Oct 222016

linnstrument-top-viewThe LinnStrument from Roger Linn Design

Always fascinated by the possibilities of alternative MIDI controllers with isomorphic key layouts, I’m increasingly interested in the LinnStrument from Roger Linn Design for use in xen-micro composition.

Nearly everything looks good about this controller and it’s really alluring considering the potential for expressive MIDI performance, and from what I’ve read, it would appear to be possible to make a few internal tweaks to the Xen-Arts VSTi, in order to make them responsive to the default MIDI CC pitch and timbre mappings that are a central feature of the LinnStrument.

Obviously, this is a controller that doesn’t have it’s own sound-generators, so to use it for playing microtunings, it must be connected to hardware sound-modules, or to a computer and virtual instruments which support full-keyboard microtuning; something in our world that is expected, understood and done as a matter of routine.

There are however some technical considerations in using this controller for serious xenharmonic and microtonal composition tasks…

Each row of keys plays an underlying chromatic scale of MIDI notes, and each of these eight rows can be offset by some interval, which, by default, appears to be limited to between 3 to 7 MIDI Notes.

Typically though, the LinStrument is mapped to have a 12-tone-equal-tempered 4th (an interval of 5 MIDI Notes) or 5th (7 MIDI Notes) between each of the 8 rows, essentially enabling playing pitches between the rows in a manner similar to guitars or bowed stringed instruments.

Let’s examine the implications of the default row offset interval range in the context of some of the lower numbered equal divisions of harmonic 2 (ED2), aka, equal-temperaments.

Continue reading »

 Posted by at 6:35 pm
Oct 222016

Of potential interest to practicing xen-micro musicians and composers, as well as listeners exploring the deep sound realms of this vastly expressive field of artistic and theoretical endeavor, is this excellent and empathetic article that came through the network this week from the Heavy Blog Is Heavy site, which includes a well written overview about xenharmonic and microtonal music, including a who’s-who of various xen-artists actively working with this music:

Beyond the Veil: Behold the Xenharmonic, or, Understanding Microtonal Music

Recommended reading!

 Posted by at 2:36 pm
Oct 152016

As I was recently reading through Peter Kirn’s CDM article, Apple’s relationship with pro music needs some mending, it caused me to reflect in context about the their 2015 acquisition of Camel Audio, and their most important ‘asset’, the Alchemy virtual instrument, of which I was a licensed user from it’s earliest incarnation (as well as its predecessor Cameleon 5000).


Being among the countless Windows musicians and composers who supported the efforts of Camel Audio prior to this event, it remains a grim and cognitively dissonant memory, especially considering – what we may think of now – as the facade of their public customer support ethic.

As many who followed along loyally and supported the progress of the now defunct Camel Audio will recall, on a couple of occasions preceding the acquisition, Camel Audio publicly sought to hire programmers to join their development team; a requirement of which I recall was that they would have to relocate to Scotland.

It’s now clear from the denouement of the saga, that they were unable to find anyone who fit the criteria for taking the Alchemy concept to the next level, and as anyone can well empathize with, the effort to develop a high-quality resynthesis engine for this instrument was a nontrivial task, one which will now, never be completed for cross-platform use.

So why bring this back to the fore at this time? It’s simply that in retrospect there is something profoundly tragic about the loss of any possibility for further development of this particular tool for dedicated Windows users, and that virtual instruments which feature microtuning, resythesis and partial-mapping represent an unfortunate gap in the possibilities for computer music synthesis.

But perhaps the worst part about this acquisition of Camel Audio and the Alchemy VSTi by Apple, is the insidious fine print that I’ve seen very little discussion about since this turn of events. Let’s examine the tragic facts as we know them, and specifically what was lost in translation when Alchemy passed through the vortex into AppleWorld that is relevant to contemporary xenharmonic and microtonal computer music composition:

  1. Alchemy is now permanently ‘dongled’ to Apple’s OS, Logic DAW and GarageBand. No future development of this tool can ever be used outside the confines of these environments.
  2. Alchemy formerly used the popular full-keyboard microtuning TUN format, but this was among the features Apple’s developers decided to abandon, and it now uses the 12-note microtuning features of Apple Logic, which means that this virtual instrument is no longer capable of full-keyboard microtuning, because, as we know, 12-note microtuning is not full-keyboard microtuning by any stretch of imagination.
  3. In the pre-acquisition version of Alchemy, the resynthesis engine allowed users to retune/remap the partials of resynthesized timbres using its Pitch Profiles – delimited text CSV files – which made it possible to perform spectral-microtuning synthesis techniques as described by William Sethares in his great book, Tuning, Timbre, Spectrum, Scale. I remember how thrilled I and everyone else was when we realized Alchemy had this functionality. Now this has been entirely stripped out of the Apple version, and as far as I’m aware, it is no longer possible to remap the partials in this Logic-dongled iteration.


An Apple Logic acquisition causality. The Pitch Profile menu of Alchemy 1.55. C’est la vie.

So as we can see, the most important synthesis and microtuning functions were completely removed in this transition, which also happen to be the very features that made the pre-acquisition version so interesting and useful for serious xenharmonic and microtonal music creation.

Continue reading »

 Posted by at 12:49 pm
Oct 132016

Legendary recording artist, performer, just intonation composer, mastering engineer and one of the visionary inventors of the MTS (MIDI Tuning Standard) format, Robert Rich, discusses his use of, and contributions to the development of the Dave Smith Prophet 12 synthesizer, which, as mentioned recently on these pages, features full-keyboard microtuning:

Robert Rich | In The Spotlight With Dave Smith Instruments’ Prophet 12

 Posted by at 11:02 pm