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Demonstration: The Transformation Engine


Toronto Electroacoustic Symposium, Session 5: Systems and Techniques
Saturday 9 August, 13:00–15:00. Church of St.Andrew-by-the-Lake, Toronto Islands
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Realtime Software for the automation of musical composition, with applications to multi-media and education.

The Transformation Engine is a software program which enables users to apply compositional transformations to musical information in realtime. Its aim is to extend and enhance the abilities of composers of instrumental music in the Western tradition of motivic and thematic composition, and to allow non-composers such as experimental filmmakers and animators to experiment with sophisticated musical techniques that would otherwise be beyond their capabilities. This proposal demonstrates a few of the capabilities of the Transformation Engine.

A) Graphic Editing Environment

For easy use by non-specialists (such as Film and Animation students), the Transformation Engine will have a graphic editing environment as its main site of user interaction. This is a timeline representation of the musical composition, familiar to media-savvy computer users from such programs as Final Cut Pro and Adobe AfterEffects. Time proceeds from left to right along the horizontal axis of the window.

Themes, the Engine’s fundamental musical structure, are displayed in several parallel tracks as large rectangular blocks presenting both a simplified graphic representation of the musical content and a summary of the principal controls. In the mockup presented here, the tracks represent the traditional orchestra sections of woodwinds, brass, strings and percussion, but they could equally well represent jazz big-band sections (saxes, trumpets, trombones, rhythm) or electroacoustic instruments of the user’s design.

The Harmonic Structure is displayed in a schematic common musical notation in a track along the bottom of the window. A horizontal slider control and a set of transport controls reside beneath the track data display area.

B) Musical Tranformations

This concept encompasses a wide range of possible manipulations of musical material. The basic possibilities provided by the proposed software include:

  1. Thematic Resultants: Resultants are the fundamental thematic transformation of the Transformation Engine. They can be used both as generators of new themes and to ornament existing ones.
  2. Temporal Transformations: This type of transformation acts on the temporal characteristic of the theme. Diminution and Augmentation are the two complementary operations. The first compresses the time span of a theme so that plays more quickly, while the second does just the opposite, stretching a theme to make it longer.
  3. Activity Reduction: This transformation reduces or expands the perceived degree of musical activity of a theme. It is based on a concept of Metrical Filtering which was developed and implemented successfully in the Transformation Engine software.
  4. Theme Fragmentation: This type of transformation is a common practice of composers from Medieval times to serial, avant-garde & minimalist composers of the 20th century. It is a reductive or analytical process where the a small fragment of a theme is taken as the basis for further musical development.
  5. Interval Modification: This category includes interval expansion, contraction & inversion. It also covers a very fundamental musical application which may be termed harmonization, or re-voicing. That is, a thematic figure is altered to fit the currently active chordal structure (as specified by the Background Structure).
  6. Articulation: Alteration of notes from legato (long) to staccato (short) and vice-versa.


Bruno Degazio is Professor of Sound Design in the Animation Degree program of Sheridan College. His film soundtrack work includes the special-effects sound design for the Oscar nominated documentary film, The Fires of Kuwait and music for the all-digital, six-channel sound tracks of the IMAX films Titanica, Flight of the Aquanaut and CyberWorld 3D. His many concert works for traditional, electronic and mixed media have been performed throughout North America and Europe. As a researcher in the field of algorithmic composition he has presented papers and musical works at leading international conferences, including festivals in Toronto, New York City, London, The Hague, Koln, Tokyo and Hong Kong. He has written on his research into automated composition using fractals and genetic algorithms. Degazio is the designer of MIDIForth and The Transformation Engine, a software musical composition system with application to algorithmic composition and sonification. Degazio was a founding member of the CEC.

Paper originally presented at the Toronto Electroacoustic Symposium 2008, August 2008.

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