Fun with the Audio Data API

Posted on 6 December 2010 in Music, Programming

The latest beta version of Firefox 4 has an API for reading and writing audio data — right down to the sample level, right from JavaScript. JavaScript is, of course, totally the wrong language to write DSP-style code in, so that's what I decided to do :-)

If you fancy downloading FF4 beta and trying out some of the demos, here they are. There are lots of (much better) demos by other people here.

And if you try out the musical temperament example and have any thoughts on which chords sounded nicest, leave a comment below!

Good music composition software

Posted on 5 February 2009 in Music

All that talk of music yesterday left me searching for a decent composition package, so I asked for recommendations on Twitter.

What I want is something that allows me to enter music on a stave, write and view multiple parts at once, playback with MIDI, and record as an audio file when I'm done.

Last time I looked at this, years ago, I used Cakewalk, which back then did what I wanted apart from being able to easily export to audio. Perhaps it's worth looking at again, though I must admit I don't remember the software with any real fondness. (To really date this -- my solution to the audio problem was to output from the sound card to a MiniDisc -- remember them? -- and then re-sample and record to MP3 from the disk.)

Back on Twitter, Orestis suggested Sibelius (warning: irritating noisy Flash site), which does everything I want and more... but costs almost £600. They have a "student" version which does everything bar the audio recording but is affordable. It's certainly got a good reputation, so probably worth giving a go, anyway.

njr suggested Lilypond, but that looks more like a way of printing scores from its own markup (though I may have the wrong end of the stick there). [Update: apparently it has a TeX-like input format, but prints scores and generates MIDI files from it. That sounds well worth investigating.]

Konrad suggested Noteflight, which I've only had a quick glance at -- superficially it looks pretty interesting, and I'll post more once I've had a look at it.

Definitely more research to be done. In the meantime, I'll occupy myself with my piano roll spreadsheet, which can play back a tune using the .NET Console.Beep function :-)

Copyright and Composers; or, did Intellectual Property kill the English Baroque?

Posted on 4 February 2009 in Copyright, Music

Last weekend, my fiancee and I went to see Fretwork at the Wigmore Hall. The programme was a mixture of 17th-century English music and more modern pieces, and in the interval we got to talking about what went wrong with English -- indeed, British -- "art" music, and why it all-but disappeared for almost 150 years, from 1750 to the 20th century. It's an interesting story, and not entirely unrelated to this blog's normal software industry-related posts.

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Building a collection of classical music

Posted on 3 April 2008 in Music

I've been building up my collection of classical music recently, not least because Lola gave me a copy of Aaron Copland's excellent What to Listen for in Music for my birthday. It's interesting, poking around the different recordings by different musicians, and I was reminded of how hard it was when I first started buying classical music to understand the importance of getting the right recording of a particular piece.

It's silly -- because obviously I understood intellectually that one musician can play better than another. For people who've always loved the classics, whose parents brought them up on Beethoven, it seems ridiculous that someone might think that a collection of cheap recordings (like the Naxos ones I got at Uni) might be worth having. Why on earth would you want to listen to a second-rate recording? I think that the problem is that for someone brought up on pre-recorded pop music, it can seem like the recording is the composition. Or, to put it another way -- the original version, the version released on CD or iTunes or whatever, is the original version. The score, as it were.

For people like me, who grew up with pre-recorded music, let's spin that the other way; in classical music, obviously there is normally no original recording by the composer. Less obviously, this means that everything is a cover version, and just as with any piece of music, there are good covers (think, Jimi Hendrix playing All Along the Watchtower) and appalling covers (think, the Fratellis playing All Along the Watchtower). There is no original, no Bob Dylan version (which in the case of All Along the Watchtower might be a good thing, but that's a whinge for another day :-)

I'm not saying anything even vaguely ground-breaking or new here, but if someone had made the Watchtower comparison to me back in the mid-90s I probably could have saved a few quid on bad recordings of Prokofiev...