Cognitone is a music technology software company based in Hamburg, Germany. I have come to love their first product Harmony Navigator. With Cognitone’s second release Music Prototyping System to be released in 2008 I thought it would be a good time to interview the founder and developer Andre Schnoor. Be sure to also check out the special wire to the ear screencast showing how to create a verse and chorus in Harmony Navigator and then bring it into Ableton Live.
Tell us about Cognitone and it’s employees. Tell us what your job is there?
Cognitone is my baby and my job is to teach it walking. I founded the company a while ago already, but spent the past years in the office developing the technology. Cognitone actually started just now after a longer period of under-the-radar operation. As of today, it’s still mainly me and supporting friends and family. I’m talking about “us” for two reasons: The people who invested time and money to help making Cognitone possible deserve some respect and I consider them part of the project. On the other hand, it’s also a promise. This is not the first company I started and startups tend to grow quickly. It is impossible to be successful in the long term without build a team. That said, I hope we will soon be able to offer interesting and challenging jobs to talented people.
Harmony Navigator is based around some advance music theories. Do you have classical music training?
I’ve always looked at theory only from the perspective of a creative person. If some scientific concept looked promising with respect to /making/ music, I swallowed it within days. For more than twenty years, I gathered my current knowledge by following this path. Classical music education however, seemed rather static and repetitive to me. I didn’t feel the desire to study music at an university. Although I have a master degree in computer science. Interestingly enough, most scientific approches in musicology originate from the background of the cognitive sciences (which are my specialty: artificial intelligence, perceptional psychology, neuroscience), rather than classical music theory.
Would you consider a version of Harmony Navigator as a VST or Audio-Units plug-in?
Yes, this is definitely on the agenda. Plug-ins however, can’t offer the comprehensiveness and comfort of a desktop application. The main challenge here is to get rid of the menu bar and all those in-depth “workstation” features of the program and shrink it to suit the plug-in philosophy. Hence, the Harmony Navigator plug-in will be more lean and compact than the current program.
Seems like a lot pro-audio software company come from Germany. Steinberg, Ableton, Native Instruments, Emagic, Celemony, Vielklang, for example. Do you think there is any reason for this? Do you have any relationships with any of these companies or people that work at them?
Well, this must be German Wahnsinn. I think a vital part of the German mentality, especially with engineers, is an incredible endurance and perfectionism. Music software is complex enough to require this. Us krauts probably love to sacrifice ourselves for the beauty of a technology. Me for instance. It took me many, many years of research and development to get a working model for the music prototyping technology. In the eyes of a reasonable businessman, this is economical suicide. Anyway, now it’s there and it lives.
The local software scene is truly open minded and friendly. Just like a family. Many of us know each other. An unsuspecting person will likely not notice any sense of competition at the surface, although (or perhaps because) the market for music software is tight and tough. Especially after broadband Internet promoted software piracy to a threatening extent.
Harmony Navigator has some similar features of PG Music’s Band in a Box. Have you looked at or used Band in a Box? (I personally think Harmony Navigator is much more intuitive, modern and fun).
BIB is now there for 20 years, I guess. Sure do I know it. Although both products are quite different. While BIB specializes in rendering chord progressions for many musical styles, Harmony Navigator was made specifically for /creating/ new chord progressions in the first place. Moreover, the main output of Harmony Navigator is not so much MIDI and sound but /knowledge/ and inspiration. This tool is great for educating oneself on all aspects of harmony and how to play chords and scales on various instruments. Left handed guitar, for example, or the bass.
Let’s talk about your next software release. It’s called Music Prototyping Studio. This includes Harmony Navigator. What does it add?
The MPS is Cognitone’s flagship. It’s likely ten times as comprehensive as Harmony Navigator. Actually HN is one of the tools that come with MPS. The prototyping studio is designed for building big scores. It can import, understand and decompose existing compositions by means of artificial intelligence techniques. The user can build new compositions based on the figures, phrases and textures learned so far. Or draw them like vector graphics. The whole score can be re-shaped and transcribed on-the-fly at any time. This application introduces an entirely new workflow, saving weeks of tedious work. I expect it to become a cultural shock, once people have learned how to use it.
Are you looking for distribution to get your software boxed in stores?
Not for Harmony Navigator. At least not yet. But the Music Prototyping Studio will ship in a box. We’ll start with our own online shop and will successively collaborate with distribution partners as the demand grows. Yes, this is definitely an important milestone on the road map.
Do you compose or create music yourself?
Sure. Back in the 1980’s already, I begun working as a singer and songwriter. Later on, in the mid 1990’s, I did a lot of electronic music like Trance, Chillout, Goa, Ambient and such. Back then I begun working on computational composition models. At that time I discovered my love for orchestral music and movie scores. After MPS got working, I found myself creating more and more symphonic music. I once used to have a lot of studio equipment, but sold that recently to fund the startup (I would have sold my grandmother to make MPS possible). For what I’m doing at Cognitone, I only need my brain, my computers and occasionally some food. Cognitone will buy me new hardware once the sales go up. I simply can’t afford it yet.
What kind of music do you listen to personally? Who are some of your favorite artists?
A few years ago, I operated besonic.com, an artist platform that hosted more than 50,000 independent artist from around the world. I probably listened to thousands of songs. Only some of them were remarkably good, but all of them had this special charme that is unique to the vibrant scene of creative music makers. I left the platform, but many of those songs are still in my ears.
Good music a such comes in many forms of materialization. Hence, I listen to artists as different as Azizah Mustafa Zadeh, Elbow, Jan Garbarek, Frederic Chopin, Bela Bartok, Eric Satie, The Prodigy, Goldie, Crowded House, Usher, Muslimgauze, Trilok Gurtu, David Sylvian, Robbie Williams, John Hassel & Brian Eno, Steve Tibbets, Radiohead, Kruder & Dorfmeister and tons of dance, trance and electronic tracks who’s artists I can’t remember.
Anything else you would like to add?
Even though not everybody can become a star, making music is the most satisfactory occupation, the most beautiful thing to spend one’s time. It’s a wonderful end in itself that requires no justification at all.
Download a free demo of Harmony Navigator here: www.cognitone.com