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 Forum index » Reviews, Editorials and Commentary » Reviews, Reports and Interviews
Artwonk - Algorithmic Music and Graphics Program
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mosc
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 03, 2003 8:13 am    Post subject: Artwonk - Algorithmic Music and Graphics Program Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

ArtWonk is a new program for algorithmic music and graphics from Algorithmic Arts. It is the successor to the SoftStep program. According to the company's web site, ArtWonk is optimized for creating much larger and more complex compositions. I downloaded the 30 day trial version, and I was happy to find it is more than just optimized, it's a major advance in the start-of-the-art.

SoftStep Screen
SoftStep was designed to allow you to build your own software version of hardware sequencers. You do this by placing modules on a work surface and connecting them up via text labels, similarly to the way patch cords are used on a modular synthesizer. The system is much more capable than just emulating step sequencers, it can do many sophisticated algorithmic techniques based on images and even DNA chains.

Unfortunately, like most powerful and complex programs, SoftStep has a steep learning curve and is somewhat difficult to use. It is possible to use SoftStep to make complex sequencers that one can play interactively, however the more sophisticated the design the more difficult it becomes to play. This is because the programming interface (modules, interconnections, and data) and the performance interface (knobs, sliders, lights, and buttons) are on the same screen. To be fair, there are many SoftStep users that like the single-screen interface; but not I.

I have designed a good deal of hardware electronic musical instruments, including a step sequencer, see here. What I'd like to be able to do with a software sequencer is to build a virtual version of something I'd make in hardware, and I'd like to be able to operate any of the controls from an external MIDI controller. With SoftStep, I could get the functionality, but not the playability. .

ArtWonk Screen Shot
ArtWonk has several design breakthroughs that directly address these shortcomings. In the new program Algorithmic Arts has split the programming and the interactive worksurfaces, and they have significantly improved both.

To design a device in ArtWonk one interactively picks modules from a rich pallet. There are a vast number to choose from including modules for MIDI I/O, Logic, Clocks, Patterns, Processing, Sequencers, Arrays, Widgets, Graphics and more. There are even function modules where you can write code in a relatively rich programming language based on calculator script. When a module is picked, it appears on the programming screen (called the workspace), and if there are interactive controls or indicators associated with it, like for the knob module, these appear on the performance screen (called the panel) as well. On the programming screen, a module looks like a text table, with its inputs and outputs listed. If the modules have "hidden" details, you can click on a little icon and they expand to allow you to edit whatever is appropriate. You can easily move the modules and widgets on either screen with the mouse as desired.

Because controls and displays (called widgets) only appear on the panel, you can design a virtual device exactly as you would design a piece of hardware. The panel has a very good editor. You can resize, relocate, change colors, change fonts, and annotate the panel quite adequately. There is a very rich set of widgets with which to build your user interface. Every widget can also be controlled by a MIDI input. When you choose to do this, even the knobs turn when the MIDI input changes. Very slick. Very useful.

The program is developed on the workspace screen, and when you are finished with it, it is minimized, "behind the curtain". When you are making music, all you work with is the control panel; the "circuitry" is invisible - as it should be.

The programming workspace has many improvements over SoftStep, the most significant perhaps is that ArtWonk is hierarchical. Thus, you can design your own modules that work exactly like the built ins modules. Modules built from other modules are called macros. When using the worksurface, you can instantly expand any macro, make edits and return to the higher level. If you make an edit, you can apply it to all places that macro is used, or just to the one instance. This is very nice, it solves lots of headaches in program development.

On the left side of the worksurface is a hierarchical listing of all the modules and macros in your design. it looks like a folder listing in Windows or on an Apple. At first I thought this was a waste of screen real estate, but it turns out that in hierarchical code development, this is very useful, almost indispensable once you get used to it.

Interconnecting the modules is a drag and drop operation. Making edits is as easy as you'd want it to be. You can't connect signals that are incompatible. I've seen lots of graphical programming environments, such as MAX and KYMA. This program has no peer in this area of graphical interactive program development.

ArtWonk has facilities for generating graphical images as well as MIDI. I can't comment on this because I'm not interested in this feature. I notice that it runs with very high screen resolutions. It might be fun to create moving images to project during live performances.

The complete user's manual is online at the Algorithmic Arts web site. I think it is quite good. There are several tutorials to get you up and running. Support for Algorithmic Arts products is outstanding. They've set up an new online support forum, which is quite good. There is a user community where people share ideas and complete patches.

In summary, if you are interested in algorithmic composition, real-time MIDI processing, step sequencing, and related activities, then you owe it to yourself to try out ArtWonk. John Dunn, the principal software developer at Algoritmic Arts, has been working on these programs for many years. Every few years he comes out with an improvement. ArtWonk proves the power of perseverance. This time he's got a real winner; it's finally come together. Congratulations.

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Last edited by mosc on Sun Dec 21, 2003 7:50 am; edited 1 time in total
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jmahoney



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PostPosted: Wed Dec 17, 2003 11:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Were you able to recreate your analog sequencer design? Were you satisfied with the results?
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elektro80
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 17, 2003 12:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I suspect doing that is quite doable, but it would not really be the same because Howard´s big mean sequence machine was meant for CV/gate modular use and not midi.
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mosc
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 17, 2003 12:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

jmahoney wrote:
Were you able to recreate your analog sequencer design? Were you satisfied with the results?

Well, I'm still working on it. I'm finding the skip function difficult to impliment. Here's a screen shot of what I have so far...


Clipboard01.jpg
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Screen shot of work in progress using Artwonk.
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elektro80
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 17, 2003 1:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

You really are working on a clone of your "big mean sequence machine"!!! Very Happy
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seraph
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 17, 2003 4:17 pm    Post subject: Re: Artwonk - Algorithmic Music and Graphics Program Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

mosc wrote:

The complete user's manual is online at the Algorithmic Arts web site

the correct link is:
http://algoart.com/

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mosc
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 21, 2003 7:51 am    Post subject: Re: Artwonk - Algorithmic Music and Graphics Program Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

seraph wrote:
the correct link is:
http://algoart.com/

Thanks, I just corrected it in the original message.
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xbeemer



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PostPosted: Tue Dec 23, 2003 10:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

mosc wrote:
jmahoney wrote:
Were you able to recreate your analog sequencer design? Were you satisfied with the results?

Well, I'm still working on it. I'm finding the skip function difficult to impliment. Here's a screen shot of what I have so far...


Howard,

This is a good example of the difference in implementing a classical analog sequencer and in emulating one in a program like ArtWonk that is intended to co exist with more demanding programs like soft synths, and so runs at some discrete clock rate and then goes to sleep between ticks.

With analog, when the skipped stage is reached, it simply zeros the clock time, perhaps by shorting the r/c capacitor in the timing circuit, and the stage is (practically speaking) instantly skipped. But in order to skip a stage with ArtWonk, it has to be removed entirely from whatever is sequencing it; it is not enough to just skip over it very fast because the fastest that can happen is the tick rate, which will likely produce an audible blip.

With ArtWonk this can be done by using an array to map the steps. When a skip switch is depressed, the switch change triggers a function that puts a 0 in that array position, then hands it off to another function that sorts the array and returns the new count of sequence steps used. The sequencing clock then sequences not a direct count, but the mapped positions of whatever states are not skipped.

I've implemented this as an ArtWonk macro. It's on the Algorithmic Arts user's forum, in Patches, Macros & Functions.

John
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mosc
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 23, 2003 11:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Thanks, John. That's a great explaination. I'll check out the ArtWonk forum as soon as I get a chance. I'm working on adding sub forums to this forum now.
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Kyahoga



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PostPosted: Tue Mar 13, 2007 12:10 am    Post subject: New member asking about artwonk Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Greetings all,

I stumbled on this forum googling for Artwonk info and found the discussions here very interesting.
I have been looking for something like a software based MIDI Modular System, and wondered if Artwonk would be a good choice.
So far I have been experimenting with modulation matrices on a few synthesizers, and I'm having a great time with it.
I imagine that if I try some other interesting ways to influence the synthesizer other than with LFOs I may find a whole new world out there...
Well at least new to me Wink

Eliminating sampling and audio from the learning curve and focusing completely on MIDI I assume will make things less overwhelming than other software I have tried. But I am not certain about this... Artwonk looks quite complex.
I guess I could always design simple patches and learn what they do as I go along. This sounds very interesting, and fun.

Just wondering what others who have tried Artwonk think of it.
Something to really delve into and use?

Thanks for indulging me here...

Best...
K
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seraph
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 13, 2007 12:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Hi Kyahoga
you resurrected a very old thread Exclamation welcome to electro-music.com Very Happy

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Last edited by seraph on Tue Mar 13, 2007 12:27 pm; edited 1 time in total
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mosc
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 13, 2007 12:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Resurrecting old threads is very OK.

welcome

Artwonk is a lot of fun. John is beta testing a new release now. You can try it for free to see if it correlates with your style.

If you are a programmer, you might check out Keykit as well.

A real modular MIDI system is the Clavia Nord Modular G2. Too bad you can't try that for free. Their free demo has the MIDI disabled, but you can get the idea of how it works.

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xbeemer



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PostPosted: Mon Dec 14, 2009 6:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

We've just released a new version of ArtWonk, version 4. Lots more of everything, as upgrades are prone to do. Also the auxiliary helper programs, BioEditor, DataBin, and MicroTone have been folded into the main program, which makes them a lot easier to deal with. Also, it now will run off a USB key, and in general doesn't mess with your Windows Registry or Windows DLL library. Plus 3 major new additions:

1. If you are an academic with a web presence at your school, you can have a free ($1 actually) license key generator for MusicWonk (ArtWonk less the extended graphics package) that will create unlimited free academic license keys for the students, faculty and staff of your school. Details are on the Academic Prices page of the web site.

2. A HUGE new library of fractals and related functions, mostly created by Warren Burt as part of a post doc grant from the University of Wollongong, Australia.

3. An AudioRecorder module that makes it pushbutton easy to record directly to .mp3, .wma or .wav files. ArtWonk/MusicWonk is a MIDI program, not a softsynth that produces audio, but once you hook up the MIDI to whatever softsynth, modular synth, sampler, etc. you want to drive - you can use the AudioRecorder to tap into the digital audio stream of your computer and record it at whatever resolution quality you want. All the .mp3 samples on the web site were done this way.

http://algoart.com
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 14, 2009 8:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

That seems like a very generous offer. Warren is a member here too. I'm sure his stuff is superb.

Thanks for the update...

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xbeemer



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PostPosted: Tue Dec 15, 2009 10:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

"Generous" might be too generous. More like enlightened self interest. I'm hoping to stir up some interest in the academic music community. They tend to have the impression that if it's not on a Mac, it can't be any good. It's my own fault because while my algorithmic music software predates Max, I've never paid much attention to marketing, I've mostly focused on the fun stuff which for me is programming the algorithms and modules, and noodeling with the sound. So now I'm finally making an effort to crack the academic egg.

Warren not only did most of the new fractals, he also supplied the demos and wrote the documentation for them. He was very generous in not only supplying the fractal functions, but also giving good instructions on how to use them in your own pieces. Some are in modules, but the majority are in a group of "Packages" which are add-ons to ArtWonk/MusicWonk that become part of the system, an idea I stole from Common Lisp.

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