Posted by midiguru on October 27, 2010
For microtonality freaks only — I gathered the information below for an article in Electronic Musician. It’s still available on their website, or was the last time I looked. But just to spread it around a little, I thought I’d include it here.
Scala is a terrific software resource for designing and analyzing any sort of microtonal scale you might dream up. But as a hybrid command line/GUI program, it’s a little twisty to use. Scala’s native file format has the .scl extension, but software synthesizers prefer to see microtonal scale files in .tun format. Scala can save a tuning in .tun format, but you have to know how to do it. Here’s how:
First, create a directory called tun in your Scala directory in which to store the new files. Load an .scl file or create a new tuning of your own using Scala’s features. Then, in the Scala command line, type the following commands:
set synth 112
set map_freq 440.0 69
set middle 60
The first line changes Scala’s output directory to the tun folder you’ve created. The 112 in the second line is a Scala code that sets it to output in the .tun file format, and the third line specifies the frequency in Hertz of a MIDI key (in this case, 440.0 Hz for MIDI note number 69, which is key A3); this key will be used as the reference or center of the tuning.
The fourth line sets the starting point for the range of frequencies defined in the .scl file. In this case, we’re telling Scala that we want 1/1 (the reference pitch of the scale) to be MIDI note 60, which is Middle C. In the last line, substitute whatever file name you like.
After the .tun file is saved, you can load it into your soft synth using whatever menu command the synth provides for that purpose.
Footnote: If you’re using Windows 7 and you’ve allowed the Scala installer to install the program in the default location (which is Program Files (x86)), you may not be able to save files to a directory within the Scala directory. For this reason, you may want to install Scala to the root of your C: drive.
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Posted by midiguru on September 13, 2010
Most days, I spend an hour or so playing the piano. I started learning as an adult, so my technique is fairly limited, but I’m accomplished enough to enjoy playing a variety of music — Bach preludes and fugues, sonatas by Haydn and Clementi, easy Chopin (the pieces marked “Largo”).
I have exactly one friend who is in a similar situation musically, and he lives in Seattle and/or North Dakota, somewhere up there. Yesterday it occurred to me that I might be able to find people with whom I share this interest using the Great God Google.
No luck yet. A search for “amateur pianist” yielded several competitions for amateur pianists, a group in Boston, a teacher on YouTube who loves to r-r-r-roll her ar-r-r-r’s, and not much else. I think it’s great that amateurs can enter competitions, but I’m not playing at anywhere near that level — nor am I interested in competing. Competing for awards in musical excellence strikes me as a bone-stupid waste of time.
Given the frantic pace of modern life, maybe it’s understandable that there are not a lot of adults sitting around playing Bach for fun. Still, it’s kind of sad.
Posted in music | Tagged: music, piano | 1 Comment »
Posted by midiguru on August 13, 2010
We all want to control how others perceive us. That’s very natural — it’s why we comb our hair in the morning, for starters. But when money is involved, and corporate decision-making, the process gets a little more interesting.
I’ve just finished reviewing Propellerhead Reason 5 (with Record 1.5) for Keyboard. It’s a terrific piece of software, and I hope you’ll pick up a copy of the October issue to read the details. Part of the product review process is, the manufacturer gets to read and comment on a draft of the review before it’s published. That may seem a dicey proposition (and in fact it can turn out that way) — but that’s how it’s done in the music industry, and there are reasons for it. If nothing else, today’s software-based products are often so complex that a reviewer misses or misunderstands important features. Nobody wants bad information going into print.
We shouldn’t be surprised that many manufacturers view this “fact-check” as an open-ended opportunity to downplay or remove negative comments from the review. The review isn’t just checked by the technical staff, it’s read by the marketing department too. Positioning the product in a positive way is their job. So if you’re sitting in the editor’s chair, you just get used to Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in music, technology | Tagged: music, Propellerhead Reason, technology | Leave a Comment »
Posted by midiguru on August 11, 2010
…and the award for the weirdest tech glitch of the week goes to … Firefox! Tonight I uploaded a new version of my music page. Not the one here in the blog, gotta fix that one up a little; I mean the one on my website. Now available for your listening pleasure are hi-res mp3s of all of the music on my two CDs. (Am I permitted a WOOT?) I’m using a neat little Flash player widget called NiftyPlayer, which is nicer than Quicktime because it lives right there in the page rather than taking you off to a blank window.
So I tested the page in both IE and Firefox here on my local hard drive, and it worked fine. But when I uploaded it, Firefox wouldn’t play the music. IE was still happy, but Firefox stubbornly refused.
After a little poking around, I figured out that the code I was using (either because that’s what I copied from NiftyPlayer or because of my own stupidity) had backslashes in the directory statements for the locations of the mp3 files. You wouldn’t think that would be a problem for the file system on the server, because IE had no trouble finding the files. But apparently IE was performing some kind of translation on the code while Firefox simply ran it in its original state, because when I replaced the backslashes with forward slashes and uploaded the page again, both IE and Firefox were able to play the music. Score one for Microsoft.
Actually, now that I think of it, Firefox has some competition in the tech glitch category from Spectrasonics Omnisphere. Yesterday I found an Omnisphere patch that had dropouts while streaming audio from my hard drive. Spectrasonics confirmed the problem, which was apparently due to timbre shift modulation in the patch.
I’m kind of surprised that I figured out the backslash problem. It could have bugged me for weeks, but sometimes my unconscious is on the job.
Posted in music, technology | Tagged: firefox, music | 1 Comment »
Posted by midiguru on August 11, 2010
This is about workflow. When you’re first learning a piece of software, maybe nothing is easy. Some tasks will seem awkward because you haven’t yet learned about the hidden tools. But after you spend the time to learn a program pretty well, you may still find that its workflow doesn’t mesh with what you’re trying to do.
Right now I’m working on a new piece of music in FL Studio. I like this program a lot, for various reasons. It has some unique tools, and I’ve used it enough that I’m pretty fast on it. But even so, the workflow just isn’t as natural for me as using Cubase.
FL Studio is designed around the assumption that you want to build your composition out of short patterns, each of which very likely repeats a number of times. If you Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in music, technology | Tagged: MIDI sequencing, music | Leave a Comment »
Posted by midiguru on August 10, 2010
I could never do an album of ambient or new age music. Often I start a new piece with a quiet, reflective, dreamy intro … and then about two minutes later the drums and bass come piling in. I like contrast, and I like developing my material.
It all goes back to Beethoven, ultimately. In a single movement of a symphony he could move from phrases of delicate beauty to phrases of shattering power. I’m certainly no Beethoven — but why should I limit myself to anything less?
Posted in music | Tagged: composing, electronic music, music | 1 Comment »
Posted by midiguru on August 9, 2010
I’d like to embed full versions of about 25 pieces of music on my web page. I’d also like the mp3 files to be playable but not downloadable, as I might be able to make a few extra bucks selling CDs, or even selling mp3′s on iTunes.
The other issue is that this player, like others I’ve glanced at, uses Flash. And Apple, in their infinite wisdom (I’m being sarcastic), has decided that Flash isn’t good enough for their hand-held devices. So anybody who looks at the music page on my website with an iPad or iPhone is not going to be able to hear the music.
I have no idea how to address either issue. Suggestions would be more than welcome … as long as they don’t require that I do 20 types of coding that I’ve never seen before.
Posted by midiguru on August 8, 2010
Being thoroughly enthusiastic about Propellerhead Reason (I just reviewed version 5.0 for an upcoming issue of Keyboard), I fell to wondering … if I were to record a bunch of music with Reason, what would I do with it? Are there people around who are uploading Reason tracks? Is there, like, a community of Reason users where I could hang out?
So I hopped over to the Propellerhead user forum and checked out some tunes in the Music section. Two hours later, I’m ready to throw up. Honestly. What a bunch of garbage!
The problem, I think, is that nobody is teaching these guys how to write music. They’re blundering around in the dark. It’s not their fault; the educational system has failed them. It’s as if somebody handed you a Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in music, technology | Tagged: electronic music, music | 2 Comments »
Posted by midiguru on August 7, 2010
A few days ago I was fortunate enough to interview Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn of Pomplamoose. (Look for the story in an upcoming issue of Keyboard.) In talking about their unique approach to YouTube video as a factor in the unfolding of their career, Jack said something like this:
“Music is the product, and the video is the packaging. You can have a great product, but if you don’t have packaging, no one will know about your product.” I’m paraphrasing, but that was the essence of it. At first I felt this was a profound observation, but as I mull it over, I’m starting to take a slightly different view. I think maybe “packaging” isn’t quite the right concept. I think the videos give the music a human face.
Pomplamoose records songs, so the music already has a human voice — Nataly’s voice. But because we can watch them play the music, it’s clearly an exciting human activity. We can watch them play the guitar, the bass, the drums, the keyboard, the tambourine. Nataly’s face becomes, in our minds, the focus of all of the various rapid-fire video cuts.
The reason electronic music is so marginal in the artistic landscape is because it’s faceless. If I post a video of my music on YouTube, what will viewers see? An old guy staring at a computer screen and Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in media, music | Tagged: music, promotion, video, YouTube | 1 Comment »
Posted by midiguru on August 4, 2010
Today I did a two-minute music sketch in Propellerhead Reason/Record. I’m reviewing the software for Keyboard. The sketch was partly to test a few of the features of Record, and partly to give Keyboard an audio example to upload to their website.
Which of course meant that I had to encode it as an mp3. I used Audacity — a very nice freeware audio editor — for the encoding. The standard bit rate for mp3 files is 128kbps. Unfortunately, at that rate the mp3 codec does a really crappy job with pure electronic tones. There’s a kind of gargling instability that’s fairly unpleasant. The airy open feeling of the music is entirely lost.
You can double the bit rate, thus doubling the file size and also doubling the amount of Internet bandwidth your listeners will need to use to stream the music. At 256kbps, mp3 does a reasonable job.
Even so, it’s a lossy codec. Something is going to get lost. The good news … sort of … is that there’s a better codec for audio, one that doesn’t gargle electronic tones so noticeably. It’s called ogg vorbis. (Vorbis audio files have the .ogg suffix, so people sometimes call the codec ogg vorbis or just ogg.) Vorbis is free, unpatented technology. Anyone can use it, and Audacity encodes vorbis files just fine.
The bad news is, the people who make your web browser, and also the people (notably Apple) who make the plug-ins that play audio in your web browser, refuse to support vorbis audio playback. Baffling but true. The format is free, and it sounds better than mp3, but they’d rather force you to listen to crappy mp3 files than let you hear a decent audio stream.
So there’s not much reason for me to put vorbis files up on my website, because you won’t be able to listen to them unless you download both the file and a separate software component such as Audacity. It’s pathetic, really.
Also, iTunes wouldn’t play the 256kbps version of my sketch. I have no idea why. Windows Media Player played it, but iTunes played the first half and then crapped out. Good luck complaining to Apple about that bug.
Posted in music, technology | Tagged: audio, mp3, music | Leave a Comment »