Last week I had to import some Midi files into my DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). It was a commercial jingle I was to revamp and produce. To make it clear what instruments each part of the jingle were meant to be played with what instrument the writer (John) used General Midi. “GM” was created in 1991 and in short sets certain program numbers (sounds) to specific numbers. Doing this allows one to make a sound a flute and when the midi composition is played elsewhere using a GM module the embedded program change number will call up a flute sound.
I don’t often work with GM and when I received last week’s work John was adamant I listened to his fairly complex piece using a GM module at least once before I ripped it to pieces. It’s true that on a Mac one can just double-click any .midi file and it will open and play in Quicktime. However, I wanted to load the jingle into Ableton and view all the separate parts playing from a GM plug-in.
My first instinct was to ask Google for GM plug-ins and Native Instruments Bandstand popped up. Bandstand certainly would have fit my needs. It can be used stand alone or in your DAW and has over 2GB of samples from Sonic Reality, Big Fish, Best Service and others. Bandstand was in my budget at $119 but there was one issue: no download option. I really wanted to get working at that exact moment and as far as I could tell on the NI site there was no demo or download version. I may still grab Bandstand later because it looks to be the best GM player out there. My search for instant gratification continued…
I decided to do a little forum searching and on the official Apple Discussions I found a thread with my final answer. It turns out I already had a complete GM player plug-in installed on my Macbook Pro. Every Mac has a bunch of AU plug-ins installed by Apple for use in Garage Band and iMovie. I’ve used a few of them before in a pinch but rarely look hard into that folder. The Apple GM plug-in is called “DLSMusicDevice”. Very pleased I got to work.
Do you ever have a need for GM modules?
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The first software I ever used to create music was Dr. T’s KCS. I used it on an Atari 1040ST. The software was strictly to control external hardware midi devices. Hard disc recording and virtual instruments were years away from hitting the mainstream. A guy named Emile Tobenfeld (see photo) was the man behind Dr. T’s and KCS and he created this software in 1984.
Take a look at the screen shot above of the “Track Mode”. You see those 48 “clip slots”? Each one would play back a midi part. You could mute and un-mute parts to try different musical ideas. You could also record midi into any part. Sound familiar? It’s an early version of Ableton Live’s session view! Amazing no?
KCS also had an “Edit Mode” where you could transform parts. You could do quiet a lot with your midi data including change the pitch, velocity, controllers, pitch bends, compress and expand length, reverse, and much more. I have strong memories of using the “Step Time Track” feature to make drum patterns.
The “Step-Time Track” is used to enter notes one at a time. You specify the value of the note, (half-note, quarter note, etc.) and its length, and then play the note on your MIDI keyboard. Velocity can be recorded from the keyboard, or it can be preset. Step-time tracks can be appended to existing tracks. – myatari.net
We have come an amazingly long way from those days. Yet we were still able to create some good music. It’s really not what you use but how you use it!