Saturday, November 23, 2013
If you are one of the very few that follow my blogging or music, you probably know that one of my favorite tools is Noatikl, which is essentially a super-sequencer or music composition tool.
Recently on a few pieces I received some nice feedback on my "playing" or the performance aspects of generative pieces and that got me thinking a bit on how to take that. All of the pieces that I put together and release are usually 100% MIDI or close to that which means I am using computer generated sound in one form or another.
If my pieces are synthesizer based, I am using software synths as plugins on the iPad or on my desktop. If my pieces use "traditional" instruments, I am resorting to samples played on either a keyboard or other creative MIDI input devices using Logic or Kontakt on the desktop or any number of samplers/Romplers on the iPad.
Some of my pieces are performed track by track with MIDI keyboards and then edited (for mistakes), tweaked for sound and/or timing issues and then combined. This is a bit closer to traditional performing in a studio environment. I NEVER perform anything live.
Other pieces, such as those from Noatikl are more akin to composing. I program each voice with rhythmic patters, keys to use, rests, probabilities, instructions for harmony, etc and more or less "turn them loose". This is certainly not performing in the traditional sense but is setting music into motion and then tweaking the program until it sounds "done" to me.
One aspect very close to performing is when I use the EWI (Electronic Wind instrument) in my pieces. This device requires fingering the keys, blowing into the mouthpiece and translates all of this into MIDI events that are passed into a (usually) sample-based instrument. This can be a flute, trumpet, sax or even synthesizer - all modulated and controlled with my breath. Despite the "disconnect" from an analog wind instrument, it reacts and acts almost exactly the same.
So with all that, is this just a shortcut to music? Is this just winding up a music box or turning on a player piano? I think with all the setup and parameters, its more than that but also its not quite live either - even if done in one take.
I think music has evolved further and further away from direct creation over the years and that computers are just one more step along the way.
From the initial singing or chanting, we have evolved more complicated ways of making sounds throughout history. First with pipes and blowing or percussion with sticks, then strings or harps. These evolved into mechanical versions - harpsichords, pianos. Is the musician still performing when "just" pushing keys that turn levers that make hammers strike strings? What happens when it is electronic as in an organ? Sample based as started with rotating drums or tapes?
Overall I think studio work is a mix of composing and performance and the tools used don't really define that. So when my beautiful violin part is merely a mutating rhythm based on:
<100 R 30 -30 60 60>
it is still in some way a musical composition. I get to play "George Martin" to the performers in these cases and hopefully come up with something palatable!
Here are a few pieces "generated" more or less in that fashion - one from the iPad and the other from the desktop:
Monday, November 18, 2013
I tend to keep with a policy of skipping each generation of hardware and since I dutifully skipped the 4th generation iPad, I broke down and bought an iPad Air. There was a $200 buyback that I took advantage of for my ancient and unused iPad first generation as well so it wasn't quite as much of a wallet shock. I went with the 64GB model because I do store tons of music samples on my iPad and the size does matter! I opted for the full size model instead of the Mini because again, with synth apps, the size matters.
Early reports have been very good related to music making on the Air and I can confirm that most of my performance concerns on CPU have been addressed. If you follow my tutorials or postings on Noatikl, you might remember that I used mainly Sampletank due to its ability to give 4 MIDI channels without too much CPU overhead provided you use a light DAW along with Audiobus.
So, with the Air, I decided to try a piece with a heavy DAW and with 3 concurrent synths recording. The heavy DAW is my favorite, Auria and the synths are the Dxi synth, Thor and Alchemy Mobile. I drove all 3 synths with Noatikl which would usually bring my 3rd gen iPad to its knees. Without a hitch I was able to record all three concurrently into Auria, which is a very heavy DAW by itself.
Another recent addition to music making on the iPad is inter app audio as I blogged before and I added some additional tracks using the Arturia Oberheim SEM synth and my old standby Sampletank for the violin.
Throughout the piece, Auria was responsive and the tracks all recorded without issue. I think I can now add many more concurrent tracks with Noatikl and Auria is now a go-to DAW for me. I'll be posting more as I experiment further. Thanks for reading!
Sunday, November 3, 2013
|Arturia Mini with IAA transport shown|
With iPad's iOS7, one of the more significant additions is inter-app audio. We've had Audiobus for quite awhile now but inter-app audio makes audio sharing more integral to the operating system (Apple is allowed to make use of all the internal routines - unlike 3rd parties - gives them a bit of an unfair advantage, but I digress).
At this time, only a handful of apps support IAA but more are adding it everyday and it will become increasingly common in the coming months. IAA makes synths on the iPad act much more like VST or AU plugins do on the desktop. You can easily plug-in compatible synths to any DAW that supports it and record right from the synth into the DAW without Audiobus routing or the need for other apps running (this means a lot on the limited memory/cpu of the iPad!).
Two DAWs that already support IAA are Auria and Apple's Garageband. In the case of Auria, you simply plug-in the synth like you would any of its insert effects. For garageband, you select an IAA track type directly. Both work reasonably well at this point and not too surprising, there are occasional bugs in both too. It will probably take a few patches/releases to get things completely stable, but IAA is already very usable.
Auria is becoming my favorite DAW lately due to its fantastic automation and effects bus but it is a bit pricey. One nice development is that if you have any of the Sugarbyte effects (Turnado, Wow) for the iPad, you don't have to pay twice to use them in Auria. It recognizes them and lets you use them as native plugins - Auria native plugins do work better than IAA provided you are using Auria.
Garageband has many great additions in the iOS7 release - the track limit is up to 16 on older iPads and 32 on the brand new ones - I think there is a purchase in my not too distant future. Another more hidden but significant feature in Garageband for iPad is that for the first time, you can easily transfer lossless mix downs out of Garageband. Garageband used to be the "roach motel" of DAWs - you could get sounds in but couldn't get them out. Now you can mix down and select "Open with" to open the mixed down AIFF in another app. Not all apps support "open in", but one significant one that is is AudioShare which in turn lets you copy/paste anywhere you wish - so for the first time, Garageband plays well with others.
The piece below was created in Auria with only Inter-app audio synths. I used the Arturia Oberheim SEM synth for the arpeggios, Waldorf's Nave for some of the leads and the Arturia Mini for the bass. There were a few crashes but the entire thing was driven from within Auria and mixed/mastered and posted. I think this will be a huge development for iPad music moving forward!
Just an aside, the Arturia synths are available on desktop for roughly $100 each - on the iPad, they are $9.99 and sound extremely close to the desktop versions!
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
I haven't posted for awhile but have been busy with many new synths on the iPad and a few new songs on Logic X. One thing I've been looking for is better ways to integrate my iPad with my desktop and the two products above are recent additions to my MIDI gear list.
THe iConnectMIDI2 solves the problem with wireless latency between the iPad and my iMac as well as providing a clean audio interface that bypasses the noisy headphone jack on the iPad. This device provides bi-directional audio over USB as well and MIDI over USB between the iPad and my iMac running Logic Pro X. The device connects to the iPad via the 30 pin connector and if you add a power supply to it (sadly an extra purchase), it will also charge the iPad while connected.
They don't have the "new' iPad connector cable as of yet so if you have a newer iPad, you will have to use the 30 pin adapter but this is a fantastic addition to my music gear. With this connector, I can use my iPad as a MIDI device or I can send audio from my iPad synths directly into Logic. Even better, I can use my keyboards attached to my iMac with my iPad without rewiring things.
Another great addition to my gear is the incredible QuNexus keyboard from Keith McMillan Instruments. This diminutive keyboard is extremely durable (there are videos dropping it, running over it with a car, etc. etc) and provides great touch sensitivity, polyphonic aftertouch, tilt modulation settable for all keys or individual keys and is tiny to boot and powered by USB (even on the iPad).
I can't tell you how cool this sounds compared to my old Akai MPK Mini. You do have to use it a bit differently than a traditional keyboard but you can map any modulation to almost any parameter. It works very well with Logic X and also with the iPad. By using this with the iConnectMIDI2, I can connect it to my iMac and when the iPad is connected to the iConnectMIDI2, I can use it with either device without unhooking. This is perfect for me!
On added bonus, I left my Akai MPK Mini hooked up as well and can use both concurrently. I can set my Akai to a lower octave and the QuNexus to a higher one which gives me 50 keys instead of the scant 25 keys that each keyboard provides.
I'll be using these quite a bit in future songs and it is great to finally have a clean noise-free interface for my iPad.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Well I'm a sucker for a sale. Cubasis for iPad, a high-end DAW recently went on sale and I grabbed a copy. As is often the case, I put it to work with my other favorite - Noatikl for iPad. Using Noatikl with Cubasis is much closer to the Noatikl desktop experience in that you can actually concurrently record multiple MIDI tracks and later edit them.
Anyone who checked out my earlier Noatikl for iPad tutorials saw that I recorded the sounds as audio files into MultiTrack DAW. Here I recorded the sounds as MIDI into Cubasis. The bad news is that you are limited to the software instruments in Cubasis - the good news is that they are pretty good!
One thing I noticed is that when doing virtual MIDI with Noatikl on the iPad, right when the song is played, Noatikl sends a BLAST of MIDI messages which often cause problems for the receiving application. For example, with iGrand Piano, the app will "reset" to the default piano every time when you start recording. In the case of Cubasis, you have to reselect the app to restart it immediately after hitting "play" in Noatikl.
To work around this problem, I would start Noatikl playing with all parts except the drum muted. I would then click on Cubasis to restart it and let the drum start playing. Then I switch back to Noatikl and can mute/unmute tracks while recording the MIDI.
Here is the end result - in this case a syncopated frenetic piano piece in 6/8 time with a jazz drum kit and piano - all recorded as MIDI.
I hope I find a way to prevent the "app reset" issue when starting the song but I have managed to work around it for now. It is great to be able to edit the generated MIDI after the fact and to have every track on separate channels.
Saturday, August 31, 2013
While I've been off on my Noatikl Generative Music for the iPad tutorials, something (finally) happened on the desktop. Apple released the long expected update to Logic - Logic Pro X.
There are by now tons of video walkthroughs and reviews - summing up, its a great upgrade, unfortunately no 32 bit plugin support - new interface and features.
For me it was an easy upgrade and I am loving the program overall. My favorite musical genre is Jazz and most of my songs, if you follow them are done with MIDI controllers - indeed I don't even have a decent microphone and rarely work with audio files with the exception of mixdowns or drum loops.
Here is a piece I'm pretty pleased with that I put together on Logic Pro X:
This is a jazz piece featuring brush kit drums, Suitcase Mk IVelectric piano, electric guitar, fretless bass, Tenor sax, Trumpet and Korg M1. Semi-fusion sort of thing. I wanted to get a bouncy feel to the rhythm section first and made use of Logic X's Track Stacks and MIDI effects.
First, the drums - Logic Pro X has an incredible drummer track feature that will build beats for you in many styles - alter them based on the section of the music and let you have them automatically follow other tracks if you like - sounds perfect....except, of the many genres supported, Jazz isn't one of them!
Jazz drums usually feature rides, hihats and snares much more than kicks. I hope they add that to the Drummer track facility someday. But, for this piece, I resorted to some good sampled brush kits that I assembled into sections and fills. I don't use many loops anymore but for drums I still will at times. I used The Loop Loft's Art of the Brushes for this one.
For the rest of the rhythm section, I wanted to have the bass, piano and guitar sync'ed up and I used the track stack feature. Track stacks in Logic X let you select multiple tracks, group them and then it lets you have them all respond to the same MIDI events at once. I used this facility along with some of the MIDI effects to put together the bass, piano and guitar parts.
For the guitar, I used the MIDI Chord feature to automatically generate chords from one-note played on the keyboard. With just the Bass and guitar selected, I could play one key on the track stack and have the bass play the note "as is" and have the guitar play the corresponding chord.
Next I wanted the piano part to bounce around a bit. Here I also put the MIDI Chord effect on the piano track but after the MIDI chord, I put the MIDI arpeggiator. This took the chord as played and then "arpeggiated" it through the chord in 16th notes. I used some of the arpeggiator options to randomize the note lengths, octaves played and randomized the order of notes.
Now by selecting the track stack and playing single notes, I get bass, guitar chords and a nice bouncy piano lead. I did some tweaking and used automation to mute the piano in places and unmute it in others to have some variety.
Having that done, I went to my "usual suspects" in other MIDI tracks and created a track for Samplemodeling's SWAM Tenor Sax and SampleModeling's Kontakt based Trumpet. These I performed with the Akai EWI Wind controller and recorded the resulting MIDI.
For variety I also included the Korg Legacy M1 synth which I also played with the EWI using the Patchmanmusic M1 patches. This I included in another track stack along with the sax.
In some parts, I selected the sax only and played solo and in others (near the end) I selected the track stack to have the M1 and Sax play in unison. I LOVE the track stack feature for unison parts with trumpet/sax or other combos of instruments.
I don't think I'll ever go back to Logic 9 even with the 32 bit plugins I own. Its far too much fun working with Logic X.
Sunday, August 18, 2013
The ability to have a generative music engine in such a portable form is quite useful. I'd been using Mixtikl on the iPad for awhile and its great to have its 'big brother' there now as well.
As I've experimented, I've found the iPad version much more limited in number of tracks which is primarily due to the CPU on the iPad rather than anything else. When I try 4 different Virtual MIDI programs, my 3rd gen iPad gasps for air.
As this tutorial showed, Noatikl with Virtual MIDI works best if you can use apps that can handle multiple MIDI channels with one instance such as SampleTank.
So, where and how might you use Noatikl going forward? If you can limit your tracks to one or two host Virtual MIDI sessions, you can easily create complete pieces in Noatikl and use Audiobus to record the results. If you want to go well beyond that, I think you should consider the desktop version (roughly $50 at the time of this writing).
The desktop has the added advantage that it integrates with your DAW and will record the actual MIDI notes into the DAW and not just Audio. You can then edit the MIDI data further if you wish or replace instruments.
On the iPad, I've used Noatikl in several ways - as a complete composition tool, as a "jump start" for a hybrid song and as just a chord progression starter.
Here is a complete composition from the iPad version:
Here is a composition from the iPad with an added track played "manually" after the Noatikl (the flute is played in Thumbjam):
And just for grins, this "alliterative" piece, I used Noatikl with Addictive synth just to create some chord progressions and the rest are tracks I recorded afterwards:
I hope this gave you a good overview of Noatikl and how to use it. There are many great tutorials and videos at the Noatikl site at: http://intermorphic.com.
Next post I need to start getting into Logic X which I recently purchased :)