Ready to step beyond normal step sequencers? Skip ahead in the tutorial videos here, and you’ll see what’s possible: elaborate grid patterns that don’t just play looped patterns ad infinitum.

Now, as in milkshakes and ice cream cones, sometimes vanilla is just fine. For instance, this week, Nord released Nord Beat, a free step sequencer for iOS. And, apart from being free if you’ve got the iThing to run it, it’s a nice offering. You can chain together multiple loops of steps, and there’s a clever mode for switching to finger drumming. The system works: you get four tracks, velocity control, and multiple patterns. Nord hopes you’ll use it with their Nord Drum hardware, but you can use it with any MIDI gadget. (Thank you, Apple, for being the one and only mobile vendor to support MIDI.) Downloading that for the iPad – check. Done. But moving on:

But what about when you want to go beyond the everyday step sequencer? Two instruments from Loopmasters built in Kontakt show just how much fun that can be. (Yes, that’s Kontakt, Native Instruments’ sampler, not Reaktor – it really is possible to do this crazy stuff in a sampler.)

The most compelling of the two is Chain. Using a nodal model for steps, each step can be “chained” to other steps in unique ways. That allows you to make a step take on its own timbral character and parameters, and to create different paths through the notes for more varied melodic patterns. It’s the difference between a somber progression down a sidewalk with “don’t walk on the grass” signs and getting to play hopscotch – a hopscotch game where you can add and remove squares at will. (What, that metaphor doesn’t work? Fine. Watch the video and I’ll make myself another coffee until I start making sense.)

We’ve covered these sorts of nodal sequencers before; Nodal for Mac and Windows is particularly worth mentioning.

To get you playing right away, the instrument also comes with a wide selection of multi-sampled sound banks – since there’s nothing worse than a silent sequencer. They describe how the instrument works:

GRID MACHINE//CHAIN, the third instrument from the grid machine series comes set up to deliver cascading melodic grooves for use in every genre of modern electonic music. From simple Phillip Glass like endless repeats, thru house key parts and on into downtempo atmospheric hooks. Not just simple 4/4 grooves either, Chain can build bubbling strange time signatures thru three/four, five/four, six four time and on. Anything that needs a melodic twist, or anytime you need melodic inspiration Chain is there to provide the input. Use the internal sounds or route Kontakt to your favourite synth for your own entirely unique compositions.

Via Twitter, @dylab wonders how this compares to Numerology, the exceptional modular sequencing host. I think it’s best to view Chain in the context of Kontakt as a self-contained sequencing instrument; the appeal of Numerology is its hosting and its modular design, thus making them really different animals. Of course, you could host Chain inside Numerology and go merrily melody-mad.

Matrix, above, has its own take on making grids more adventurous. The developer describes it as modeled on the “Tenori-on,” but while inspired by designer Toshio Iwai’s playful animated sequences, the actual implementation is unique. Here, too, you can create unique variations on melodies.

Each instrument is £29.95, for Kontakt. (You need Kontakt 4.2+ Instrument in order to use them.)
Grid Machine Chain
Grid Machine – Matrix Volume 1

Late last year, we covered the first offering in this series of Kontakt creations:
Grid Machine Slice: Custom Kontakt Sample Library, Gone Mad

Here’s one of the instruments coming next:

  • Henk

    Now I just wish there was a sequencer host offering these kinds sequencing possibilities from withing the native interface!

  • Marc Nostromo

    Nodal is also a pretty awesome grid sequencer

  • josh g.

    There was actually a mode a lot like this in Electroplankton, the DS music game/instrument by Toshio Iwai. It didn’t let you pick samples but it had four objects moving around a grid of nodes with arrows on them that you could rotate to create directional patterns like this.

    • Chris Hahn

      I love Electroplankton! And this was my favorite module of that “game”. Always wished that you could pick your own sounds. This is a great idea.

    • josh giesbrecht

      Yeah, I liked that one, as long as I didn’t hit the fastest-moving object. (Each of the four objects moved at a different speed.) That fast one always felt too spammy – it would’ve been nice if you could “catch” them and stop them again.

  • stoersignal

    chain reminds me of plinko. but the great thing about plinko is that you can control it with your monome/launchpad/……. is this possible with chain too?

    • Lindon Parker

      Yep there are lots of key switches in CHAIN, so you can wire it up to your monome/launchpad/nanoKorg thing to your hearts content….

  • amounra

    hmmm….smells familiar 😉