Context takes the tried-and-tested techniques of linear sequencing and modularizes them, making it a genuinely new approach to music composition.
What is Context?
Context is a powerful new software which re-imagines musical compositions as networks. Instead of filling a timeline with information or drawing dots on a page, Context invites you to make music by creating and playing with a Context network. A Context network consists of multiple Context objects connected together so that they interact. The user programs musical content and instructions into each Context object, which can be customized and expanded indefinitely. This makes Context one of the most powerful platforms for making music you can imagine.
What does Context do?
Context can do pretty much whatever you want it to.
A single Context object is an extremely versatile tool. It can function as a step sequencer, a database, a logic gate, an embeddable timeline, a generative language interpreter, and many more things besides. A Context network can therefore incorporate any of these things at any point, and no two networks need be identical. The possibilities for musical composition include:
- Generative music: Context allows you to define musical events deterministically, probabilistically, and formulaically. A composition can incorporate generative elements in any way, at any time.
- Linear & Non-linear music: Most traditional sequencers lock you into a linear paradigm (ie. with timelines and step-sequencers), whereas most non-traditional sequencers lock you out. Context takes the both-and approach here. An individual Context object is its own linear environment, which could be as short as a single note and as long as an entire piece of music; a Context network is a non-linear arrangement of such objects. So the user is free to combine linearity with non-linearity in any way.
- Interactive performances: Context is a perfect tool for improvised performance and installation pieces. In designing a Context network, you get to decide which elements of a composition should be automated and which should be reserved for the user. Context also integrates with the Novation Launchpad, for fast and powerful control in a live situation. Since a network is highly decentralized, multiple users can play with the same network at the same time.
What does Context sound like?
As a sequencer, Context deals with messages and patterns, not with sound. Its job is to determine what happens when in a piece of music–not to act as a synthesizer*. As such, Context does not sound like anything per se, and it is up to you to connect it to other PD patches and make it sound like what you want.
Here are some examples of performances made in Context.
* The exception is sample playback, which Context does very well.
How do I use Context?
Context runs in Pure Data, the open source visual programming environment. To work with Context, you’ll have to know something about PD.
Context is a large program which will take some learning. However, is designed with the user in mind, and is very accessible once you know how to use it. The basics are enough for you to be able to make sophisticated, interesting music; they are all accessible through the GUI and should only take an hour or or so to learn. A special language controls its advanced functionality, which speeds up control for advanced users. Context is well documented, so you will always have something to refer to as you learn.