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Topic: Nostalgia...

  1. #1
    Senior Member Silh's Avatar
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    Sep 2010
    Alberta, Canada


    or, 'how did you get into creating music on a computer?'

    Following the 'Why do you compose?' thread, something which has been on my mind since I've been digging through some REALLY old stuff of mine... I know some people here have been writing music a long time, some longer than I've been alive, and the 'Why do you compose?' thread has some interesting stories. So, I wanted to ask the other question...

    "How did you get into creating music on computers, to working with virtual instruments and samples today?"

    For myself, besides having music running through my head, I'm also a programmer at heart. And a computer enthusiast, so my interest has always come from that side of it.

    Once I started fiddling around with the family computer as a kid and found you could write programs in that most awful of languages, BASIC (okay, it's not that that bad, and it was where I started off, but still...), one of the first things I did was put songs into it. Now this was a pokey IBM PC XT and the only audio I could get out of it was beeps from the internal 'PC speaker', but hey, I could tell it what frequency or note to play, and it would do it, even if it was just a square wave beep!

    After some time, inspired I think by tricks used in a few games of that era, I found you could simulate polyphony by alternating very quickly between two different notes, and eventually that turned into playing chords by arpeggiating it rapidly over and over. The results are sort of horrendous... but I found it neat to be able to create music that way (especially since I couldn't play any instruments).

    Fast forward a few years... and I'm on a 486. Still no soundcard. But some people had figured out that you could play 8-bit samples through the measly 1-bit PC speaker by dithering it... and had written programs to work with this trick, and so I got into what are known as 'modules'... working with 'trackers'... where the music data (4 channels at that time) and the samples to play it with were all bundled in the same file. The sound was still pretty poor, but it was a step towards realism.

    After all that, I decided I had enough and would get a soundcard... so along came a clone of the original Sound Blaster. Yay, modules sound better! But MIDI made more sense to me in terms of how I thought more music ... it was probably around this time that I discovered Noteworthy Composer, which I still use to this day to quickly throw down tracks. However, MIDI on the Sound Blaster meant 2-op FM synthesis. Ewwwwwwwwwwww... so much for realism.

    So after putting up with that for a year or two, and various MIDI to module converters, I decided to buy a Gravis Ultrasound. 512KB of RAM! And it came with a whopping 8MB of samples included! I loved that thing (I still have it in a box somewhere... and some of those samples I still use sometimes). The sound quality was superb. The problem I ran into after a while was... half a meg of RAM was just not enough for all the samples I wanted to load...

    Back into software it was! Ended up hacking together a system from a mess of various free programs (yay poor student days)... TiMidity... editing MIDI data via midi2txt, txt2midi and a text editor... trying to program my own effects (don't ask)... and whatever free soundfonts I could scrounge. (What in the world was I thinking?) The results were actually not too bad. So, for the next quite a few years, that's what I worked with.

    Then came finishing school, work, and composing sort of fell by the wayside...

    Until one day a couple years ago I ran into a post about music and audio production on the Sintel openmovie production blog, and thought... man I really need to get back into this. So, back into relearning everything. VST's? What are those? DAW's? Huh? So, tried out Reaper, thew in SynthfontVST, eventually added GPO... and then others... and more others...

    Ahh, collecting samples. This feels so familiar!

    So, to commemorate this bout of nostalgia, I'm slowly trying to collect 'recordings' of the evolution of this sound... despite how it makes me cringe sometimes... it also generates a smile.

    So, time for someone else's story...
    -- Matt Wong

  2. #2

    Re: Nostalgia...

    My story is similar. Cut my teeth on MIDI for a little while. (Used Cakewalk by what-was-then Twelve Tone Systems for Windows 3.1.) Loved the idea but wasn't so much a fan of the results. It was obviously synthesized, especially guitar. (My main instrument.)

    If I could just capture my playing guitar on my computer...and then DAW software came along and the affordable pro-level hardware interfaces that came with it.

    Even after all that, I still yearned for an orchestral angle (because I just love orchestral music and how it all gels together), which led me to here.

  3. #3

    Re: Nostalgia...

    I was playing piano for a local musical theatre group, putting on shows etc. I did a sound engineering course in 1999 and was shown cubase on the computer in the recording room. 'One day', I said to myself. I didn't get a computer until the following year, and then I had a roland keyboard with the usual midi bank of sounds, and hooked it to the computer. I was amazed by the idea of being able to do this at home, and I thought it sounded great (though it didn't really).

    Few years later I stopped and didn't have much time for it. I even sold my digital piano.

    I bought another digital piano though about 5 years ago, new PC, and toyed with the idea of trying again. So I hooked up the old keyboard again, then remembered that the sound wasn't very good. Didn't know of anything like Garritan - hadn't thought to look - but a friend mentioned it to me so I checked it out. This was only as recent 2010. I bought Finale and tried it and GPO4 together and it was great.

    Since then I've of course moved into DAW work and expanded my libraries. The rest is history...
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