Sequencer for writing harmonies

Has anybody used ER-101 for this kind of stuff? I’ve been studying renaissance style modal counterpoint lately, and I’ve been thinking it might be fun to write sort of like a cantus firmus (Cantus firmus - Wikipedia) into the ER-101 and then write several harmony lines for it and see where it would go from there. At the moment my main sequencer is Rene 2 and it’s not really ideal for this kind of stuff. Or any other idea what hardware sequencer might be good for stuff like this?


I have thought similarly and tried Numerology’s polyphonic sequencers to create four-part counterpoint. I found it mostly underwhelming.

You can create a nice loop or something slowly evolving by setting divergent pattern lengths. But if you want to make it feel like it’s going somewhere or craft evocative melodic lines with real integrity over 4-5 minutes if music… it’s hard on a sequencer.

But maybe there is a four part sequencer outside of Wendy Carlos that really helps forge something new.

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Speaking of Numerology, has anyone tried Five12’s Vector sequencer? Reading a bit about it - and it seems to have similar benefits/limitations to Numerology. Less about improvisation than NDLR, more about triggering per-arranged sequences.

It looks cool. I didn’t grok the polyphonic possibilities, but the programmatic possibilities in Max are immediately apparent. Is your Scheme code public yet? I’d be curious to take a look.

Yes! And this is something else that is cool about NDLR - two midi out ports. I assume the second port can be used to record MIDI, just send out clock information, etc…

Sure, there are a bunch of us around with the Vector. It’s an adaptation/scaling-down of Numerology for the Eurorack format, and one of the strongest Eurorack sequencers currently available. The result is something between Numerology and the Cirklon. Vector is something of a work-in-progress, with additional features and functionality arriving iteratively through firmware updates.

The physical interface is optimized for editing various parameter layers of eight step sequences (which can be much longer, presented in pages of eight steps/stages). The physical interface also suits Ableton-ish pattern and scene launching reasonably well.

The physical interface is showing some signs of strain as the product evolves. The settings menus for configuring MIDI behavior and the analog inputs and outputs are getting pretty confusing. We’re winding up with button combos for certain “new” operations. The still-in-beta v2 firmware extends the physical interface—optionally—to the Launchpad, which is proving to be pretty nice for a variety of tasks, but doesn’t help with others.

As for the topic here, Vector, like Numerology and most non-piano-roll sequencers, is about making short-ish looping sequences that evolve or employ probability, and then stringing those together to build larger compositions. Vector does support variable step/stage duration, although that duration is not completely arbitrary. Fundamentally, it’s still a step sequencer at heart. So, for example, you can “record” a sequence into the Vector (using the Beta firmware) from a keyboard, but what you play still has to be conformed to the step sequencer model. Vector won’t record and manage arbitrary MIDI event streams.


Yeah, I love my Vector Sequencer & it’s the core of my system, but as @mdoudoroff notes I don’t know if it fits the bill for what’s being requested here. It does have a nice chord mode where you can either play in the chords manually or select them via rotary encoders, but this is all in the step sequencer format. (One of my favorite tricks is to enter chords and then post-quantize them to shifting scales – good times!)


Hi Schmudde, Scheme for Max is public, but I haven’t started putting up the sequencer specific tutorials or code yet, just because I was doing a few big projects using them for a grad school course this term and need to wrap those up. But I did write an e-book(let) on learning it, and will be putting up sequencing tutorials in the next month or two. There is a youtube channel I use for demos and release announcements you can subscribe to. (very low traffic).

It works great for building sequencers, which was actually the original impetus for the whole thing. I’m currently doing a just intonation/microtonal step sequencer where all the notes are stored as series of ratios, allowing one unlimited tuning without have to predetermine your scale set. I use a launchpad to enter a series of numerators and denominators, and then save them to another launchpad that gets used for entry in the sequencer, so a pitch is stored as something like (3/2 x 3/2 x 3/2 x 1/4). it’s pretty convenient for trying out tunings and works very well in Scheme specifically because LISPS BELIEVE IN FRACTIONS. lol. (ie no rendering to a float until you tell it to)

Another thing I’ll be building soon (that I previously implemented in csound a long time ago) was a paraphonic step sequencer for chords. Each track had a main note, plus parameter fields for 3 or 4 additional voices, and they all go out as one chord with all attributes shared except for the voices. This sounds very cool out real paraphonic synths with glide on each voice. mmm

Oh one more thing, I will be doing a PureData port for my thesis, so that will get going over the next semester, and will hopefully work for running scheme based sequencers on the various Pd supporting eurorack hardware.

links are here if you want to hop in the pool! I have to say, doing all my composing in Scheme and my own tools has been a blast so far. GitHub - iainctduncan/scheme-for-max: Max/MSP external for scripting and live coding Max with s7 Scheme Lisp


Following the topic!
Also got crow with the idea that all other sequencers kinda suck for my taste, so I need my own to be able easier improvise with. And was thinking of merry the Crow with a Bach / Max4Live somehow…

This is a really funny consideration I had not thought of - fractions out of the box! I’ll have to get Wine/Linux setup before I dive in – but it’s a super cool project.

Thanks to whoever suggested NDLR earlier in this topic. I picked one up and it is really impressive so far.

I’m not sure how well it addresses the OP’s request since the actual sequencing capabilities are pretty basic, however. It’s most useful as a sort of arranger that can be driven by a more hands-on/visual sequencer. I’ve had some success using a CV to MIDI converter so I can use my more generative Eurorack sequencers with NDLR and made a video of my first session for those wondering what it can do.


Thanks for putting this video together. It’s really beautiful!

So if I understand correctly - the NDLR simply has a chord progression. There is input to the NDLR that can switch to a different set of chord progression. The output is going to a few different timbres:

  • The brightest of which is an arpeggio of the chords from the NDLR.
  • The darkest of which is simply playing the chord from the NDLR (I’m not totally sure since the root note is very prominent).

Is this correct?

One other question - chord inversions would essentially determine the movement of the bassline. How did you approach this?


The way I am using NDLR, I don’t have a chord progression saved into its internal sequencer. That is an option but in my case I’m doing all the sequencing using René 2 and VCMC to send MIDI notes to NDLR. On The NDLR, I’m just choosing a key and mode (Cmaj in this example) so when it receives an incoming note over MIDI, it will play the chord associated with that root note, i.e. here’s the mapping of incoming note, chord degree, and actual chord that is selected for the key/mode:

In      Degree     Chord
C       I          C Maj triad
D       ii         D min triad
E       iii        E min triad
F       IV         F Maj triad
G       V          G Maj triad
A       vi         A min triad
B       viiº       B dim

So incoming C note (in any octave) switches The NDLR to C maj, incoming D note will switch The NDLR to D min, incoming B to B diminished, etc… this is really great for someone like me with a weak grasp of theory.

NDLR has a few modes to change this behavior so if you’re in an unfamiliar key/mode, you can just use the same incoming Cmaj notes to choose a chord degree and it will transpose. I haven’t played with this much but I imagine it’s a cool way to try out a chord progression in various modes to see how it sounds. But the way I’m doing it is to set the same key and mode on my CV sequencer so there’s a 1-1 relationship between the incoming root note and the output chord.

In my example video, yes, the brighter voice is the arpeggio (NDLR calls this Motif 1) and the brassy synth sound is NDLR’s Pad. The root 16th notes are not coming from NDLR, rather that is the incoming CV pitch data which is used to pitch a Euro oscillator (Chainsaw) as well as select the chords on NDLR.

The method of manipulating these parts is pretty neat. Even for something as simple as the pad, you can shift its octave range up and down, spread out the notes, choose different note distribution (so the low end has fewer notes than the high end), offset the notes to be strummed, etc… really neat stuff and all this can all be modulated via internal modulation (virtual LFO) or via MIDI CC which I can’t wait to get into.

As for the inversions happening with the pad, there is a setting on The NDLR which limits tonal shifting by doing chord inversions to keep the output notes within the selected range. I actually haven’t turned this setting off yet so I’m not sure how this works with the range limit. I imagine the range just sets the base octave and everything gets shifted around that.

So back to the original post about sequencing harmony: NDLR can definitely do this but I imagine the workflow I’ve set up isn’t for everyone, especially if you want to have absolute control over every note. It would probably make more sense to just use NDLR’s internal sequencer, but it seems to be uninspiring to me (pick a chord, repeat for x bars, etc…).

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Very cool, and dramatic development from the start towards the beautiful end! Which polysynth(s) are you using with it? I bet this and one of the roland boutique boxes could be fun…

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The Pad synth is two Oberheim Matrix 1000s in stereo, poly-chained so they alternate between notes (feature of the synth). Although I actually just noticed that NDLR has its own 4-part poly-chain feature, too.

I believe the Matrix (Matrices?) have 6 voices each so in the video I start NDLR with just a few notes and keep adding until I get to 12. NDLR’s pad can do up to a 22 note pad :grimacing:.

The arpeggio is from a Nord Lead 3 which is not a great sounding synth but was my first hardware synth purchased 20 years ago and it has a brilliant interface. Come to think of it, it can do 4 simultaneous patches and 4 outputs so it would be quite the pair with NDLR.

Slightly off-topic ramble but I’m getting back into making music after a 10-year break and I can’t believe how many options there are for synths these days. I’m lucky enough to have picked up some classics back in the day before they became unobtanium, but I’m sure I would be just as happy with one of the new jobs.

I’d you’re a fan of the Roland sound (if that is a thing), next on my to-do list is repairing my old Juno 106 and JD-800 and I’ll be sure to post some videos of them jamming with the NDLR.


Thanks for the breakdown! :slight_smile: Would love to hear something with the Juno 106 when you get that fixed! So regret not picking up stuff like that in the nineties, hehe…

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Vector nods towards probability quite well. You can program, per step, tags like “Skip ahead 30% of the time” or “Transpose a 5th only every 4 repeats.”

I absolutely love the NDLR. Also the Yamaha QY-series are very interesting and flexible in this way, with a chord track, transposition and reharmonizing sequences in realtime depending on incoming notes. You can find a QY100 pretty cheap.

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The Oxi One (more specifically, it’s harmonic feature) sounds like it might be exactly what you’re after….

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Welp - I ended up getting a NDLR and absolutely love it. I’ll probably post something in this thread once I get a little more familiar. But now I’m seeing the QY100 and Oxi One.

Oh the QY100 is indeed pretty interesting. I’ve looked at a few of these little Yamaha sequencers and have never quite seen this set of features. I wonder how common it is.

Love that there is a General MIDI rompler in it as well.

I have yet to dig into how the harmony features work here, but I love the layout and low profile. They don’t have pricing on their website - just the Indiegogo campaign, so I’m guessing they’re not yet in full production mode?

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Correct, there are a few beta units floating around in the wild, but it looks like the oxi One will be getting shipped out in bulk around the end of this year.

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