Jun 6, 2009


Computer Music magazine is not really my cup of tea. And there's a reason that too: the oh-so-dangerous semiotic fuel to the app upgrade race that happens to benefit only the advertisers that take up about 50% of the magazine's publishing space. In their correspondence section of the latest issue (June 2009), some reader complainted about their lack of coverage on freeware utilities, arguing that a digest of the most pertinent happenings in such a chaotic universe would be very welcome to Computer Music magazine readers. The magazine replied that, since freewares are free to try, why should they deny their reader-base such joy. Aren't they such darlings? Yep, that's right: Computer Music magazine is intended to be a buyer's guide, not journalism. Luckilly, they betray their intentions from time to time and in their single-page eye-on-freebies section of the same issue, they present us with the acknowledgement of the existence of a gem: Nodal. No tutorials, no raving reviews, just a screenshot and two paragraphs of briefly telling what it is. Oh, and a URL for whoever gives a fuck - and so I did. But enough with the bile.
Nodal is a MIDI manipulation tool. It's grid-like interface supports a non-linear sequencing of MIDI instructions in a circuitry logic. Remember Pipe Dreams? That's what you do to the MIDI signal in Nodal. The lenght of the side of each square in the grid is a beat in a definable BPM tempo. You can also create nodes in the plumming (hence the name), where you can edit many aspects of the signal and control it's flow around your circuit. The idea is to create a (not necessarily linear) sequence of MIDI messages, yielded to a third-party MIDI receiver. The downloadable pdf tutorial shows you the ropes proper, so be sure to get it.
Like they say on the webpage, Nodal doesn't make a sound by itself. In my system Nodal found the soundcard's synth by default, wich in turn produced sound. But you can route it to a hard synth, if that's your thing. Routing it to anything "software" is not trivial, though, and it depends on the MIDI slave, really. For example, Nodal can produce different MIDI notes, in different programmes (or "instruments"), in up to 10 MIDI channels. You must also understand that there's no concept of transport (play, stop, record, etc) yielded by Nodal, just the MIDI protocol. I tried to use Reason for a slave and eventually gave up when I learned how tricky that can get in a couple of forums. In those forums, people kept asking for rewire, vst versions, etc. But, if you a take closer look at Nodal, you will understand that this would cripple it's possibilities.
My suggestion is to use it on Plogue's Bidule, where you can liberally create MIDI-ins for whatever Nodal needs and route them to your weapon-of-choice favourite softsynth or effect, or even to Reason, through Bidule's Rewire. MIDI Yoke as a virtual MIDI port takes care of the harware-to-sofware bridge and Bidule picks it up with no fuss. I havent's tried Nodal on Audiomulch yet, but I guess you can get it to wait for an incoming MIDI message in mapping certain parameters.
What's exciting about Nodal is the possibilities it opens in MIDI management, be it generative music composition (scales, chords, etc), be it stochastic control over MIDI acessible parameters.