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Music Mouse

Music Mouse (Review), Music mouse info sheet
& Music Mouse / Laurie Spiegel Links

posted 1 october 2001

unknown magazine Review March 1988

An inventive composer or just a squeaky rodent? The verdict from our professional (Michael) and our amateur (Gary).

By Michael Brown and Gary Ludwick

  • Music Mouse for Macintosh & Amiga Computers

  • ALL THE ELECTRONIC instruments that have been invented in recent years (keyboard, drum and guitar synthesizers) are basically just electronic versions of instruments that already existed. While MIDI synthesizers provide players unprecedented capabilities, the instruments themselves are not very different from their acoustic counterparts. Music Mouse, on the other hand, is like no other instrument, letting the professional or amateur compose music with the mouse.

    Music Mouse lets you control the Amiga's four voices by moving the mouse along its X and Y axes, which in turn control four, brightly colored cursor bars touching piano keyboards bordering the screen. Holding down the left mouse button temporarily mutes the sound, so you can position the mouse to play a particular pitch without playing all the keys in between. The samples provided with the program are very high quality; I especially like the piano, flute and marimba. The program will play any 1FF sound file, so you're not limited to what's on the disk.

  • Virtually every key controls some feature of the Amiga's sound generating facilities or external MIDI keyboards. Successively depressing Q, W, E, R, T and Y, for example, changes the harmonic structure from Octatonic to Chromatic to Middle Eastern to Diatonic to Pentatonic to Quartal. Other keys control dynamics, articulation, tempo, transposition and pitch quantization. All the controls you would use most frequently are activated by a single keystroke, so you don't have to stop making music to turn up the volume or change the tempo.
    Music Mouse not only controls sound generation, but the Amiga's visual display as well. The arrow keys control red, green and blue color intensities. Pressing the nine on the numeric keypad activates a draw mode. When you press a note its companion cursor bars appear on the screen, building up intricate designs over a long series of notes. In the draw mode, you find yourself sculpting music with the colors and patterns of these bars as much as with the sounds the program creates.

  • You can have a great deal of creative fun with Music Mouse and the Amiga's internal synthesizer, but playing MIDI gear is even better. Music Mouse can function as a stand-alone controller for any MIDI synthesizer. The program can send all four melodic voices on MIDI channel one or send one melodic voice each over channels one through four. From the Amiga's keyboard, you can program all synthesizer functions, including patch selection, breath control, foot control, portamento, after touch, modulation wheel and velocity sensitivity. As a bonus, all keys on the synthesizer remain live.

  • Be warned: Music Mouse is not a sequencer in itself. Once you are finished playing a composition, it cannot be repeated unless you record your performance with Electronic Arts' Deluxe Music Construction Set or Mimetics' Sounscape (or, presumably, another sequencer such as Texture from Magnetic Music); you would also need a MIDI intefface. I ran Music Mouse as a SoundScape module on the patch panel without a hitch.

  • I do have one significant complaint. Although there is no mention of it in the manual, the program is copy-protected, preventing you from making a back-up copy or loading it onto a hard disk. If a developer must put copy-protection on a program, they should at least tell the consumer about it up front. However, the manual does mention that Music Mouse only recognizes MIDI interface units plugged into the serial port.

  • Music Mouse is a very solid program. It will multitask with itself, but multiple iterations of the program cannot simultaneously access the Amiga's internal voices. While one copy works internally, the others can send out MIDI information or a visual display. I tested it multitasking with SoundScape on a one megabyte A500 and with WordPerfect on a one meg A2000 and never experienced a problem.

  • The manual is well written and quite comprebensive, covering all aspects of the program from ini~ial se~up to using MIDI to multitasking with DMCS and SoundScape. It also provides some exercises to help you become more proficient with the program. A large card maps the keyboard controls for quick reference. Overall, I found Music Mouse to be an extremely fun and creatively stimulating program.

    Although Music Mouse bills itself as an expert system (software that allows non-experts to perform expert acts), for the beginner the program is long on promise and short on delivery. Granted, you don't have to learn keyboards, notes or staves, but you are going to have to expend serious energy to create recognizable melodies. In addition, you cannot save your creations with Music Mouse alone. Unless you have one of the highend music programs Music Mouse integrates with, your only recourse is to connect your tape deck and computer, as the manual suggests.

  • Music Mouse bills itself as an "intelligent instrument." In the sense that you can create nice sounding chords, with no knowledge of music, by rolling a mouse around on a desk, I suppose it is. But, for the amateur who knows little about music, the novelty wears off pretty quickly. You can only listen to chords and play with gadgets for so long before you yearn for something recognizable and repeatable.

  • At times the manual is too technical and at others too ethereal, and it leaves out one important detail. Music Mouse is apparently copy protected, but no mention is made on the packaging or in the manual. If a software publisher insists on doing this, they ought to own up to it and provide proper cautions to the user.

  • Music Mouse
    (Opcode Systems
    1024 Hamilton Court
    Menlo Park, CA 94025
    512K required.

An Intelligent Instrument

Infosheet Music Mouse for the Macintosch & Amiga Computers

  • Unlike traditional musical instruments and most other software currently available for small computers, Music Mouse offers a truly innovative, and immediately satisfying way of making music. Music Mouse is now available for Commodore Amiga and Apple Macintosh computers!
    This program doesn/t require any keyboard skills or knowledge of music notation, nor is it designed for the storage, editing, or replay of musical compositions. Instead, it turns the computer itself into a musical instrument, which is played by pushing music around in real time using the computer's mouse and manipulating control options from the computer's alphanummeric keyboard while doing so.

    By using computer logic to assist with harmony, Music Mouse lets the player's musical sensitivity and imagination express themselves from the very beginning, while providing more advanced musicians with an endless variety of instantly accessible possibilities for improvidation and exploration. A keyboard-full of options for type of harmony, transposition, voicing, counterpoint, dynamics, articulations, electronic orchestration, and computer generated melodic-rhythmic patterning are availabele at all times via single-letter keystrokes. The player is free to focus on the movement of melodic lines and chords, on timing, sound quality, phrasing, and on the overall form and expressive content of the music itself, instead of getting bogged down in finding the notes to play or being able to play them.

    Because Music Mouse can produce more than thirty for-note chords per second, dense electronic textures can also be created, while the player maintains full control of pitch-relationship content. Since no keyboard is required, the program can also function as a selfcontained way to play the less-expensive keyboardless "rack mount" versions of MIDI-synthesizers currently on the market.

    Music Mouse is available for the Apple Macintosch computers of 128K and upwards. It outputs through the computer's built-in speaker or through any Macintosch or Amiga MIDI interface, to
    external synthesizers. Most MIDI controller values are accessible from fader pairs which are mapped onto the computer keyboard, permitting realtime timbral manipulation, crossfades, or other effects depending on the MIDI synthesizers, sound definitions, and configuration in use.

    Because an external MIDI instrument's keyboard remains "live" while this program is running, Music Mouse provides a good way for two people to play together on a single MIDI synthesizer, or for a single player to create a full chordal/polyphonic accompaniment with one hand while playing a keyboard solo with the other.

    Written by Laurie Spiegel, a well-known composer and pioneer in interactive computer music, this program is a truly enjoyable introduction or computer music's "next step": the use of software-encoded musical expertise to let you go further faster and more easily.

    Here's what MACazine says about Music Mouse: "Might qualify as my choice of Music Product of the year. The Mac can now be a live performance instrument that is totally unique. One of Spiegel's goals in creating Music Mouse was to free the performer from traditional problems of performance technique so that inspiration and musical spontaneity could be unleashed. To a large extent she has succeeded!"

    The Amiga version boasts some special features:
    Uses Amiga Standard IFF sampledsound format
    Plays up to four different sampled sounds at once
    Envelope on/off switch and decay rate faders
    Sound cycling
    Microtonal pitch and pitchbend control
    Two graphical drawing modes
    Independent RGB color intensity fader control for each of the eight screen colors
    Can be run simultaneously with other Amiga programs or with other copies of itself!

    Music Mouse TM, which has already turned so many computers into a unique kind of intelligent instrument in its origianl Macintosch form, is now available for Commodore Amiga computers with greatly expanded capabilities. Many more high level musical options, high quality internal sampled sound for stand-alone non-MIDI use, and interactive visual controls to make playing it a truly audio-visual musical experience - make this a program that you owe it to yourself to try, whether you've never played music at all or already rank as a superstar. Completely intuitive, immediately gratifying, and thoroughly enjoyable, this program is making history.

Music Mouse / Lauri Spiegel Links: