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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.