Pipilan is new piece of software for composing with gamelan and live electronics, which creates parts for a full ensemble from a simple sequence. Originally designed for auditioning parts when a full set of instruments is not available, it has proved an interesting way to introduce people to the principles behind traditional performance techniques.

Since it uses an adapted set of rules from Javanese music theory, it’s possible to try out ideas that would be difficult to try with a traditional group, and even put in random sequences of numbers. The parts can either be played live by the computer or printed out to take to players. Development is ongoing; a basic version featuring three instruments and a synthesiser is available for free download here: http://ardisson.net/gamelan/pipilan/

Pipilan formed the basis of an interactive sound installation in the University of Music and Performing Arts Graz, Austria in 2015. Audience members were invited to compose live over a surround sound system. Virtual instruments was projected onto a large screen, lighting up to show when each part was played. Some members of the Southbank Gamelan players who had performed in concert beforehand were inspired to join in and improvise alongside the electronic parts. The software is also used by the Augmented Gamelan ensemble as a way of integrating electronics with arrangements of traditional pieces (http://www.augmentedgamelan.com).

How it works
Users can either input a central melody as a series of numbers, much as pieces are notated in Java, or as a visual grid. This is broken down into short phrases and checked against a set of rules for each instrument, determining the rhythm of each note. For example, some instruments take pairs of notes and repeat them, while others might only play the strongest notes at the end of phrases. If the user slows the tempo down, then some parts automatically double up their rhythms to fill the available space. At the same time, the software generates a set of synthesiser parts that weave patterns around the instruments.

More information
Pipilan was created in Max/MSP, a visual programming environment (http://www.cycling74.com/). Initial development took place as part of doctoral research at Middlesex University, supported by funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).