Persona Digital Persona Digital


  • Composing with MIDI

    A MIDI file is an analogue of a music score. Written music tells you the pitch of notes and when to turn notes on and off. Additional information in the score tells you how fast to play, how to attack the notes and how loud to play. The same information can be generated by a MIDI keyboard, stored in the sequencer and edited in the editor.

    The early term MIDI sequencer described software that recorded and played note on and off information. A MIDI editor was software that permitted changes to the MIDI information. Sequencers and editors have were combined and have evolved into complete studio environments, Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs).

    A complete DAW package can be combined in a keyboard such as the Korg Trinity or packaged as a rack module such as the Proteus 2500 or packaged as software that runs in a suitable computer. Computer-based studios have advanced remarkably, can be updated and modified easily, and can display a complete layout of views on 2 or more large, flat-screen monitors. Expansive displays are the best feature of computer DAWs. I like to see at least 4 views at once: a midi multitrack view, a piano roll view, a mixing console and a standard music score view.

    MIDI is a boon to composers and arrangers

    Who can develop scores quickly and easily. Early in computer development, MIDI was incorporated into Microsoft and Apple operating systems. Sound cards included synth modules that would create music from MIDI files. Early MIDI connectors used the game port for MIDI in and out. USB ports are now more common. Combined audio and midi interfaces such as the EMU 1820 provide optimal connection between musical instruments and the computer.

    A MIDI file is equivalent to a printed music score with several advantages: the score can be created in a variety of ways, easily modified, played by different sound modules, and printed for musicians to play. A midi file can also contain all the mixer and sound processing information required to complete a composition, ready for the end users. The main limitation imposed by such powerful and versatile tools for music production is a demanding learning requirement. In professional studios, musicians and sound engineers have advanced understanding of hardware and software. New students will require study and practice and will benefit greatly if an experienced teacher is available.

    You can enter note information several ways:

    1. Play notes on a MIDI keyboard in real time

    2. Enter notes from a MIDI keyboard one at a time (step record)

    3. Enter notes using a computer keyboard

    4. Enter notes on staves using a mouse

    5. Enter notes with a mouse in a piano roll format

    6. Use a compositional assistant to enter chords, riffs, bass and drum patterns on separate MIDI tracks.

    When you record keyboard performances, you can correct errors by use quantizing functions that correct timing and adjust pitch using note by note editing or by using note grouping to select and change many notes at once. Copying and transposing performance recordings become relatively easy tasks.

    MIDI Orchestration

    All the instruments of an orchestra are available in MIDI controlled sound modules. The quality of the instruments varies, so that careful selection of sound sources is a requirement for good recordings. All the instruments can be played on a keyboard, if the performer understands the behavior of the instrument and uses additional controllers to create expressions that are typical of the instruments.

    There are limitations, however, when you play instruments such as the violin on a keyboard.. there is no hope of matching the solo performance of a violin virtuoso, but well selected, brief passages are possible. The saxophone is hard to play well on the keyboard and I tend to replace the sax with trumpet, flugelhorn, flute and organ occasionally. I have a large selection of pianos, Rhodes type electric pianos, a great variety of synthesizers pianos, vibraphones, marimbas, kalimbas, and other percussion instruments --- all can be played on a velocity sensitive keyboard. I also have a large selections selection of organs of all ages and types. I can simulate a large cathedral pipe organ with two keyboards. Drum kits with a great variety of percussion sounds are available, as are collections of exotic drums, bells and gongs from around the world.

    Inventing Instruments

    In addition to samples and simulations of existing instruments, synthesizers excel as tools of instrument invention. While acoustic instruments evolved slowly over centuries as sound producing devices, electronic tools permit new instrument invention in minutes to hours, depending on the knowledge and skill of the synthesist. Synthesizer sounds transformed jazz, rock and roll and by now all popular music. Some electronic sounds cannot be produced by any other instrument, other sounds are variations and extensions of acoustic instruments. The instrument designer can combine acoustic instruments at will. An oboe can be layered with a guitar or a piano with a kalimba or bell. String sections can be replaced by a diverse range of sustaining sounds. An electronic instrument can be adapted to the expressive capability of a touch-sensitive keyboard with a joystick controller and perhaps a ribbon controller. All of the performer's expressions can be captured as MIDI commands. All the tools of a composer and conductor can also be captured as midi commands. Never has orchestration been so facile and open to creative inspirations.

    MIDI and AUDIO

    The big difference: a MIDI recording is a relatively small file that must be sent to sound module to hear the result. An audio file is larger file that requires digital player software to hear the sound. The final destination of MIDI sound generation is an Audio file. The latest and best software combines everything - midi recoding and editing, conversion of MIDI to audio and processing of audio files into the finished product.

    At Personal Digital, we used Sonar 8.52 for several years, an integrated studio software (DAW). The program began as Cakewalk, a MIDI sequencer/editor that has evolved into sophisticated studio software that handles most aspects of composing, arranging, mixing, recording and mastering. I have used Cakewalk since it began and have benefited from the gradual improvements in midi editing capability. We currently use the latest edition of Sonar Professional.

    My composing functions depend on four sound modules, the Proteus 2500, Korg Trinity, EMU X3 and the relatively new Korg M3. The Proteus 2500 is the main sound producer and excels in producing the clean, clear mixes that I want. There are many variables both in hardware and software that determine the final result. Even if you are a well informed sound engineer, understand the circuitry and study the specifications of each unit, you will still have difficulty predicting which module will sound the best. Sometimes good specs are associated with disappointing results. I give the Proteus 2500 high marks with no hesitation. I regret that it is no longer in production. Like all complex equipment, impatient, inexperienced users have difficulty understanding how to best use the equipment and reject the units - their loss.

    MIDI compositions are displayed in a variety of ways for editing purposes. A standard music score can be displayed and notes edited in the usual manner of writing music notation. Piano role editing is remarkably useful. Notes become colored bars sitting on a vertical pitch grid. With a mouse, the pitch and duration of notes are easily changed. Groups of notes can be added, deleted or altered quickly. Controllers such as velocity and volume are displayed for easy editing. Tempo changes, note velocity and pitch bending are easily added or edited.