Ed's talk: Jun 30, 2008

Monday, June 30, 2008

The case for computer music

Here I am looking very informal, cheerful and relatively high-tech with my digital camera (the case at any rate, which is not, incidentally, there to illustrate the title of this post!) around my neck.

All this to introduce the topic of computer music which is also high-tech (A neat segue, no?) and equally digital.

Unless a composer is well plugged-in to the system, chances are that he or she will have few chances for live performance. What to do? Why, get into computer music of course!

The computer now makes it possible for anyone to be his or her own composer and to write for anything from a solo piano or violin to a full orchestra even using electronic instrument samples and sound effects.

The original computer music program is called MIDI (Musical Instruments Digital Interface.) in which the notes that are inputted graphically are converted to sounds. Rather than go through it all again, I refer you to my relatively brief MIDI tutorial. This, of course, might be rather advanced for beginners.

In addition to the MIDI part of music software, most programs allow you to add audio tracks and make it possible, for example, to add the human voice with words to the mix. Though the pure MIDI specifications can use samples of the human voice, words are not possible and each track tends to switch gender when the pitches go higher or lower. And, of course, words are not possible in pure MIDI. There are music programs that can synthesize singing with words but they are not quite a substitute for the real thing. For this, audio is far superior though naturally a real vocalist is necessary.

MIDI itself, though it can be impressive in its ability to produce all kinds of different sounds, is also not a substitute for a real ensemble but, though musicians and musician's unions are understandably nervous about computer sounds replacing real performers, which has in fact happened in some instances, chances are that symphony orchestras will not be hurt so much by MIDI technology as by economic conditions.

I will post more on this subject in the future.