OMN is designed as a scripting language for musical events. It’s not about sounds themselves, it is about their control and organisation in a musical composition. As a linear script rather than a graphic stave, musical events can be transformed, extended, reorganised by powerful computer algorithms. Some sequencers and score writers provide basic algorithms, but they do not represent the way composers now think about the process of music composition. Composing has become such a multi-faceted process and takes ideas about structure and content from many disciplines: mathematics, astronomy, literature, the visual arts. As such it requires extensive mental resources and experience from the composer. Much of this is still done by hand and eye and brain because although computer systems do exist to help the process along they don’t provide what has become known as the composing continuum. This means that a single workspace and workflow environment has not been generally available that can take in the whole process of composing a piece - from first thoughts to a printed score and reference recording. Wouldn’t it be good to be able to do everything in one place?
Most composers acquire a bag full of musical tools to act on musical ideas. These still include those tools Bach used for repetition, inversion, retrograde, transposition, but with computer help musical material can be copied, cut, pasted and generally structured and orchestrated. Since the 1950s composers have been experimenting with tools and processes that take musical transformation into wholly new areas; of random numbers, fractals, statistical distribution, graphical plotting to name just a few. To use such experimental things it is composing with a script that is acknowledged as the most efficient and practical way forward. And to work with a script means working with a language: OMN.
The truly original aspect of OMN is that it has been designed to speak directly to traditional musical notation. Everything written in OMN script can be rendered instantly to notation and to a performance simulation. For most composers staff notation remains the common currency they have to work in and with. You couldn’t expect performers to read from a MIDI event display or indeed from OMN script. As the OMN language is laid out and explored we’ll see just how fully the language of music staff notation is mirrored. This is not just in the standard elements of rhythms, pitch and dynamics but in the vast library of musical attributes that cover the way pitches and rhythms are performed by different instruments and voices. So musical notation is always there. Whatever you write there can be an instant ’snippet’ rendered to view alongside your script.
Most languages have developed orderings for parts of speech. Romance languages place the verb after the subject, and in the middle of the sentence. Germanic languages tend to conclude sentences with a verb. In music we’re used to the single intersection of pitch position on a stave line with a rhythmic symbol with or without a stem.
In developing a right concept for the OMN language much thought was given to choosing the most effective ordering of elements. Culturally our music is one governed by our past experiences, elements of musical tradition gathered through informal and formal musical education, and what is active in the memory. Descartes adage ‘Cogito ergo sum’ (‘I think, therefore I am’) remains an important cornerstone of an individual’s relationship with composing music. It is something known. It is a made thing; it possess architecture. We can say with confidence that we experience music in a hierarchical sequence of time, existence, dynamics and expression. So it is right that the linear ordering of OMN reflects this. In architecture this might be translated as dimension, materials, volume of space, decoration. These are established architectural parametrics able to form the basis for CAD rendering in the new parametric systems architects are now using to allow the conditions surrounding to influence design. OMN is a language wholly sympathetic to parametric composition in music.
OMN was created to think about the element of TIME first. After all we can be musical without a pitched note being present. If we are going to use the OMN script we need a reference guide to help us whilst we learn the language. What accompanies this introduction is a special dictionary of language terms arranged in the four elements that make up the concept. However, there are some necessary redefinitions required. TIME is a very general element that subdivides in music to rhythm and length. When we describe what makes up a rhythm in notation it is usually a mixture of symbols that have different lengths. So the OMN vocabulary uses the term LENGTH as its general title.
The second element of the OMN language is PITCH. Although each piece of music is defined by the length of time, it only starts to EXIST as a proper musical entity when pitch is added.
The third element of the OMN language is VELOCITY. Staff notation has a set of common symbols that are formed from the first letter of Italian words for degrees of intensity we want to attach to a note or a phrase. In OMN there are 12 such terms ranging from ppppp to fffff. OMN includes many symbols that can only be classed as Dynamics because they are not identified directly with a data value.
(e c4 mp)
The fourth element of the OMN language is ATTRIBUTE. The number of general symbols and words used to describe expression in music is vast: tenuto, staccato, legato, trill, fermata etc... Many instruments, particularly those of the string family have their own vocabulary of technical expressive terms: pizzicato, sul ponticello, flautando. Remarkably these can be included in an OMN script and, if your sampler has a string effects library, these expressive instructions can be realised directly.
(e c4 mp trem)
Finally, there is SIMULTANEITY possible in the layering of attributes. This is achieved by the + symbol.
(q c4 mp trem+fermata)
An important fifth element of REPETITION is also present in the OMN language structure.
(q c4 q c4)
(q c4 =)
It is valuable to remember that the composer may need to create material one parameter at a time. OMN allows for discrete parameters to be brought together to make a composite list in OMN. By the same token it may also be necessary to focus on just a single parameter to develop further the argument of a composition. An OMN list can easily be disassembled into its component parts for such work to take place and then made back into an OMN list.
(disassemble-omn '(q c4 mp d4 e4 e f4 f g4)) => (:length (1/4 1/4 1/4 1/8 1/8) :pitch (c4 d4 e4 f4 g4) :velocity (mp mp mp f f) :articulation (- - - - -))
(make-omn :length '(q q q e e) :pitch '(c4 d4 e4 f4 g4) :velocity '(mp mp mp f f)) => (q c4 mp d4 e4 e f4 f g4)
OMN script responds directly to the Opusmodus library of algorithmic functions, and with keywords particular elements can be selected to be processed or not.
(pitch-transpose 6 '(q c4 mp d4 e4 e f4 f g4)) => (q fs4 mp gs4 bb4 e b4 f cs5)
This introduction should set you on your way. With what has been covered here, the Tutorial Guide files will demonstrate how closely the OMN language can be integrated with algorithmic composing. In fact, when composing in this way you’ll often only write material in one parameter at a time. Although every function will read an OMN list, it’s often better to keep parameters apart to begin with. You’ll see this clearly in the Tutorial files.
There will be some music projects where writing directly in OMN is really necessary. Composing for voice is certainly one medium. There are examples in the How To section to demonstrate word setting with full attention given to syllabic splitting. For more experimental approaches to composing OMN can be integrated with the conversion of integers and intervals into the parameter of pitch. The Tutorials show how this can be achieved with examples that use pitch-class sets to create tone rows. OMN is a way of scripting the whole language of traditional staff notation and modes of experimental and conceptual composition using the tools of parametric modelling. It is a language that responds to the future of music presentation, as notation moves inextricably from the printed page to the backlit digital display.
New music technology has focused largely on production and presentation, whereas the conceptualisation and origination of new music requires a very different paradigm. Sequencer and Scorewriters continue to provide valuable ways into composition. Opusmodus provides the 3rd way forward, and one driven by its own notation script: OMN.
OMN is perfect for those ‘on the fly’ experiments that all composers make when they are starting out on a project. It is like having a piano close by to try out this or that, but one that always plays what’s written quite flawlessly. What is wonderful about scripting is that those experiments if successful can remain part of the score for the whole progress of the composition. With OMN a composing continuum can be achieved.
OMN may look a little hard to decipher at first, but once the logic is understood, be assured, OMN can be read with ease. OMN is the first notation that has been designed from the outset to communicate with MusicXML the de facto standard for communication of notated scores between different software applications. Opusmodus scripts can be converted seamlessly into both Midi and MusicXML.
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