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User Report on Metasynth Demo

Wicked Cool Stuff

From: Kai Matthews - 7/16/98

This past Thursday I spent the afternoon in a seminar at Computers & Music in San Francisco. Eric Wenger, the creator of the 3D landscape app Bryce, was demo'ing his program Metasynth 2.0, which is a revolutionary approach to sequence and audio file creation and manipulation: everything is represented pictorially and is editable by processes one would normally associate with graphics apps like Photoshop. One can import Pict files and manipulate them to produce sound (I've had some fun with a panorama of SF), or import regular audio files and see them represented pictorially. (NOT as waveforms, although that's also displayed alongside.)

While at first the application of image editing metaphors to sound seems odd, Eric's demo quickly made clear the unprecedented degree of control this allows over the parameters of one's sounds. I've used MIDI apps on everything from a Commodore 64, back in 1984, to today's Powermacs, and all manner of digital audio apps on various Macs, and I've gotten used to finding parameters scattered across various windows and submenus, and to assuming that certain of them could only be represented adequately as text.

Metasynth presents instead a unified graphical interface rich in intuitive information, illustrating anew the old saw about a picture being worth a thousand words. (Reminding us of the significance of the brain's large visual cortex.) For instance, greyscale represents loudness values, positions along the x and y axes represent pitch and time placement, and color values represent stereo placement. And many other aspects of parameter control which often are more trouble than they're worth in my current apps are easily accessible in Metasynth: pitch control, attack transients, harmonic envelopes, tuning tables, etc. And entirely new methods of sound manipulation as well. (What does "emboss left" do?! You'll see! ...and hear...;-)

He also demo'ed two companion apps, Xx, a MIDI sequencer along the same lines, which is also used for importing MIDI files into Metasynth, and which has powerful algorithmic composition features, and Metatracks, a Pro Tools-like multitrack app for assembling native Metasynth files, as well as other audio files, if you like, into a larger compositional framework. Xx is out now; Metatracks is in beta, and slated for release this fall. (In the meantime, one can import Metasynth files as Sound Designer II files into a multitrack app like Pro Tools or Deck.)

Among various examples, Eric played for us a film score he created entirely with these apps. His raw materials were string and other orchestral samples from a Samplecell CD, and a number of syllables sung by a woman he hired for the project. The seamlessness with which he strung these short elements together in his composition and the subtle realism in the variations of bowing, articulation, etc., were astounding. It sounded as if he'd actually hired a full orchestra and singer to perform the score.

It's also possible to create rich sound compositions without the use of any imported audio (and the audio input you might need, whether the Mac's own or a pro card) or any external MIDI devices (and the interface you'd need.) All you need is your Powermac. Eric said that Metatracks (if I remember correctly) will also be able to burn CD-R's, so you can keep it entirely in the digital domain.

While it's too soon to tell if this will supplant entirely my current apps (Logic Audio, Deck, Pro Tools and others), at the very least I'm confident it will change the way I make music.

And yes, it's Mac-only. It's clear that the Mac's from-the-ground-up graphic design-oriented architecture has everything to do with Eric's choice of it. This is the kind of app that makes me glad there's an Apple Computer.

Check it out at http://www.uisoftware.com/

There's a great demo available for download. (I have absolutely no affilation with UI Software or Eric Wenger himself in any way; I just feel very strongly about the potential of this software and the way it highlights the Mac's strengths.)

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