Seems like there are tonnes of Max OS X users who want to get into microtonal music but don’t know how to jump in. Although I’m a Windows-using peasant, I wanted to gather up some ideas to start you off. Let’s dip in…
Logic Pro supports microtonal scales, and can even load Scala files! This can retune all of its built-in instruments and synthesisers (it doesn’t apply to any AUs or VSTs you’re running).
This online help file from Apple shows you how to find the tuning settings in Logic Pro X.
The big drawback—and I mean huge—it only supports 12-note scales, those scales must repeat at the octave, and each note can only deviate from 12-tet from plus or minus 100 cents (1 semitone).
These limitations restrict you to certain kinds of microtonal scales, and while there’s certainly room to explore within these limits, you’ll miss out on whole genres of microtonal scales that will blow your mind. You’ll miss the unimaginable cloud-like non-octave scales like Bohlen-Pierce and Wendy Carlos’ scales. Stretched-octave scales like Indonesian Slendro and Pelog also can’t be tuned faithfully. And large scales such as the 20-note eikosany, Harry Partch style just intonation, or large equal temperaments, are straight out unavailable.
Nevertheless, Logic makes it easy to microtune its high-quality instruments, even if it is crippled, so if you already own Logic then you should definitely check it out.
If you’re using a DAW that supports AU or VST plugins (such as Logic, Ableton Live, and some others) then you can make microtonal music by using certain plugins that support full microtuning. They can usually import a tuning file and that sets everything up for you.
If you’re willing to spend a little, then have a look through the big list of microtonal software plugins on the Xenharmonic Wiki.
Some people report success running Xen-Arts’ Windows-only VSTs using the free emulator WINE and a free VST host. If you’re of the technical mind to set up WINE, there’s a world of free VST synths for Windows awaiting you!
If you want to design your own tunings and export them for use in other instruments then there’s the Custom Scale Editor (CSE) software from Hπ Instruments. It allows you to tune every MIDI note to whatever pitch you want, exports tunings in a variety of popular formats and can retune the output of sequencers and notation programs. Thanks to Juhani Nuorvala for reminding me to mention it!
I heard that the now discontinued Lil’ Miss Scale Oven was the way to go. Really, I’ve heard wonderful things and wish I could have a little play with it myself.
It’s also possible to install Scala on OS X for free. I’ve never been through this process, but I’ve heard that it’s one of the most challenging things you can attempt to do.
Follow the instructions on the Scala website, and go slowly and carefully. You will be confused. You will have to install other things to get it to work. You will want to cry. But it IS possible…
If you have any other methods of making microtonal music in OS X then get in touch so I can update this post!