Thursday 27 November 2008

Ableton Courses - A New Way of Making Music

If you are into music technology and already making music at home using a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) then I am sure this scenario will be familiar. You sit down to start making some music but faced with a blank timeline, inspiration deserts you and you are left feeling creatively uninspired. Music software packages such as Cubase, Logic or Sonar have all evolved along similar lines and operate in a similar way. Unfortunately they offer only one approach to the music making process which doesn’t necessarily encourage experimentation and spontaneity.

The good news is that Ableton Live has been designed to offer a genuine alternative way to work and is growing in popularity amongst those of us who are bored of working in the traditional way. Interestingly Live takes a similar approach to the old hardware sequencers that were popular with live electronic acts such as Orbital and Underworld. These sequencers used looped sections of a track (see Ableton Courses info for more detail) which would be triggered by the acts on stage and manipulated via FX and EQ to provide the audience with a live, spontaneous remix of tracks they already know and love.

Ableton Live has two modes or “views” in which to compose your music. The arrangement view will be familiar to anyone who has used some of the traditional sequencer packages mentioned above. But where Live really comes into its own is the Session View. The Session is used to organize and trigger sets of sounds, called clips. Think of it as a kind of musical sketch pad where you can experiment with audio loops, samples and MIDI sequences before arranging them into a track.

Another unique feature in Live is its ability to manipulate audio as if it was elastic. Live's Time Warp feature can be used to either correct or adjust the timing of any piece of audio from a sample to an entire track. This means that tempo becomes completely fluid and you can fit any audio sample to the tempo that you are working at. “Warp Markers” allow you to push and pull individual beats to correct (or destroy) the timing and create unique effects. You can choose from several Warp Modes depending upon materials you work with.

Ableton Live also features an array of built–in instruments and effects:

Impulse is a basic drum sequencer instrument Simpler is a relatively easy to use sampling instrument.

There are a number of additional instruments which can be purchased separately or as part of the Ableton Suite package:

Sampler is an enhanced sampler
Operator is an FM synthesizer.
Electric is an electric piano instrument.
Tension is a string physical modelling synthesiser.
Analog simulates an analog synthesizer.
Drum Machines is a collection of emulators for classic drum machines.
Session Drums is a collection of sampled drum and percussion instruments.
Essential Instruments Collection is a large collection of acoustic and electric instrument samples. Orchestral Instrument Collection is a collection of four different orchestral libraries, which can be purchased individually or as a bundle.

Audio effects included in the package include:
Auto Filter
Auto Pan
Beat Repeat
Chorus Compressor I
Compressor II
Dynamic Tube
EQ Eight
EQ Three
Erosion Filter
Delay Flanger
Gate Grain Delay
Ping Pong Delay
Simple Delay
Redux Resonators
Reverb Utility

Additionally there are a handful of MIDI-only effects including arpeggiator, chord, pitch, random, scale, and velocity. Live is also compatible with VST and AU plug-ins so you can utilise additional software instruments and effects.

Thursday 13 November 2008

Making Music with Logic Pro

Welcome to part 2 of making music with Logic Pro. In this article we will cover getting started with your MIDI keyboard in Logic including set up for your audio card and drivers, latency and buffer size.

Once you have installed your MIDI keyboard and audio card, you will need to make sure that Logic communicates with them.

For Logic to communicate with external MIDI devices, first you will to configure the Audio MIDI Setup. The Audio MIDI setup is an application located within the Utilities folder (in Applications folder). You can quickly access it in the Apple menu bar: Go >Utilities (or press Command Shift U).

Once in the Utilities folder, open the Application Audio MIDI Setup, and click on the MIDI Devices button. You should see an IAC driver button, a network button and buttons for other MIDI devices connected to your computer. Please note that if you use a multi port MIDI interface with external MIDI devices (Synth, drum machine, etc...), you will need to make the connection manually.

Drivers for Audio Cards
To use a sound card with a computer, the operating system typically requires a specific device driver which you will have installed in the previous steps.

There are a few different driver formats available depending on the computer, the operating system and the sound card itself. Apple mac OS X uses Core Audio This driver for Mac OSX is tightly integrated into the operating system. It works with external sound cards as well as the Mac's integrated sound card (known as built-in). Nowadays, many soundcards support Core Audio out of the box, you simply 'plug & play'.

Set Up Your Audio Card with Logic
Now you have to make sure that Logic communicates with your audio card. In Preferences, select Audio > Devices > Core Audio.

Now you need to select the correct driver for your audio card. Use the drop down menu Device in order to select the appropriate driver.

Common Problems:
What Is Latency? When making music using software, the computer has a huge amount of information to process before being able to output the sound to your speakers.

This means that when you press a key on your MIDI keyboard to trigger a sound from a software synth for example, there will be a delay before you hear the sound. This delay is known as the latency.

As you can imagine, if the latency is too pronounced it will become extremely difficult to play any musical part, which is why it is important to use the best driver you can with your sound card. Furthermore there are certain parameters that you can adjust in order to improve your latency.

Buffer Size
You can reduce the latency by adjusting the audio buffer size. A small buffer size will reduce the latency, where a bigger value will increase the delay time considerably. So why not have the buffer size to the minimum value all the time to make the system more playable? Well, it is not as simple as that.

There are several parameters that directly affect each other. If the buffer size affects the latency, it also affects the processing power available to the software. Software instruments need processing power (CPU), so that the more CPU you have, the more software instruments you can load at one given time. Basically a small buffer size will put more strain on your computer in order to get a smaller latency (delay), thus using more CPU.

If you would like to learn more about Logic view our Logic Courses section on the Pointblank website.

Thursday 6 November 2008

Making Music with Logic Pro. Beginners Guide Part 1

Making Music with Logic Pro. Beginners Guide Part 1
Logic Pro is a powerful digital audio workstation (or DAW) which allows you to record and edit both MIDI and audio to a professional standard. Whatever style of music you wish to create, Logic has the tools for the job. Included with Logic Studio is a range of instruments and effects including a drum machine (Ultrabeat), a powerful sampler (EXS24) and an impressive range of synthesizers. You will also find emulations of classic instruments such as the Hammond B3 and Fender Rhodes pianos. To complete your track you can call upon a wide range of audio effects including reverbs, delays, distortion effects, compressors and much more. All in all, Logic Pro represents a complete music production package for your Mac.

What else do I need?
Well as you can see, Logic is a pretty comprehensive package, but to get the most from it you are most likely going to need a couple of additional pieces of kit. Firstly a sound card or audio interface. Most computers come with a built-in sound card to listen to your mp3s, watch DVDs, play video games, etc... This sound card, if equipped with audio inputs & outputs, can also be used (if compatible) with your software. However, if you plan to do a lot of recording and mixing, you really should invest in a dedicated sound card.

Secondly a MIDI keyboard. This will enable you to “play” all of the instruments within Logic. Again this is not an expensive purchase. But it will be invaluable in terms of creating musical ideas – even if you don’t play piano. Otherwise you will have to resort to programming in each individual note or sound step by step which is not only laborious but also creatively stifling. Remember the great thing about software like Logic is that you can go in and edit what you’ve played at any time so you don’t need to be a great keyboard player to start making music.

In our next lesson we will cover midi keyboards, audio cards, latency and buffer size. In the meantime there's plenty more useful information to be had in our our free lesson excerpts in Point Blank's logic courses.