On Grid Matrix Sequencers: The ToneMatrix

by Thomas Brett

The most exciting game for me is the space game, the search of possible space shapes, that is to say the logical and concrete building of various layouts.”
– Ernő Rubik, inventor of the Rubik’s Cube

If there is a guiding shape for electronic music making in our time, surely it’s the grid matrix–that 4×4-, 8×8-, or 16×16-squared box into which we program musical events.  The grid matrix almost seems like the two-dimensional descendent of Ernő Rubik’s glorious 3-D mechanical puzzle, the Rubik’s Cube:

Just look around the electronic musical instrument landscape over the last thirty years and you’ll see the grid matrix everywhere.  For example, there’s the classic Akai MPC sequencer–

the Novation Launchpad–

and the ultra-minimal Monome controller–

to name just a few.

Yet another spin on the grid matrix is an internet instrument called the ToneMatrix. Developed by André Michelle, the ToneMatrix is a sine wave synthesizer triggered by a 16-step sequencer.  The 16 horizontal steps control where a note occurs in the 16 pulse (or 4/4 meter) timeline and the 16 vertical steps allow the user to trigger different pitches.  How do you “play” the ToneMatrix?  Just click anywhere on the grid and listen to the music develop!  (I would love to see an instrument like this used to study creativity among infants:  What kinds of patterns would they build?)

Notice that as you click more and more buttons on the grid, the music gradually grows in density and syncopation.  To my ear, the sounds made on this machine have an uncanny similarity to the additive structures of American composer Steve Reich’s music, reminding me of something his fellow composer John Adams once said about minimalism: that it was the first true machine music.

Click here to go to the ToneMatrix.

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