Gbloink! Once upon a time there was a pinball machine that wanted to be Ravel, Satie, Brian Eno and Sir Harrison Birtwistle … all at the same time …
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    Gbloink!’s music functions at once like a baby’s mobile and a free-improvising percussion ensemble. Nursery-rhyme style repetitions evolve into crunching clusters, then twinkling serial spirals, then nursery-rhyme style repetitions… – Tom Rodwell.

    (Please note, that Gbloink! was originally written in 1997. This is a new site, but the software is quite old. It may still run on your Windows machine but is no longer supported. I’m currently working on a version that will run in your browser. You can read about and try the current work-in-progress, but most of this site refers to the original software.)

    Gbloink! is a “sound toy” : a program that lets you produce music from any Windows PC with a Midi soundcard or external Midi synthesizer. Three balls bounce around a play area. When one collides with an object, it triggers a Midi note whose pitch depends on the vertical position of the ball.

    Initially the result can sound quite as arbitrary as any random music generating program. But after playing with the program for a few minutes, the user should notice a difference. Once the play area is populated with obstacles, structure begins to spontaneously emerge. The balls often fall into cyclic patterns causing repetitions and rhythms; or one ball might fall behind another with the effect that its voice starts echoing the melody of the first. This spontaneous order gives the music a different character to most chance based and ambient music.

    The music too, treads a fine line. Other real-time random music programs (as differentiated from random music generators like QFC) are often ambient, gentile, constrained. Gbloink!, however is immediately musically perverse. The game-like interface initiates paranoia in the user, who is forced to constantly determine, and repair the block-environment of the balls. Too-high or too low, and the MIDI sounds are muddy and musical. Too-small gaps create annoyingly blurred repetitions. The user is forced to update, to work, (moving ever closer to Repetitive Strain Injury with every mouse click). The user-patrolled environment, while often focused and responsive, can also be annoying. It forces an awareness of the user intentions: ‘is this too tonal? Is this too fast? Is this too clustered?’ These attentions are consistently disrupted and modified as the balls break through the block-walls. — Tom Rodwell

    Interacting with the music is also different. I’m interested in both music and user interfaces, and Gbloink! was written as an experiment in both these areas. The program is designed to be used in an improvisatory way. You practice and learn to perform with it as you would with a musical instrument. Consequently there is no distinction between composition and performance or any output other than using it.

    The user controls events mainly by scribbling obstacles within the play area. There are no statistical models to get to grips with; and I have dispensed with setting parameters by sliders in favour of setting parameters by simply clicking somewhere along a coloured bar. This can seem confusing at first, but soon becomes very fluid. And it gives the user very immediate, real-time control over the mood and character of the music. It’s like being able to improvise with three instruments at once; or rather, to guide the improvisations of three musicians at once.

    Hope you have as much fun as I do with the program, and please tell me if you discover any bugs, have any suggestions, or want to show off any of your own compositions.

    While the musical results are patently game-like and absurd, there is also a striking sense that the music generated is employable. This author has, in fact, recorded large amounts of free improvisation involving other musicians and the program. There was an even more intense ‘user-paranoia’ during these interactions, for not only did I have to improvise myself, and control the blocks and spaces on screen, but also prevent the generated music from becoming too repetitive or tonal. The interface forces improvisation, and has the same attention to “continual refinement and adjustment” as live music-performance. — Tom Rodwell

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