway, I’m going to have some fun with this. Have at it – and maybe send us something if you make something really interesting:

I’m curious if anyone successfully convinces their non-enthusiast, more casual musician (or even non-musician) friends to get in on the action. That might be the real test.

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Dot Melody is a nicely weird iOS note sequencer, and now it syncs

Here’s a pitch you don’t expect from an iOS developer: Dot Melody is “kind of weird and limited.” Oh yeah, and how about those glowing hands-on reviews from the first people to try it? Well, reactions “ranged from confused to outwardly hostile.”

But wait – we’re in the music making business. Weird and confusing is kind of our bread and butter. Musicians are the group of people willing to invent things like the French Horn (it’s impossible to play, but on the upside – it’ll sound mostly terrible). Or the bagpipes. (Possibly useful if you’re going into battle and want to frighten people?! Also a useful way to upcycle goat carcasses…)

So here’s another thing Dot Melody is: it’s different. That confusion lets you turn melodies around and see them in a different way, free of dull step sequencers and inane patterns.

And to me, it’s not that confusing: it’s actually an elegant way to visualize tunes on a touchscreen. Here’s how it works:

Instead of thinking of music as flowing left-to-right like in many languages and sequencers, the app places notes on a two-dimensional grid in which note duration corresponds to vertical location and pitch to horizontal location. The underlying pitch grid can be dynamically changed with chord buttons on the left of the screen, while new patterns are generated with pattern buttons on the right.

And now it runs on iPad, so you’ve got more room for that visualization if you like.

And sync means you can integrate this weirdness with your existing music setup.

Ableton Link
MIDI clock
Inter-App Audio Sync

– all supported.

Want a review? No. It’s US$3.99. Just get it already.

Here’s how you use it (old videos, but you get the idea):

Including a MIDI example:

It’s also from the creator of Patterning and Chordion. Think of Dot Melody as his first, more underground release – before he got famous. This is the one the die-hards use. It’s Meet the Feebles for all of your friends who only caught on to Peter Jackson with Lord of the Rings. (Okay, uh, maybe more like The Frighteners.)

But Olympia Noise Co. remains one of the cleverest music app developers around. Oregon, represent. (And I thought all of the cool developers were in Berlin, sort of in my office.) Kudos to Ben Kamen.

Honestly, just go get everything they make. (Now also including Ableton Live export.)

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Music thing’s Turing Machine gets a free Blocks version

We already saw some new reasons this week to check out Reaktor 6 and Blocks, the software modular environment. Here’s just one Blocks module that might get you hooked – and it’s free.

“Music thinking Machines,” out of Berlin, have built a software rendition of Music Thing’s awesome Turing Machine Eurorack module (created by Tom Whitwell). As that hardware is open source, and because what you can do in wiring you can also do in software, it was possible to build software creations from the Eurorack schematics.

The beauty of this is, you get the Turing Machine module in a form that lets you instantly control other Reaktor creations – as well as the ability to instantiate as many modules as you want without the aid of a screwdriver or waiting for a DHL delivery to arrive. (Hey, software has some advantages.) I don’t so much see it reducing the appeal of the hardware, either, as it makes me covet the hardware version every time I open up the Reaktor ensemble.

And the module is terrific. In addition to the Turing Machine Mk 2, you get the two Mk 2 expanders, Volts and Pulses.

The Turing Machine Mk 2 is a random looping sequencer – an idea generator that uses shift registers to make melodies and rhythms you can use with other modules. It’s also a fun build. But now, you can use that with the convenience of Reaktor.

Pulses and Voltages expanders add still more unpredictability. Pulses is a random looping clock divider, and Voltages is a random looping step sequencer. I also like the unique front panels made just for the Reaktor version … I wonder if someone will translate that into actual hardware.

The idea is to connect them together: take the 8 P outputs from the Turing Machine and connect them to the 8 P inputs on Pulses (for pulses), and then do the same with the voltage inputs and outputs on Volts. You can also make use, as the example ensemble does, of a Clock and Clock Divider module included by default in Reaktor 6’s Blocks collection.

With controls for probability and sequence length, you can put it all together and have great fun with rhythms and tunes.

Download the Reaktor ensemble:

Turing Machine Mk2 plus Pulses and Volts Expanders [Reaktor User Library]

Here’s what the original modules look like in action:

Find out more:

Also worth a read (especially now with this latest example of what open source hardware can mean – call it free advertising in software form, not to mention a cool project):
Why open source hardware works for Music Thing Modular

Oh, and if you want to go the opposite direction, Tom also recently wrote a tutorial on writing firmware for the Mutable Clouds module. The old software/hardware line is more blurred than ever, as make software versions of hardware that then interfaces with hardware and back to hardware again and hardware also runs software. (Whew.)

Turing Machine Controls
Prob: Determines the probability of a bit being swapped from 0 to 1 (or viceversa).
All right locks the sequence of bits, all left locks the sequence in a “mobius loop” mode.
Length: Sets the length of the sequence Scale: Scales the range of the pitch output +/-: Writes a 1 or a 0 bit in the shift register AB: Modulation inputs

Pulses Expander Controls
Output: Selects 1 of the 11 gated outputs

Volts Expander Controls
1 till 5: Controls the voltage of active bit

For more detailed information of how the turing machine works please visit the Music Thing

Music Thinking Machines

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Your unconscious meat body plays this online drum machine

I am a damp rag of exposed flesh, my limbs ill-defined blobs drifting in some undetermined direction as I float through space – wet steak in a wormhole. But then there’s a parade of translucent boxes against this surrealist-nightmare distorted planet, and a triumphant series of chime rings out. A clear pattern is articulated from the murk, a rhythm emerging from the disarray.

No, no – hold on, don’t stop reading, I’m fine. I am actually describing to the best of my ability the experience of using one #$(&*ing insane browser music toy created by our friend Sam Rolfes.

It’s free.

It’s online. It’s at Adult Swim (those kids are giving us a lot of presents these days).

It’s … really weird. (It takes a lot for me to say that.)

And yeah, I know you’ve seen this “fly through the step sequencer” model and drum machines in browser before. Not like this you haven’t. Let me quoth the online help:

“Darkness engulfs you as you lose consciousness and the surrounding world begins to fade…”

Yeah, I knew I was staring at that new track a bit too long.

The actual beat mechanism is pretty conventional: you get a beat grid floating in 3D space. It’s the ragdoll physics that start to add some twist (literally), because you have to fling this limp body into the blocks to make sound. And what elevates this to being a beautiful immersive experience is Sam Rolfes’ design – the trippy neo-Dalí meatscape combined with clever sounds and retro cyber aesthetics make for an experience that bring me back to the days when we popped Voyager CD-ROMs into computers. (Just dated myself as a kid of the multimedia 90s. We’re still catching up to those heady days.) It’s an escapist treat.

Lars Berg added development chops and co-designed the game. Kudos, sir.



Sam tells me:

Basically it’s a drum machine sequencer that I took that and expanded into 3D, played by flinging around fleshy ragdolls around the environment, flying and smacking into sample cubes that play the various sounds when they hit! The XYZ coordinates of the ragdoll collision change the pitch of the sound as well. Part novel instrument, part art project I suppose.

There’s three different environments which each have their own character and set of beat-making sounds, and the URL changes based on the rhythms you click in so people can just share their beat by pasting the URL in.

Tasty nerdy bits that make this work in your browser without so much fuss, in JavaScript: for sound. for 3D graphics using WebGL.

Part of the joy of developing things is seeing what other people do with them. Sam notes that you can copy and paste rhythms just by sending people URLs. And he picked three favorites so far (you’ll spot the details right there in the URL):

One made by Nick Weiss of Teengirl Fantasy:,b=240,a=1,c=2

Two more:,b=521,a=1,c=0,b=521,a=1,c=2

We have some beautiful artwork from Sam here, too:




Have a go:

Thanks, Sam!

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