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article imageCompose Like Beethoven On Your PC Computer

By Venio Piero Quinque     Jun 13, 2001 in Technology
HAMBURG (dpa) - Imagine being able to compose like Beethoven, just once. Or like Johann Sebastian Bach. Or even Oasis. That's the dream of many musically-talented computer users.

That's also why during the early days of the home computer, one of the simplest programmes was also among the most beloved: the Sequencer. The programme's computerized keyboard could mimic a wide range of instruments and allow the user to composed tunes right on the computer.

Today, music programmes offer much, much more - so much, in fact, that virtually an entire recording studio can fit on your hard drive.

Two new entrants into the music-making software arena stretch the boundaries of what software in this category can do. The programme Cubasis VST, from Steinberg (www.steinberg.net), based in Hamburg, Germany. The software allows users to record, rework, and mix music without ever picking up an instrument. It's even capable of both recording digital audio material and reworking MIDI data.

The meaning of the term "MIDI" is explained to the user in the accompanying overview handbook. MIDI is short for "musical instrument digital interface", standard adopted by the electronic music industry for controlling devices, such as synthesizers and sound cards, that emit music. The advantage of MIDI control is significant: by adjusting a few simple settings, sounds can be reproduced to resemble anything from a dampened tuba to the soft stroking of a violin, according to the wishes of the musician.

Advanced users might be more interested in Cubasis VST's expansion of the so-called GM (General MIDI) standards, which are used to support devices from keyboard makers Roland (GS) or Yamaha (XG). The professional appearance of the software is both its strength and its weakness: on the one hand, knowledgeable users will immediately feel at home, since instrument controls are depicted exactly like the original. On the other hand, beginners will be terrified at first if they attempt to explore the somewhat highly complicated functions of the programme.

Those who make an effort to study the user's instructions and the software will find that the home PC can suddenly be used to produce up to 48 audio channels and 64 MIDI tracks - the same as used with an orchestra. Also worthy of praise is the function that checks the computer's settings, in particular that of the sound card, when the programmes started. In the event the speakers refuse to make noise, this helps considerably with troubleshooting.

After a piece is composed using Cubasis VST, the song can then be honed using the accompanying "Wave Lab Light 3.01" software. Another included programme"Master Unit" burns the piece onto a CD. The entire software packet costs around 100 dollars. This summer Steinberg will release a version for Apple computers.

Magix Entertainment (www.magix.com) offers another compelling product for amateur music producers. The company's Music Maker Generation 6 can be used to create compositions of up to 48 tracks, and a deluxe version can handle up to 64 tracks. The programme, which retails for about 50 dollars for the standard version, includes a multimedia library with around 2000 audio samples (2700 in the Deluxe version), as well as 600 video snippets which can be combined with the tracks.

While words like resampling, time stretching, and pitch shifting may roll easily from the lips of sound engineers, the handbook's central glossary is essential for easing the learning curve for normal users. Quirky details include a so-called "Vocoder," which mechanizes one's voice to produce a "Kraftwerk"-like sound. There are also various reverb, echo, and distortion functions as well as filters with which the piece can be reworked after composition.

Another nice feature is audio CD support, which means that songs or the beats from favorite groups can be stored on a hard drive, scanned, and the worked into one's own songs. Lyrics are then mixed in using the recording function. Wizards helps complete newcomers through the composition process.

One need only enter in the direction of the music, desired instruments, and the length of the songs, and the software puts together music around this framework. The results are more a matter of taste, but if you are displeased with the results, you need only start the process anew.

Today's products prove that today's music-making software offers composers a level of sophistication formerly found only in expensive studios. While novices may find today's packages intimidating, music veterans should feel right at home in no time at all.
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