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A computer algorithm is a set of rules about how to handle data. For social media services like Facebook or Twitter, algorithms help decide what content you see, in what order, based on the data created by people you’re connected to, and your previous actions on the service. Melodist is also algorithmic, but instead of deciding whether to show you more or fewer baby and wedding photos, its algorithm is designed to turn image data into audio data.
In other words, using a photo, illustration or other image as an input, it runs it through an algorithm that makes decisions about what sorts of sounds to output, depending on what’s in the image.
Put in a very simple image with very little variation in terms of subject, colour and contrast, for example, and you get a pretty minimalist, digital composition. Put in a busy image, on the other hand, and the music Melodist creates is fittingly more energetic and complex.
This sort of music is call 'generative music', because it’s generated in response to something it’s given. It’s music that’s a response to something else, rather than simply something that’s been rerecorded. Brian Eno was very interested in generative music, and we’ve touched on it here before when looking at the app Zen Studio.
Everything about Melodist feels lovingly designed and carefully considered. Open the app and you’re presented with a beautiful illustration of a man with a guitar, sitting on a log next to a campfire with a tent nearby and a full moon in the sky. The only on-screen option is to 'Open Photo'.
Choose an image from your photo gallery or shoot one on the spot, and Melodist will take a few seconds to 'Melodize' it before it begins playing. The default visual representation of the resultant sounds is that of a piano roll – the holes in rolls of paper that are fed through self-playing pianos.
Tap anywhere on the screen to bring up the options menu while the music keeps playing. There’s a slider to set how fast or slow the music plays, a back button to go back to the home screen, a sleep timer (that can be set to five-minute increments up to 55 minutes), a settings menu and a share button.
Your music, your choice
The settings menu lets you choose which animations are displayed and which category of sounds are used to create Melodist’s tunes. There are three animations and five sound categories, but only two of each – Piano Roll and Water Ripple for animations, Zen Garden and Ice Cave for sounds - are available for free. Each of the others costs R15 to unlock.
Under the 'share' menu there are three options. You can export the sound as an audio file or as a video file for free, or can pay R15 to unlock the option to share Melodist’s creations as midi files – something only serious audiophiles or composers who want to use something from the app in proper audio-editing software will likely want.
Whether you’re looking for soothing sounds to work (or fall asleep to), are curious about what your images might sound like, or are looking for a little musical inspiration, Melodist is a beautifully laid out app that doesn’t necessarily do a great deal beyond its core function, but does that one thing very well.
Download it for iOS.
Please note that the app may be free to download, but you will need data to download and use the app. Buying data bundles on Vodacom Online is quick, easy and affordable, and a surefire way to make sure you've got enough data on your smartphone. Simply log into My Vodacom to buy data bundles »