PLEASE NOTE: This article has been archived. It first appeared on ProRec.com in January 1999, contributed by then Editor-in-Chief Rip Rowan. We will not be making any updates to the article. Please visit the home page for our latest content. Thank you!
A dream of programmers for years has been the integration of computers into the music-creation process.
The ultimate dream of these programmers is to be able to hit a button and have the computer generate a completely original piece of music. This ultimate dream is, of course, an ultimate nightmare for many humans in the music business.
Sleep tight. We’re not there yet.
However a team of developers from Russia have taken an important step in the integration of computers into the music creation process. The product, Style Enhancer Micro 1.28 from NTONYX (http://www.ntonyx.com) utilizes the company’s Performance Modeling process to breathe new life into sterile MIDI tracks.
Style Enhancer Micro 1.28 runs as a plug-in under version 8 Cakewalk sequencers. You can use it offline to process MIDI tracks or you can use it in real time to nondestructively modify the MIDI data.
Style Enhancer includes dozens of Performance Styles. These styles are designed to modify the performance of particular instruments. For example, the “Banjo Accompaniment 01A Sixteenth Rhythm Fill with Triplet Inserts for Meter 4’4” transforms notes and chords into a 16th note picking feel perfect for use with Banjo sounds. Performance Styles include support for Accordion, Bass, Drums, Guitar (acoustic and electric), Solo Synth, Sax, Flute, Trombone, Brass, Strings, and more. There are over 100 styles in all.
These inserts are capable of transforming a sterile, quantized MIDI track into a breathing, moving, flowing performance. Although their effectiveness varies from performance to performance, they do live up to their promise of breathing life into flat, 2-D MIDI tracks. The results range from bizarre to very, very impressive.
I used the Style Enhancer to update some old MIDI songs that I had created on my Korg M1 several years ago. I started with a jazz-fusion-feel song that featured sax, fretless bass, drums, electric and grand piano. All of these tracks were MIDI. In my inexpertness, I had quantized the bass and piano rhythm tracks to tighten the rhythm. The song was tight – too tight – in fact, pretty sterile.
I began with the bass track. Style Enhancer includes several dozen bass performance styles. I tried a few of the styles designed for fretless bass and found one that worked. I was pretty impressed. This performance style intelligently substitutes pitch bends for note changes – accurately simulating the slides a bass player would make playing this part on a fretless. Cool!
Next I tried the Style Enhancer on the sax track. This track was a little less sterile to begin with – it hadn’t been quantized – and it had some nice aftertouch vibrato happening on it. Choosing an appropriate Enhancer, however, I immediately heard the improvement. Notes bent up and down in appropriately cool ways, and the volume flowed and pulsed nicely, simulating breath and tremolo. The Aftertouch vibrato was deleted, and replaced by even cooler vibrato created by the Enhancer plugin. This vibrato nicely slowed and intensified as notes were held, adding feel and life and moving with the tempo of the song. This was an excellent effect. With a better sax sample (remember, I was using an M1) this would come very close to the real thing.
As I tried the Style Enhancer on several other tracks I remained impressed. This product can create killer pulsing bass tracks for techno, flowing vibrato on acoustic guitar tracks, intensely modulated synth soloes, and lots more. For example on an acoustic guitar part, Style Enhancer added a nice vibrato that slowed as the notes were held, the way a guitarist would have played the note, and slid up to chords in a realistic and convincing way.
I created a techno drum loop and, selecting a bass track, played the chords to the song. Style Enhancer arpeggiated the chords, adding pitch bends to create cool techno modulation in the bass. A killer bass track for sure. I then slowed the track down and played different chords. Voila! Style Enhancer created a new feel!
Then I added an electric guitar, again playing chords. I told Style Enhancer to create a “rhythm feel”. The result was a pulsing guitar track, with the bass notes played as driving 8th notes, and the chords popping out in a cool syncopated rhythm. The result was a track played the way a guitarist would have played the song.
I also liked the piano performance enhancer. I took a piano piece that had been note and velocity quanitzed and played it through the Piano enhancer. Cool! The plugin transformed block chords into flowing chords, and added appropriate volume changes.
The software is fairly intelligent. It uses a rule-based system to determine when to make (and when not to make) changes to the track. For example, pianists will play fast chords as block chords, but when they slow down, they’ll “roll” the chord up from the bass notes in a slight arpeggiato. Fretless bass players will slide notes on the same string, but will pick notes on different strings. Guitarists will keep rhythm in 8th notes on the E or A strings, and when they play chords, the notes are played from bottom to top on the downbeat, and from top to bottom on the upbeat. These are the kinds of performance rules that Style Enhancer’s Performance Modeling apply to MIDI tracks.
Of course, if you select a style that doesn’t match your song, the results can be pretty weird. For example the driving 16th note techno feel over a swing beat is probably not going to win any Grammys. You have to choose an appropriate Style Enhancer for the instrument and the feel of the song.
The plugin is processor-intensive when used as a realtime plugin. I could only run two at a time on a 300 MHz Celeron machine. The same machine can run 4 DirectX audio reverbs. Of course you can also use Style Enhancer as an offline MIDI processor.
The folks at NTONYX have a real winner here. If you spend time with MIDI – and / or work with quantized MIDI tracks, then you will want this plugin.
Visit NTONYX at http://www.ntonyx.com.