Saturday, July 28, 2012

Hands on/Hands off

One nice thing about being a hobbyist with music creation is that your productivity levels aren't that constrained. Common wisdom states that you should take the time to master a few instruments and focus your time and effort there. When trying to make a living or meet deadlines, good advice!

Since I am doing neither musically, safely ignored! I can instead keep my musical A.D.D. and flit from tool to tool or technique to technique. My most recent set of conflicting interests involve generative music and performance.

On the generative side, I've been writing about Mixtikl and Noatikl which are basically AI engines for music creation. I've been playing with these tools to create algorithmically produced music that sounds "human-like". I intend to do much more here in creating classical and/or jazz pieces that follow an evolving ruleset.

On the other hand, I have also been playing with my new EWI-USB MIDI wind instrument. This is a MIDI device that uses breath and fingerings to produce music. When I first got interested in electronic music, it was the Wave-table synthesis of the Creative Labs AWE-32 (see earlier blogpost) that managed to make some instruments sound almost real. At least on the computer of the mid-90s, they were recognizable if not expressive. Real sounding instruments with MIDI or electronic keyboards has remained somewhat elusive.

This is getting closer and closer to attainable though as technology continues to evolve. With the EWI-USB, there are two types of sound generators I've been using. The more traditional approach is with high quality samples. If you have a multi-sampling instrument such as Logic's ESX24, you can get "real sounding" sounds if you meticulously associate breath control (CC #2 in MIDI speak) with the appropriate amplifiers, envelopes and filters. More interesting is the approach taken by Wollander in their WIVI band offering (a light version of their WIVI orchestra). These sounds are software-modeled which is a fancy term for additive synthesis.

Many sine waves are combined algorithmically to simulate the sonic frequencies emitted by actual analog instruments. I find the results suprisingly good. This sort of instrument also reacts more to the performer. If you are using high quality samples, you tend to sound like the performer who recorded them. The software method, however, reacts to your own nuances of play and breathtone which makes the performance more personal.

I also have used the EWI-USB in non-traditional ways to control analog synthesizers with breath control. In the piece below, I have the WIVI trumpet along with the Arturia MiniMoog. Both are played on the EWI. I also include an electric piano and bass performed on the more traditional keyboard.

Its an early effort for me but I think it has promise. I find the breath control brings much more expressive even to electronic instruments and will be using this quite  a bit more.

In my arsenal for breath-controlled instruments now, I have:
  • Garritan's Aria that came with the EWI - mediocre samples but they can be layered up into groups
  • Wivi Band - The best quality and realistic sounding instruments I have for the EWI
  • Korg M1 patches from - patches for the Korg legacy synth optimized for EWI
  • Moog Modular/MiniMoog - Its easy to create my own patches for this using breath control
  • Synth1 - Likewise, I have a set of patches to react to CC #2 breath control
  • Madrona Aalto synth - Another soft synth that lets you patch breath control to any filter or effect you wish.
For many of my single voice sounds in the future, I will probably make heavy use of the EWI-USB. 

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