Saturday, October 2, 2010

Electronic Music Technology - Deep Dive 3

EMT has advanced further in the 21st century and most of the significant advances have been in the world of software. Today, all MIDI hardware and sequencing software together is called a digital audio workstation and no composer can afford not to own one. Sequencing software such as Finale , Sibelius , Pro Tools , Logic Pro  or Cubase  are popular software packages. 

Let’s learn some quick terminology of the EMT world.

A music sequencer (or just sequencer) is an application or a device designed to play back musical notation. The original kind of sequencer is now known as a step sequencer to distinguish it from the modern kind, which records a musician playing notes.

Step sequencers

The first sequencers were primitive devices that played rigid patterns of notes using a grid of (usually) 16 buttons, or steps, each step being 1/16th of a measure. These patterns of notes are then chained together to form longer compositions. Step sequencers are monophonic by nature, although some are multi-timbral, meaning they can control several different instruments but only play one note on each of those instruments. Step sequencers are mostly used in drum machines and grooveboxes.

Modern sequencers

With the advent of MIDI and in particular the Atari ST, programmers were able to write software which could record and play back the notes played by a musician. These sequencers didn't play mechanical sounding notes of exactly equal length, but rather recorded and played back expressive performances by real musicians. These were typically used to control external synthesizers, especially rackmounted sound modules as it was no longer necessary for each synthesizer to have its own keyboard. Even in live performances, if you observe closely, the musician selects the sequence by way of pushing a few buttons and moves on to his keyboard to play his part – the sequencer plays the pre-sequenced music that makes the unassuming listener/observer think that he/she is listening to live music amidst all those colorful crazy laser beams!

Tracker is the generic term for a class of music sequencer software which, in its purest form, allow the user to arrange sound samples stepwise on a timeline across several monophonic channels. A tracker's interface is primarily numeric; notes are entered via the alphanumeric keys of the computer keyboard, while parameters, effects and so forth are entered in hexadecimal. A complete song consists of several small multi-channel patterns chained together via a master list.

An effect is a special function applied to a particular note. These effects are then applied during playback through either hardware or software. Common tracker effects include volume, portamento, vibrato, retrigger, and arpeggio.

A track (or channel) is a space where one sample is played back at a time. Whereas the original Amiga trackers only provided four tracks, the hardware limit, modern trackers can mix a virtually unlimited number of channels into one sound stream through software mixing. Tracks have a fixed number of "rows" on which notes and effects can be placed (most trackers lay out tracks in a vertical fashion). Tracks typically contain 64 rows and 16 beats, although the beats and tempo can be increased or decreased to the composer's taste.
A basic drum set could thus be arranged by putting a bass drum at rows 0, 4, 8, 12 etc. of one track and putting some hihat at rows 2, 6, 10, 14 etc. of a second track. Of course, bass and hats could be interleaved on the same track, if the samples are short enough. If not, the previous sample is usually stopped when the next one begins. Some modern trackers simulate polyphony in a single track by setting the "new note action" of each instrument to cut, continue,fade out, or release, opening new mixing channels as necessary.

Tracker music is typically stored in module files where the song data and samples are encapsulated in a single file. Several module file formats are supported by popular music player programs such as Winamp or XMMS. Well-known formats include MOD, MED, S3M, XM and IT

Programming is a form of music production and performance using electronic devices, often sequencers or computer programs, to generate music. Programming is used in nearly all forms of electronic music and in most hip hop music since the 1990s. It is also frequently used in modern pop and rock music from various regions of the world, and sometimes in contemporary jazz and contemporary classical music, recently, programming has been incorporated into various styles of hardcore and metalcore music. Now you know what musicians mean when they say – “I am into programming and work in this studio” and none of these guys know Visual Basic!

Courtesy Wikipedia for some technical definitions

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