Friday, September 10, 2010

Instant Music

"Instant Music" from Electronic Arts (1986) is a bit different from any other music applications on the Commodore 64 as it allows you to 1) create music from scratch or 2) "jam" along an already made tune.

Jamming (or "mouse jamming" as it's called) means that you can jam using one channel while the other two are playing a tune. Since I don't find "mouse jamming" too appealing, I am gonna focus here on "Instant Music" as a pure music creation software. To turn off "mouse jamming" in case it's on, click on the icon that shows a joystick with a thunderbolt next to it.

What's neat about "Instant Studio" is that it can make sure that everything you do is in key (pitch guide set to "scale") and better yet in key and melodic (pitch guide set to "melody"). Of course, it can let you play whatever pitch you want if you set the pitch guide to "free" but that kinda defeats the purpose of "Instant Music".

By default, Instant Music controls the rhythm (it is "guided") but you can certainly have full control over it. Indeed, note durations can be changed to quarter, eighth, and sixteenth at any time. You can also select a note duration and allow the length to be multiplied (select "multiple" instead of "discrete" in the rhythm guides) when you actually input notes (keep joystick button pressed and slide right).

Here are some things about Instant Music I've figured out after playing for a little bit (the hard part was figuring out the pitch and rhythm guides):

- You can create single notes, dyads (2 notes) or triads (3 notes) one by one or along a line (click on the thunderbolt icon to get into line drawing mode). The "quickdraw" pattern determines how the notes are gonna be placed along the line.

- You can copy/cut/paste blocks of music you've added voice by voice.

- You can change the tempo of the tune that's playing.

- You can can zoom in/out in order to play/edit pieces of the tune.

- You can edit the instruments available.

- You can transpose an instrument's pitch up or down (by one octave).

In the video above, I kinda show off my musical skills. Actually, you really don't need any because Instant Music takes care of pretty much everything (pitch guide set to "melody" and rhythm guide set to "guided"), you just need to decide whether the notes go up or down.

The video above goes into much more details regarding the pitch modes and rhythm modes. It's interesting to note that, when in melody mode, Instant Music modulates (changes scale) quite a bit. It would be interesting to delve into this more and kinda reverse engineer the next note decision making. The choice of the next note is based on the stable/unstable (consonant/dissonant) degrees of the scale but that's about all I have been able to figure out thus far. Concerning the rhythm, I really have no idea about how it works.


  1. Instant Music was a great little piece of software. I certainly still have it alongside my Commodore 64s to make music with my home studio rig.

    Pity you couldn't toggle between the MIDI and SID output because the extra processing would slow the machine during busy parts. If you want to integrate an IM piece into a larger construction on your DAW, it could knacker the timing. But even then you could still end up with a more 'human'-sounding piece for that glitch. However, one solution is to fade down the individual SID outputs.

    I wrote my own piece on it:

    There's plenty to still use a C64 for and with - the MSSIAH, SFX Sound Expander and a myriad of great programs for example. And if you've installed SID VSTi to the PC or sampled various C64 sounds and special effects, you can get even more out of it.

    My samples if you care to try:

  2. Thanks Michael. Although i'd love to get back to the C64 for making music (buy one, basically), it's not too practical for me as you end up with so much gear there's really no room for it. So, what's left? The few C64 or chiptune VSTi roaming around and a DAW on pc or mac. It's not quite the same but will do, i guess (i'd rather use Electrosound or Ubik's Music straight from the C64 for example).