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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Music: A Future Perspective

The Lone Wolf and his EWI
Interesting perspectives on music today.  I am writing this because of my involvement with Synthodeon (

My interests here include how to build and use non-traditional MIDI controls for professional music.  It still a bit too soon to talk about exact details but I can say that the development target is a series of technologies to allow other types of controllers (besides keyboards and the Akai EWI) to make their way to professional stages.

The Xbox Kinect is an interesting move in that direction, with 18 million currently sold.  People do all kinds of things with it including music.

While the Kinect videos you see show people playing cellos and violins I have yet to see any real performances outside of various Ableton.  This stuff, while reminiscent of the old Moog theremins, doesn't yet show enough technical capability to get the job done for tight musical control.

In any case some interesting background is below... 

First from Alexander Chen: J.S. Bach - Cello Suite No. 1 - Prelude from Alexander Chen on Vimeo.

Using the Microsoft Xbox Kinect:

Moullinex - Catalina from Moullinex on Vimeo.

The Kinect will be available on Windows very soon.

Here's a unique Kinect idea:

I think that the Kinect is really the first wave of "game changer" technologies for computers and music.

The Lone Wolf has been working with Synthodeon Studios on the 3i - a new type of MIDI controller along these lines.

Details will be available soon on the Sythodeon Developer Log.

I have spoken here quite a bit about change and how it affects people and things.  Where have all the buggy whip manufactures gone and so forth.

I think that music will be in for a similar change over the coming decade.

Certainly at the level of, say, keyboards, the advantages of using an electronic version of an instrument have penetrated to all levels of professional music - probably save for concert halls electronic keyboards are very commonly used.

Today I play an Akai EWI.  I've had one for many years.

Basically its a breath controller for MIDI - much like a keyboard but typically used to play single notes instead of chords where the velocity of your breath controls the note instead of how hard you strike the keys.

The EWI has no moving parts save for the breath sensor chip inside and a "bit sensor" that allows you to bend pitch by biting the mouthpiece.  All the clarinet-like keys touch sensitive without moving.

Currently the sound libraries for the EWI are somewhat limited but that's going to be changing over the next several years.  Things like Fable Sound's Broadway series and Orange Tree Sample's guitar, flute and bass series for Kontakt show the way.  Another key technology here is the Korg Kronos.

Korg has spent a decade with the core Kronos technology (via Oasis).  What's interesting about the Kronos is that its basically a standard embedded Linux computer system built into a keyboard platform.  The Oasis software no doubt written in C or C++ ported to it makes a cost effective Oasis replacement (Oasis systems are pro-level keyboards used by the likes of Herbie Hancock).

I predict that within five years serious profession orchestra's will have synthetic instrumentation outside (beyond) of keyboards, i.e., one more iteration of Akai EWI/sampler technology.  And this also depends on access to this level of technology by those interested.

Another area where I expect to see change (and I expect to make change) is on the MIDI front.

MIDI is a twenty-some year old standard - while the electrical portion is fine for something like a live professional keyboard MIDI is slowly being supplanted by what I will call "MIDI over USB."

At present this is just the transmission of MIDI data over a USB connection (or routed via internal MIDI software such as on a Mac over over ethernet).  I am explicitly leaving out WiFi because latency issues render MIDI transmitted wireless useless - at least for pro-level playing of piano or EWI.

Once you accept MIDI as something that runs over faster protocols you can do more with it.

Synthodeon is working on some advanced "MIDI tunneling" technologies to allow MIDI to do a lot more work over high-speed channels.

Based on all this I see a day when more than Akai EWI's and keyboards are used live by pros in the most demanding environments: live, on stage, and jazz.

The Lone Wolf is at the forefront of this advancement and hopes very soon to report about a variety of new programs, technologies, and apps on the Sythodeon blog.

As a kid I started out building DIY synthesizers - but I didn't know anything about music.  While it was fun and I built a career out of the knowledge I gained I never resolved the music angle of it.  Fortunately, over the last ten years or so, I have been able to build up close (but not quite) the 10,000 hours of musical training need to be considered "serious" (at least I hope so) on the music level.

So, finally, after a decade of work, I am able to bring all of my interests together into a single product.

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