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Issue 2.5


Voice of the GoatCactus

Issue: 2.5 (May/June 2004)
Author: Toby Rush
Article Description: No description available.
Article Length (in bytes): 3,852
Starting Page Number: 10
Article Number: 2506
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Full text of article...

The "Best Innovative Software" category of the REALbasic Design Awards was, no doubt, created for those programs that just don't fit into any other categories but are worth recognizing. Voice of the GoatCactus, which received an Honorable Mention in the category this year, is an excellent example of just this type of category-defying software.

Now, a discussion of the "GoatCactus" referred to in the title is certainly a metaphysical journey of enlightenment and self-discovery that trancends any simple magazine review; fortunately, you don't have to be a Zen master to use the program.

Voice of the GoatCactus is essentially a music composition program, although it is certainly not in the same category as Finale, GarageBand or Reason. In this case, the user only controls parameters that influence the creation of the music. The music itself is generated by the computer using complex algorithms and (apparently) some element of randomness.

After opening the program and clicking the "Create" button in the main window, we are presented with a wide range of parameter controls that can be changed by the user. Some of these are fairly intuitive: a list of instruments down the lower left side of the window, a tempo controller, menus for key signature and time signature and number of repetitions, for example.

But some of the other controls are a little quixotic; the primary example here is a large area of multicolored rectangles to the right of the instrument list referred to in the instructions as "The Crystalline Eye of the GoatCactus." The color and size of these rectangles is changed by a set of three menus in the upper right-hand corner of the window, which allow the user to select a chemical element, a time of day, and an adjective like "Boiling," "Frothing" or "Oozing." The documentation explains that "The Eye" is actually something of a full score for the piece, using colors to indicate the activity of each performer at a particular point in the piece.

But the most obvious result of clicking the "Create" button is the symphony we are greeted with. It's not Mozart or even Radiohead by any stretch of the imagination... the music is more or less free atonality, reminiscient of something Schoenberg or Messiaen might have come up with.

Notwithstanding the mysteries of the "GoatCactus," the interface is a little confusing in spots. The status bar is placed inside a yellow rounded rectangle, giving it the appearance of a System 7 button. Other options are almost completely hidden, like the capability to mute an instrument (use "Toggle Muting" from the Musician menu).

The best way to understand this program is to try it out, which can be done with the demo version. You may not create the next West Side Story with this program, but it's a fun and thoughtful diversion.

End of article.