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.

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 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
Sep 252016

Of potential interest to new visitors to this site, as well as curious listeners questing into the deep sound realms of microtonal and xenharmonic music, is that maintenance has been completed on the Xen-Arts Music page that showcases five collaborative xenharmonic records created by various xen-artists and labels over the past many years.

Explore, stream, download and dream…

Xenharmonic Music


 Posted by at 3:11 pm
Sep 242016

Xfer Records • Serum | Microtuning Features | The Missing Facts

serum_x64Xfer Records • Serum

Xfer Records is currently among the developers of microtonal software synthesizers who offer very little easily accessible information about their microtuning implementation, and when I was recently doing some pre-purchase research about this instrument, it was very difficult to find anything conclusive on the Xfer web; only on some random audio forums and blogs was I able to discern the format it used, and I had to actually purchase the instrument to find out the deeper details, which I will share with visitors here.

Xfer Records • Serum | Microtuning Support

  • Serum features full-keyboard microtuning and works with the popular TUN format, which enables arbitrary retuning of each MIDI Note to any desired pitch, thereby enabling musicians and composers to use any historical or contemporary alternative intonation systems required of the music at hand.
  • Serum also enables users to load TUN microtunings from any drive locations on their computer.
  • Serum can store TUN microtunings at the individual patch/preset level, and also includes a Lock feature that enables users to load a fixed global microtuning while switching between presets.

As we can see, Xfer Records’ Serum developer, Steve Duda, got it right and included microtuning features that are critical for serious microtonal and xenharmonic music creation:

  1. Full-keyboard microtuning.
  2. Enables loading microtuning files from any directory on the user’s computer.
  3. Stores microtunings at the preset patch level.
  4. Includes a global microtuning lock feature for using a constant microtuning while working with the instrument.

Hopefully this information will help potential buyers of Xfer Records Serum to recognize that the instrument has a good TUN microtuning implementation without having to dig round the web for the scattered details.

It probably goes without saying that any developers whose software instruments feature full-keyboard microtuning should seriously consider publishing the information directly on their product features pages, which really helps alternative intonation enthusiasts to instantly make informed decisions when considering a purchase.

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 Posted by at 11:15 am