Re: A few words about Stylemaking


Bob 'Notes' Norton
 

*********IMPORTANT*********
I am very passionate about the differences between step-entering and live
entering MIDI data. Not everybody agrees with me. We all have a right to
our opinion. The following comments are in the spirit of a friendly debate
and should not be misunderstood as my effort to criticize anyone else who
doesn't see eye to eye with me. Debating opinion is one of the good things
about public forums. Flaming people is not. If my communication skills are
not what they should be, please understand that I am debating methods of
input, not criticizing anybody. Thanks.
********* ********* *********

At 03:24 AM 7/2/01 +0000, janice21475@yahoo.com wrote:
...
A band is like a team. Each member of the team plays together to make
the band, as a whole, sound as good as possible. Timing and meter are
very important in every type of music.
Indeed. If one person has a different sense of timing from the rest of the
group, the end result will sound sloppy.

Each musician expects the rest
of the band to adhere to these rules, whether it is 4/4, 2/4, 3/4,
6/8, 12/8, 5/4, or any of the other time signatures. This is why they
have time signatures, so all the musicians will play within these
parameters.
Agreed.

We share a lot of similar viewpoints about music.

In order to play, or even dance comfortably, we all
anticipate when the next downbeat is coming. A real band does not
take turns playing on the downbeat. Whoever is going to play a note
or chord on the downbeat, does it on the downbeat, they are not
assigned 3 ticks, or 7 ticks before or after the beat.
Here is where our opinions differ. In most forms of pop music, the beats do
not come at equal divisions of the measure, hence the groove. One beat (or
subdivision of the beat) may be advanced or delayed by as much as 10 clock
tics (at 240ppq) while another may do the opposite. It is important that
all the players do it the same way or else you get the bad timing problem.
They don't take turns playing off the beat, instead they all push and pull
the beat together. This is what is know as playing "in the groove" or "in
the pocket" and is why in contemporary pop bands it is so important that
the bass player and drummer can "click" together.

There are many examples of this.

Listen to a Strauss waltz. 90% of classical orchestras rush the second beat
of the measure quite noticeably. Why? That is the way the music was played
during the time it was written. The dancers expect that beat to be rushed,
and exert extra energy on that beat.

Quantize a jazz waltz and you lose the jazz part of the waltz.

Quite a few years ago I learned the Jethro Tull song "Living in the Past"
for a regular customer at a night club I was playing at. For those not
familiar with the song, it is done in 5/4 and is one of the less awkward
sounding 5/4 meters. After a lot of practicing, I recorded it. I couldn't
use the metronome on the sequencer because it sounded too mechanical while
following it. Instead, I recorded a click track that simply played a click
on the first beat of the measure. When I finally got it right, I analyzed
the result (always being very curious about what makes music work). This is
what I found. The 5 beats of the measure are divided in groups of 3 and 2
(this isn't rocket science here). The 3 group is consistently played faster
than the 2 group. This puts the 4th beat (first beat of the 2 group) closer
to the center of the measure (timing wise) than it would have if the
measure was divided into 5 equal segments.

I'd give more examples with even (and more common) meters, but I spent
years analyzing these things and I don't want to give away too many trade
secrets.

A few words on Step writing vs. Live input

1. Anything that can be 'played in' or recorded 'live' can also be
input by step writing, including the drum parts.
I strongly disagree. By investing enough time and effort and by having a
very good knowledge of where the beats should be pushed or pulled, you can
approximate the effect, but you cannot duplicate it.

2. Step writing, or entering patterns using a midi instrument can be
just as effective. It depends on what the individual who's writing
the style prefers. Step writing can be more precise than
recording 'live.'
This can be a problem. The preciseness of step input is partially what
makes some MIDI music sound so mechanical. The music needs to "breathe",
"groove".

Even if you are the greatest musician in your
neighborhood, and you've been playing 6 months longer than the
musician next door, a mistake once in a while is not uncommon.
You are so correct here. I've been a professional musician all my life and
I don't think I have ever played a night where one of the musicians in the
band (including myself) did not make a mistake. Usually they are minor
mistakes and a professional musician usually knows how to "cover it up" so
the general public and often even other musicians do not notice the mistake.

If you
make a mistake, you would not want it to show every time the pattern
is played in the BB style, so what do you do? You step edit the
pattern, to fix the mistake!
I agree, you definitely do not want to hear a mistake every time a
particular pattern plays. That would be close to torture.

I play my patterns "live" into a MIDI file using a keyboard controller, a
wind MIDI controller and/or a drum controller because I feel that live
input is the only way to get live sound into the computer. Often I play
quite a few bars into the sequencer before recording the one that I want so
I have time for my subconscious to get into the groove.

Then I import the MIDI file patterns I want into the StyleMaker. What
happens if I make a mistake while recording the live pattern into the MIDI
sequencer? I do it again. After all the biggest recordable pattern in the
StyleMaker is 8 beats long. The chances of making a mistake recording a
particular pattern twice in a row are somewhere between slim and none (at
least for me).

Like you, I would NEVER, EVER let a mistake get into a style I wrote.

3. Mechanical Sounding? Whether you step write it, or play it live,
it can sound mechanical or not.
This it true. But on the other hand, with step writing it is easy to sound
mechanical, since step writing is mechanical by nature. While playing live,
it is actually very difficult to sound mechanical. That is why step writing
usually sounds mechanical.

The only ones I've heard complain
about a well programmed, modern electronic drummer sounding too
mechanical, are the ones who can't keep up with them, or don't know
the proper rhythm to use for the song they are playing.
I guess you don't read the trade magazines then. For the 15 or so years I
have subscribed to Electronic Musician and Keyboard Magazine, there have
been many comments about mechanical sounding, grooveless rhythm sections
which are the result of step-entering and quantizing.

4. Quantize? This is a feature I personally do not use when writing
styles, even though it may be a very valid way of repairing notes
which are not quite correct, in either timing or duration.
The end result of quantizing is to make the part sound more like it was
step entered. Therefore, if the MIDI part is step entered, quantizing will
have no effect on the timing, since it is already quantized by the nature
of step-entering.

In other words step-entering is already quantized.

I step
write each note, and give each note or chord the duration I want it
to have, so I haven't seen any reason to learn the quantizing
feature. This does not mean I would criticize anyone else for doing
so, because they may be very good at it. There must be a reason for
including this feature in all these music writing programs.
The feature is there because (1) some people play so badly that quantizing
sound better than what they can produce and (2) some forms of contemporary
music (like techo) are supposed to sound mechanical.

On the other hand, why do all the highest end sequencers have groove
filters or groove manipulators if the timing sounds best by being quantized
(step-entered)? If the music sounded best quantized, there would be no
reason for groove filters or groove templates.

Many
musicians practice perfecting their meter, using either a metronone,
or an electronic drummer.
It is important to do so. A good sense of timing is very important.

But like painting, it is important to have great drafting skills, but it is
also important to know when to stretch "the truth" on the canvas. That is
why no photograph can duplicate a great painting.

In music, it is important to know when to stretch the meter. That is why no
step-entered MIDI file can duplicate a great live performance.

The better the meter, the better the flow
of your rhythm (groove) will be, and the more comfortable it will be
to play along with, or dance to.
Once again, the meter must be played together, but not precisely on the
metronome beats and subdivisions of that beat. If it is played that way, it
will sound too mechanical.

Even single stroke drum rolls sound like machine guns if step-entered. Why?
Because when playing a single stroke drum roll, the drummer has a stronger
hand and a weaker hand (we are not machines). The stronger hand plays a
little ahead and the weaker a little behind. Very slight differences but
enough to NOT sound like a machine.

If I were to play quantized music for most dancers, it wouldn't move them
at all.

Do the test, step enter any song from any (non techno) piece of music you
have. Then listen to it. Does it sound like it should?

I'm leaving on vacation soon. When I get back, I'll step-enter a well known
song (public domain so I don't have to worry about copyright infringement)
and post it.

*********IMPORTANT*********
I am very passionate about the differences between step-entering and live
entering MIDI data. Not everybody agrees with me. We all have a right to
our opinion. The preceding comments were in the spirit of a friendly debate
and should not be misunderstood as my effort to criticize anyone else who
doesn't see eye to eye with me. Debating opinion is one of the good things
about public forums. Flaming people is not. If my communication skills were
not what they should be, please understand that I am debating methods of
input, not criticizing anybody. Thanks.
********* ********* *********




Bob "Notes" Norton
norton@nortonmusic.com
http://www.nortonmusic.com

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