The Mission District’s Gray Area Incubates Fugue Machine, A Multi-Playhead Sequencer

Amid all of the angst over whether San Francisco is losing its artists or culture is a small non-profit in the heart of Mission District that bridges the worlds of technology, art and urbanism.

Called Gray Area, it’s the work of a third-generation Latina Josette Melchor, who started her first art gallery at the age of 19. After several years of bouncing around from San Francisco neighborhood to neighborhood amid rent hikes, her organization finally found a home inside an old movie theater-turned-dollar store that is now being renovated from the ground up.

On top of running art shows and classes, Gray Area also incubates technology projects that intersect with art. The most recent class is starting to graduate, and one of the projects, Fugue Machine, comes out today. It’s from Alexander Randon, who has made a bit of lifestyle business building higher-end and more sophisticated music production apps.

Randon calls his app, “Bach in a box.” It’s a tool inspired by Baroque composition techniques, which interlace a single theme, and then one or more counterpoints that respond to the original theme.

“It’s all about applying mathematical operations to a melody, by playing them backwards, or slower and faster over each other,” he said. J.S. Bach has long been a source of fascination for people at the intersection of technology, math and music, most famously in Douglas Hofstadter’s book “Gödel, Escher, Bach.”

Unlike other sequencers, in Fugue Machine, you can loop different melodies backwards or forwards or at different speeds at the same time, ultimately allowing complex patterns to emerge. With each loop or playhead, the app lets you control where it starts and it also lets your transpose, or change the pitch on it.

“The ‘Piano Roll’ is ubiquitous among most professional music sequencers but this is the first sequencer to have this multiple playhead capability,” Randon said.

Randon’s background is in both music and electrical engineering. He started learning iOS development in classes at Gray Area, before starting to build music composition apps.