I’ve not had much chance to play around with Wolfram Alpha. I know it’s an amazing computational engine, and can solve math and many other types of problems. I just haven’t had much need for it, although I can see that it would be a fantastic tool for students. I have, however, spent a few minutes looking at Wolfram Tones. It’s a pretty cool online music composition toy that can kill a bit of time.
The tonal patterns are based on a computational formula developed by Stephen Wolfram in the 1980’s. As such, they tend to be fairly random. There is a degree of control over the sound, however. You can pick a style from a list as follows:
However, the resulting pattern often only vaguely resembles that style of music. If you want greater control over the sound, there are four tabs at the bottom of the page to change various parameters. The first one, the Generator tab, is beyond me. I don’t understand enough about the algorithms used to really play around here. Anything I changed would be pure randomness.
The Instrumentation tab gives you a measure of control over the instruments used. You can select an instrument and assign a role to it, such as lead, chords, etc.
Pitch Mapping allows users to determine the scale that’s being used. There are the standard major/minor scales, but there are also blues scales, various other tonal scales such as Lydian, Mixolyldian, Locrian, Javanese Pentachord, etc., etc. Even after you have selected a scale, you can select the tones from that scale that will be used.
Finally, there is a way to change the tempo and rhythmic values. You can determine beats per measure, tempo, and duration. These controls are fairly straight forward.
The final product can be e-mailed to users as a MIDI file. There doesn’t appear to be a way to download the results as an audio file.
The results can be a bit bizarre, and it does take a bit of tinkering to get something that sounds like music to our Western ears. However, it’s still interesting. I guess if you wind up with something you like, it could always be incorporated into a larger composition.