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Topic: MIDI timing - what's the truth?

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  1. #1
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    MIDI timing - what's the truth?

    I was reading an article about Imogen Heap's (!) production methods on her new pop album, in which she said that she, after the fashion of Guy Sigsworth and BT and some other popicons, tries to use audio only - not MIDI - for rhythmic elements of a track once the notes are entered from a controller. Cited as reasons were:
    a) interesting possibilities for malleability of the audio itself (Agreed)
    b) MIDI timing is poor and makes a track sound sloppy otherwise.

    Now that second one has me scratching my head and wondering whether or not this is a religious issue and nothing more. We are talking about a situation in which all or most of the sound generation is coming from within the computer itself. If you're looking for timing that's that tight, and especially given the way MIDI is all-in-the-cpu once the notes are in your sequencer, do you not get that same perceptible level of precision by just quantizing MIDI notes that are then sent through interapplication midi within the same CPU? Are timing issues still perceptible at that point, and if so, why?

  2. #2

    Re: MIDI timing - what's the truth?

    Quote Originally Posted by jloeb
    b) MIDI timing is poor and makes a track sound sloppy otherwise.
    Yep, I think that this is the new orthodoxy. Back In My Day (registered trademark) MIDI was too perfect in terms of timing, and therefore rendered music mechanical and soulless. It's kind of like how once we were going to die from global freezing, then we were going to die from global warming, and now its generally accepted that global warming is going to cause global freezing. These things change.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Bruce A. Richardson's Avatar
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    Re: MIDI timing - what's the truth?

    Haha. Back in the day.

    I have been going through all the retired gear living in my attic, clearing out what isn't needed. Most of the synths are long gone. I kept only a few rack modules and a Juno-106 that had a sentimental attachment.

    The other day, I pulled the box of MIDI cables. More than 100. Man, how times change. I use less than ten now, max. Ditto with 1/4" cables. I have two bankers boxes, stuffed.

    The times do change. I can just throw away MIDI and 1/4 cables whenever they go bad, and probably have more than I'll use for life, haha.

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    Re: MIDI timing - what's the truth?

    Just want to make sure i'm understanding this correctly: So for example in the article, Heap (if i may refer to her as such) indicates that in most tracks, everything is coming from VIs in one computer. ONE computer, heavily loaded, NO outboard instruments being triggered. In your opinion and experience, MIDI slop will still matter there?

  5. #5

    Re: MIDI timing - what's the truth?

    Truth is that a lot depends on your tools and techniques. I use GigaStudio and take the time to render instruments on the GS machine one by one using midi start triggering of the sequencer machine. A lot of folks may laugh at that approach because it's so time consuming to then move each rendered wav to a track on a daw machine. But if I ever have to re-render and update a daw tracks wav (you've heard that part 38 times and now you tell be there's a wrong chord!!!), timing is always absolutely perfect. On the other hand, if you try and change instrument libraries mid-stream, all bets are off. But that's not a midi issue.

    Howard

  6. #6

    Re: MIDI timing - what's the truth?

    If we're talking about the slop between different MIDI sources trying to work together than yeah, for sure- I mean, that's ANY digital clock. If you have two or more sources trying to work together it's best to have a master clock, be it MIDI or SMPTE or whatever. I remember trying to bounce MIDI tracks from computer to ADATS and they never lined up quite all the way just from doing multiple passes coming off the exact same machine.

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    Re: MIDI timing - what's the truth?

    But in the case of one computer running one sequencer program driving VIs within that same computer, mixing the final send-to-engineer track within that same computer. Still MIDI timing issues?

    In other words, there's still a synchronization issue when your're running, for example, a Vienna intrument, MachFive, Reaktor as plugins within one instance of DP on one computer and nothing outboard? Where is the timing issue coming from at that point? (Do those DAW advertisements of "sample-accurate sync" of midi to audio contain no truth??)

    (You can tell how counterintuitive this is to me.)

  8. #8
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    Re: MIDI timing - what's the truth?

    Ah, well Fred your example above does answer the question i guess. So just due to the fact that you're invoking different bits of synthesis software, even within the machine, the timing can be imperfect unless you've synchronized manually at the level of audio mixing to output bus. I suppose i could ask whether computers with faster clock speeds reduce this problem, but i suppose the reply would be: if you're using those extra cycles to run 4 different VIs, there goes the extra precision.

    So audio-only, hmm?

    Anyone have any good working strategies?

  9. #9

    Re: MIDI timing - what's the truth?

    My example may have been a reflection of the implementation of the MTC/SMPTE sync in the BRC used to control the ADATs too; who knows. I guess the moral is whenever you start trying to sync up different things shi! happens But even though MIDI is pathetically slow as a LAN it has plenty of resolution to be timing accurate to the human ear if other gremlins aren't getting into the system.

  10. #10

    Re: MIDI timing - what's the truth?

    Inside the computer, there's not a lot of slop, although of course you will have a few milliseconds of latency. I did some tests in Logic a year or two ago and the internal synths were surprisingly consistent as far as the exact amount of time audio commenced after the MIDI note. Within a millisecond (1/1000 second.)

    Keep in mind there will always be a few milliseconds of latency, depending on your sound card and settings, but in my rig at least, after that, timings were consistent.

    Once you use a physical MIDI cable (which I understand is not what you're talking about,) then things get real sloppy. The MIDI spec allows approximately one note per millisecond (through a single cable). Play chords and all the notes can't sound at once, although it's debateable how well you can hear the delay.

    What's more important in those situations is which note in a chord plays first. You can't hear flamming with only a few milliseconds, but you can hear a difference in tone of a chord depending on which note is slightly sooner.

    Like Lee and Bruce, I remember those days all too well. One rule was to always have your drum tracks at the top of your sequence since most sequencers played top down when it came to "ties." What a pain.

    - Mike Greene

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