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Bring in the Noise
by Thad Brown
GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT
And that seems to be sound card upgrades and MP3 audio. I was very happy to get some mail about what is on the mind of the average xlr8 reader on the rare occasion they aren't trying to figure out why they NEED another G3. It seems to be audio cards and Mpegs. I must admit I am a little bit surprised, since the built in audio on a mac is really quite good. Nonetheless, here at Bring in the Noise, we aim to please, so I'll do a little card roundup soon and see if anyone is interested in getting me some hardware to review. Also, an MP3 article is on the way.
I WAS WRONG, ALLRIGHT ALREADY
In issue number one, I wrote about a PC only software synth that was forcing to build my first PC. In case anyone is interested, I blew up so many guitar amps in the past few weeks that I can't afford it right now anyway. Beyond that, there is a postive renaissance of mac software synths now. The Metasynth and AS-1 were mentioned before, and now there is yet another new kid on the block. Koblo is a company in Denmark offering a really cool looking software synth that is an unrepentant knockoff of an old analog synth. It even includes a programming language for creating your own synths and DSP plug-ins. The sample sound on their site was WAY cool, and the GUI looks top notch. If big monophonic bass synth lines or alien noises are your thing, check this one out. I think that they may just send me a copy to review as well, so stay tuned.
In a recent issue of Electronic Musician, the editor made a call to arms for a standard for real time plug-ins for the mac. In the March 1998 Issue of EM, the editor wrote
"The Mac music-software community has failed, due mostly to competitve rivalries, to create a standard real-time DSP plug-in format that runs native on the Power Mac without special hardware . . . On the Windows side, DirectX is a workable real-time solution. But the technology has limitations, and we still have the Steinberg, Syntrillium, and IQS plug-in formats . . . Clearly we need a standardized, real-time architecture that embodies the best of the existing formats."
Well I say phooey, the more competive rivalries the better. Publicly, developers say good things about DirectX, but even then you can sort of tell that high end audio types aren't really all THAT fired up over a multimedia layer designed more for the web and gaming than pro audio. I wonder what they say in private. In my not so humble opinion, Apple and mac developers should be trumpeting the freedom of the MacOS for audio plug-ins. "Hey there musician guy, you want to use Big Brothers plug-in format? Buy the damn Dell then, but over here we have a rig with all kinds of people trying to push the envelope and do things on their own and give you the best audio software they can. Big Brother doesn't even think that you need a decent MIDI driver in their high end OS."
Even more importantly, the market is doing it's magic and things are standardizing anyway. When I was shopping for my last software upgrade, it came down to Studio Vision Pro from Opcode, and Cubase from Steinberg. Both are fine apps and do amazing MIDI and audio stuff, and I chose Cubase. Even so, I have nothing bad to say about Vision at all, it's great software and lots of people swear by Vision, people like oh say the Dust Brothers, but for me as a primarily audio and not MIDI guy, Cubase has a very good real time plug-in format and Vision does not . In the end that was the deciding factor for me. Believe it or not, just because the people at the audio companies don't work for Apple does not mean that they are morons, and they noticed a lot of people doing the same thing I did. After a brief flurry of new formats, Cakewalk decided to support VST (the Cubase format) in their new mac app Metro, Emagic decided to throw in the towel and license VST for their very powerful and popular Logic app, Prosoniq will support VST plug-ins in the next release of their editor, and they told two friends and they told two friends and so on and so on. . .
So, the other formats are still out there, Premiere (Adobe, Deck II, Vision) and Audiosuite (Digidesign, Mark of the Unicorn) apps and products are still made and still sell. For consumers, though, VST is pretty much the king of the hill now, and consumers can buy with as much security as one ever has when buying software, and developers know that they can safely work with VST and have pretty good market coverage. In stark contrast to Windows, though, on the mac side the consumers made the choices, not the OS developers. So here the herd is thinning, the strong have survived, and mac users are the better for it. Steinberg wasn't hamstrung by following Big Brothers rules, and some big multimedia giant wasn't able to hold back everyone else so they could keep a pony in a race they didn't even care about winning. In a few years or a few months someone may come out with a better architecture, and people like me will have to choose what to do, but at least it will be our choice and not the choice of the Redmond Posse. Apple should stick to coming up with great ideas like equating Jerry Seinfeld with Ghandi and Picasso and let the audio developers do their job. And as long as they will have the extra time, why not get back to that little Rhapsody for Intel thing.
BUY THIS RECORD
One of the strange things about digital audio is that it really isn't that digital. Knowledge of the anolog world, but the physics of sound and analog electronics of microphones, preamps, instruments, mixers and compressors is absolutely crucial to getting the sound to sound right once it is digital. One of my sort of pathological, consuming interests is in how records are made, and especially how great sounding records are made. In that area, for me, the jazz and soul recording engineers and producers of the late 50s up to the mid 70s seem to stand a good bit taller than almost everyone else. Most of the older records were made in one afternoon with mono equipment, and they have a depth and sonic dimension that is just arresting. By the late 60s some records start to sound like rock records (not necessarily a bad thing), but others just got a little funkier and fatter but otherwise kept the faith. I was reminded of this the other day when I picked up a Pat Martino two CD set on 32Jazz. It includes "Conciousness" and "Live" in one set, and the whole thing sounds incredible. Even the VERY dated electric piano sounds cool instead of corny. Pat is his usual fire and ice badass self, the drumer is forceful without sounding like he's trying to get a gig in The Who, and the bass and piano fill in the space without getting in the way. The whole package is beautifully remastered for digital sound. Pick it up and hear how good records could sound when they were recorded for (gasp!) analog media.
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