Thursday, September 18, 2014

New music software helps amateur musicians discover their sound

GUSTAVO VARGAS/Daily Titan/Opinion

The act of creating music has been around for a long time. As the world progressed, so did acts of expression.

The technology used to make music has greatly advanced and changed over the years. These changes have allowed musicians to create sounds and music that once could have never existed.

Modern technology has reached a level in which software can do more than just record new sounds. The technology being designed is such that computers will be able to understand music the same way humans understand it, as opposed to digits of ones and zeros.

Ryan Stables, a lecturer in audio engineering and acoustics at Birmingham City University, and his team at the Digital Media Technology Lab say they take computers and try to give them the capabilities to understand and process music in the way a human would.


Stables’ The Semantic Audio Feature Extraction, or simply the SAFE Project, software has been released as a free downloadable package of plug-ins that are compatible with most music production software. However, they are a bit different than most other plug-ins; they apply the use of crowdsourcing as a unique twist. The idea behind this process is to make computers be able to interpret certain words like “groovy” or “dreamy” the way we sometimes use adjectives to describe certain music.

Understanding that professional music production can be difficult to grasp and can take some time before a person really gets it down, Stables hopes to make that journey less complicated.

This innovation, however creative, would just be an extra tool to an already creative person. Creativity and imagination in the form of art is something at which humans are still firmly number one.

The goal for his software is to allow musicians to spend as much time with their instruments and as little time learning how to use new software. This is indeed a nice thought, but a slightly outdated one.

Most modern musicians have at least a cursory knowledge of computers and general music software, making user friendliness a pleasant convenience but not a groundbreaking necessity.

The software might appeal to amatuer musicians who are just starting to get into the world of music recording and for to those who may find it easier at first to let a plug-in add certain effects they might not have known about beforehand.

For someone who doesn’t really know what reverb is, it’s easier to want a piece of music to sound like it was recorded in a large empty space than to add and adjust the actual reverb.

With the save feature on the program, users are able to tag certain words to their music in after which the software uses mathematical modeling to determine their meanings and applies effects that would best suit the word.

The program works by linking the tags that people have used with the characteristics of the actual music. It then adds them to a central database, which are divided by genre and other parameters. Using the load mode allows users to type in a type of sound they would like to achieve, such as “tangy” or “crunchy,” and then the software attempts to guess the kind of music the user is going for and applies certain effects to achieve the desired sounds.

Of course plug-ins can’t save an already weak recording, so it’s not to say this could help people who are still learning to use their instruments.

Stables is aware of the limitations of his software.

“Music production is an art form––it’s unrealistic to say that with software like this you could produce someone as good as Quincy Jones, who produced many of Michael Jackson’s songs. There’s a gap between intelligent computing and intelligent human beings,” Stables said in an interview with BBC.

Despite its limitations, the software has plenty of potential for amateurs and novices, but it’s not that practical for those who truly want to create something unique.

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