MIDI Made Easy part 2

by Claude Veziau
Quebec City, Quebec, Canada


OK. The second installment of MIDI made Easy, the ongoing quest, is now rocking.

As I mentioned in the first part, I do need your questions about MIDI, sequencing, recording and encoding. Being kind of an unstructured learner, I usually read the manuals a few times before starting, then practice until I encounter a problem. At which time, I look for a solution until I can get going again, and so on, until the next hurdle. My way of teaching works in the same fashion: Once the basic are down, I wait for the screaming sound of hard braking (hence the above request) before sticking my nose in somebody else's business. For me it's a good way. So, shoot...

No, I haven't forgotten Carl Chimi's (Benton, Pennsylvania, USA) question about recording XG sounds directly to the PC from a MIDI file playing in same PC:

Q. "I want to take a MIDI file which contains XG-MIDI instructions and record the audio produced by such a file as it is played back. I would like the instrument sounds to be correct for XG, not just General MIDI.

Clearly, I could simply take my little QY-100 sequencer (which has an XG synth built in) and hook its output up to the input of my sound card. Then I could use any of a dozen programs to record that input. That's doable. But I'm lazy. I want to play the MIDI file on my computer (getting it there is very easy with the QY-100) and encode the audio produced by that file into an mp3 file. I am certain that software must exist to do this, but I haven't had a chance to look around for it yet. Unless the software itself was capable of generating the XG sounds, I would have to have a sound card or a softsynth capable of doing that. I don't have such a sound card right now, and all of my computers are Win2000 machines, for which I haven't found any SoftSynths that work. The search, once it begins, continues."

A. Now that the basics are out of the way ( see here ), on with the quest. Hopefully you're still with us, Carl?

What is MIDI sequencing?

Now MIDI sequencing, although similar to audio recording, presents a fundamental difference by the fact that we're not recording any audio data but rather a series of digitally coded messages that 'tell' the instrument what to do, which notes will play at any given time, how strong they will be played, which instrument will sound on which of the 16 basic MIDI channels, any set of MIDI controller data or system exclusive message that will affect the end result, any digital or MIDI effects to be applied and the amount of effect globally or per individual channel/sound, the length, rhythm, time signature, speed of your song and any changes while it plays (called Real Time data), and many other factors as we'll see below.

So remember, no audio music is actually recorded in your MIDI sequence, only a bunch of computer commands to the instrument.

Here is a brief description of the different types of messages contained in a MIDI file.

Global/Common vs. Channel/Individual parameters

As the name says, Global or common parameters are those to be applied to the whole instrument at any given time. These include: master volume, tuning, tempo, reverb, chorus, (variation DSP effects in the case of Yamaha XG instruments) type and quantity applied, any parameter that will be common to all channels.

Channel/Individual parameters will affect only the data on individual MIDI channels at any given time during the sequence. Now we get to the nitty-gritty of the subject. We're talking about which sound/program/voice will be used (program changes); which notes will be on or off, how long they play, volume, strength, modulation, aftertouch, expression, panning, brightness, sustain/damping, reverb/chorus/effect volume and more (MIDI controllers); not to mention any instrument-exclusive parameters (system exclusive or sysex) that can drastically enhance the final result that will be heard at audio output.

Most of these parameters must be set at the very beginning of the sequence, so the instrument can set itself up to play the song correctly, and these can also be changed and inserted at any moment during the sequencing or editing of the song. Also, you can enter the changes while the song is playing(realtime) or do it step by step. Pretty neat, no?




Sequencers: hardware or software?

Basically, sequencing is the action of recording a 'sequence' of MIDI information, better know as MIDI events, along a period of time, at a given speed(tempo) on any or all of the 16 MIDI channels available with the intent of playing it back through a MIDI instrument sounding as a beautiful masterpiece or a nasty trashy piece of crap, according to your tastes and desires.

To achieve these results, you can either use an external (hardware) piece of equipment, such as Carl's Yamaha QY-100 or any other 'onboard' sequencer included on your MIDI instrument. Or, any of the infinity of software sequencers of varying quality available as freeware, shareware or commercial ware of various price ranges on the net or at music stores.

Amongst the commercial software products, some of the most popular seem to be PGMusic's PowerTracks Pro and the various flavours of Cakewalk series, Voyetra's Orchestrator Pro, Yamaha's XGWorks and a few others I haven't tried. Of course, many of the shareware and freeware are pretty good too, depending on your knowledge of MIDI and the use you'll make of them.

Now if you're really interested in 'power sequencing', meaning, you want to make the best use of your MIDI instruments, sound modules, sound cards and software synthesizers, you should get a software sequencer that: A: is User friendly, B: permits you to easily edit any or all of the available parameters of your instrument with the minimum of hassle (unless you get your kicks writing tons of code before you even hear your song).

Not to step on anyone's toes or discredit any particular program, after all, it's all in the ... of the beholder, in my opinion (humble as it may be), if you know of a program that is dedicated to the instrument(s) you have, go for it. Also, please keep in mind that my intent is not to put down any particular brand of gear but to answer Carl's question about recording his Yamaha XG music to the computer and making an audio file with minimum waste of quality.

Which brings us (finally!) to Carl's Bane.

Yamaha XG and XGWorks

Yamaha XG intruments are extremely versatile in that you can access and edit thousands of parameters and voices, use auto accompaniment styles on many of their PSR series and many other features to create almost any kind of music you desire, if you're a Yamaha buff.

If you want to really use the power of XG, my suggestion is to get Yamaha XGWorks software sequencer/editor. It is totally dedicated to XG instruments, 'knows' exactly which parameter belongs to which model and tells you in plain English which is which. You can record sequences to it, add tracks, edit anything available in your gear(including 'hidden' parameters not accessible on the instrument panel), add audio tracks, use online styles, mix, add DSP effects, inserts and record everything as an audio file directly on the computer use either General MIDI, Roland GS or Yamaha XG sounds depending on your sound card or software synth. What's more, it's very affordable.

Now Carl's problem is that he's lazy ;-), he wants to do it all on the PC without an XG sound card and Yamaha hasn't yet developped drivers for their software to work on Windows 2000.

OK. I see two possible answers to your quest:

  1. Yamaha is about to release(early 2002, they say) drivers and software for all versions of Windows, including 2000 and XP. You can wait until this happens, at which time you'll be able to use the XG SoftSynth to record the audio files.

  2. If you have a big enough hard disk, you could partition part of it, install Windows 98 to that partition, get the SoftSynth and do you stuff sooner.

Were I lazy, I'd probably wait it out. But then again, maybe I'd do it the hard way...

The ball is now in your hands, Carl, my 2 hours are up.


Claude Veziau, auteur-compositeur-interprete
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