BitmapSequencer by Tom Betts
The BitmapSequencer is a sound synthesis tool that uses bitmap images as audio wave-data. The application consists of a multichannel step-sequencer (16 beat cycles) in which you can place bitmap images to create sounds. Each image generates it's own unique sound as the audio is produced directly from the image data. [...]
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The music studio is moving from hardware (racks of synths and sliders) to software (emulated racks of synths with external slider controllers). We look at a computer that offers endless possibilities for manipulating structure and form, and reduce it merely to emulating synthesisers and interfaces we already know. This tells of a profound
lack of imagination.

However, BitmapSequencer allows us to make music on a computer that really deserves to be called "computer music."

Mainstream music software revolves around visual interfaces triggering and effecting sounds. So does BitmapSequencer, but rather than sequencing notes, the user sequences graphical images. To drop a sound into a loop, the user drags a small image and drops it on the screen. It makes perfect sense; we're using a graphical interface, so why not deal with the sonic textures as graphics?

There are many pitfalls waiting for those wanting to turn graphics into sound, but Tom Betts has it sussed. His understanding of a tactile relationship between the sonic and visual is clearly evident, as is the craftmanship that allows him to realise it as software.
With BitmapSequencer, Tom Betts draws on the rich heritage of 'trackers', an early genre of music software born from the hobbyist demo scene. The tracker approach of simply dropping a sample into a loop and manipulating its effects parameters is applied, allowing a composition to be thrown together quickly and tweaked endlessly. More of the demo scene aesthetic shows through in the home-grown user interface, complete with obtuse keyboard shortcuts.

On creating another scratchy, zinging noisefest with this software, it's hard to tell who deserves the credit for the music, the user or the programmer. Of course, this is a problem common with most 'creative' pieces of software. Lazy users can play around with the
presets, while the more daring can add their own graphics and ideas to take the software somewhere new. Using BitmapSequencer is a duet with the programmer.

BitmapSequencer is an example of imaginative software that continues to be made in spite of ubiquitous mainstream interfaces. It's encouraging to see rich history of homebrew music software evident within it.

by Alex McLean, posted 05 May 2003

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