At the Sounding Edge: Introducing KeyKit

Make It Work

First, we are going to run two simple tests to become familiar with some more KeyKit interface conventions. Open KeyKit's main menu again and then open the Tools1 submenu. When the menu seen in Figure 1 appears, select the Riff item. The menus vanish now, and the normal cursor becomes what is called a sweep cursor. Click and drag the sweep cursor to define and size the Riff window and release the mouse key. The area outlined by the cursor now is filled with the contents of the Riff tool. Open the tool's More menu and select Load From File to load a standard MIDI file into Riff. The results should look something like Figure 3. The Riff data display window is similar to the typical piano-roll display found in many MIDI sequencers, with pitch represented by the vertical axis and duration represented along the horizontal. Toggle playback with the On button or start play by left-clicking anywhere within the data display. Right-click anywhere within the display to stop playback. KeyKit has many other playback options, but we are going to confine this simple example to the simplest methods.

Figure 3. The Riff Tool

So KeyKit can load and play a MIDI file; that's nice. Now, let's look at something more substantial. Delete the Riff tool and then open and size the Kboom tool from the Tools1 menu. Kboom looks like a typical virtual drum machine (Figure 4), but its modest appearance conceals an interesting and useful set of tools within its More menu. As with most software rhythm programmers, Kboom lets you add and remove beats from the grid by clicking on a grid point. You could select, however, one of the Random items from the More menu and let Kboom program itself. This feature is handy for those of us who like to sculpt patterns from randomly generated parts. Kboom's other musically useful features include Shift and Transpose functions, but you'll have to check them out yourself. It's time to move to a more advanced KeyKit example.

Figure 4. The Kboom Tool

Advanced KeyKit

The Group tool from the Tools1 menu looks much like a track-oriented MIDI sequence editor. After loading a MIDI file into Group, you can view and edit its data in merged and per-track displays (Figure 4). But Group soon begins to lose its similarity to conventional MIDI sequencers, especially in its Edit functions. Scrolling through Group's Edit menu reveals some unusual functions and processes, such as BeatStep, Chordize, Evolve, Permutate and Stutter, along with more familiar sequence editing tools, such as Flip (invert), Reverse and Scale. Many tools have nested submenus for finer control over their processes. Figure 4 shows the Group tool at work with its Edit/Randomization menu unfolded to the detail level of its white noise generator.

Figure 5. KeyKit's Group Tool

The lighter-colored events in the Merged and Trk 2 displays were selected with the Pick function in the Trk 2 menu. To pick something in KeyKit isn't merely a process of simple selection. Trk 2's Pick menu includes items for selecting by various event characteristics, including duration, volume and channel; by opposite state, such as making unselected events become selected and vice versa; and even for random selection.

Group is a powerful tool. Events can be selected variously per track, and an edit or series of edits can be performed on the picked events. Then, you can flip the pick status for all events and perform another edit or edits on the newly picked events. At any point in this process, you can save your work as a standard MIDI file, and you can save your page layout as a snapshot from the Page submenu.

You also can snarf the outcome of your edit session at any time. Snarfing is KeyKit's term for pasting a tool's MIDI data to a global data clipboard, making the snarfed data available to any other tool--you can run multiple tools. In the Group tool, snarfing is selected from each track's label menu, the buttons labeled Merged, Trk 1, Trk 2 and so on. Notice that you can choose to snarf all or only the picked events within a track.

KeyKit's Markov Maker (in the Tools2 menu) processes a MIDI file's data through a set of constrained variations known as a Markov process. This tool analyzes input and formulates output according to user-defined values called Set Sim and Make Sim. The Sim here stands for similar. Markov processes yield results that are closely related variants of the original input, making them especially useful for composers wanting to retain more-or-less strong identities between variations.

Click on the Orig button to access the Set Sim parameters. These values determine the analysis window size and temporal increment, the interval at which the window moves through the data. Click on the Sim button to set the Make Sim value; higher values yields longer sims. The Sim data display then fills with the results from the combination of input/output values (Figure 6). Toggle playback with the mouse buttons as described above, and remember to save your work.

Figure 6. The Markov Maker

No experimental music toolkit would be complete without an image-to-sound converter, and KeyKit's PictSweep tool completes the kit here. PictSweep is another apparently simple tool that includes a respectable set of useful editing functions. Its More menu includes choices for scale selection, setting the key, thinning the color conversion and other musically useful processes. Alas, PictSweep's acceptable image type is restricted to PPM files, but those can be created easily with standard Linux graphics tools.

Figure 7. The PictSweep Image-to-Sound Processor

The KeyKit environment also includes a powerful object-oriented command language with support for real-time MIDI output. The following trivial example sends a Cmaj7 chord to the MIDI output device:

realtime('c e g b')

Unfortunately, I'm out of time here, so I leave the investigation of the KeyKit language to the interested reader. See the files named example*.k in the KeyKit lib directory for a good introduction to its details.


Similis sum folio de quo ludunt venti.


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While it looks interesting, t

Anonymous's picture

While it looks interesting, the License Agreement does not give me warm fuzzies. As I am most definately not interested in using it for education or research (the acceptable use listed in the agreement), I'm interesting in using it to make noise and music.

keykit licensing is meant to allow use freely

Tim Thompson's picture

The license is only meant to prevent someone from making
money from distributing or selling keykit itself, or
from using it as the basis of some commercial product.
The license is not meant to restrict the use of keykit
by musicians and programmers for composing or performing
music (or noise), even things for which they get paid.
You own all music (or noise) made with keykit -
clause 3 in the license was specifically added to say that.
You're also free to distribute any keykit code you
write - as an example, see the Geomaestro system, which
is probably the most impressive and innovative use
of keykit -