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Archive for November, 2012

MIDI on Windows 8 (Acer W500)

November 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Basically, MIDI input works. But there are several Windows installation related problems (not MIDI related though). If MIDI worked before (in Windows 7), I think it should be fine after an upgrade.

Despite all that hype about the iPad and Android, I never really jumped in since that meant leaving a lot of things behind. I should admit, more than 60% of my work, or my life for that matter, is done through a Microsoft Windows machine. Being an occassional Windows programmer, there’s just so much to miss from a classic good old fashioned all purpose operating system. iOS and Android are rather specialized to phones and tablets. And doubts start to arise when USB peripheral devices come to mind. I also dislike how the iPad or Kindle devices prevent expansion through the lack of SD card slots or USB ports, which also shortens the lifetime of the built in solid state storage device.

Windows 8 on the other hand, is meant to be a successor of the Windows series. Hence, it is designed for a broad range of computing devices. Though I suspect that they might trim features here and there depending on what kind of device it is being installed on. MIDI input worked on my tablet back when it was running Windows 7 Pro. Now, I need to find out if that would be the case on Windows 8.

Although there have been reports of earlier releases of Windows 8 not supporting MIDI devices, this seems to work smoothly on my W500 that had been upgraded to a recent official release (for roughly 20 USD). My USB MIDI keyboard (Korg microKey) is recognized by Synthesia (which is the MIDI application most likely to be used with the device). As can be seen in the screenshot below my Korg microKey is recognized and used (A3 note is pressed). The Microsoft GS Synth is still also present.

Synthesia on Windows 8 with MIDI input

Synthesia on Windows 8 with MIDI input (also my first Windows 8 screenshot). USB MIDI input device recognized and used. Microsoft GS Synth still exists.

It’s not completely Metro (thankfully)

Windows 8 introduced the Metro GUI which is best used for touch screen devices. But it did not remove traditional “windows” applications (those boxy things with borders and buttons on the top right corner that we easily take for granted).  There is now a distinction between “Desktop” and “Screen” apps. Desktop apps are the ones we are most familiar with from previous versions of Windows while Screen apps are designed for a more recent touch interface (big buttons and fonts, support for gestures, simplified UIs, etc). If you successfully install and run a non touchscreen good old fashioned app, a familiar looking desktop and taskbar will appear behind the window of that app (the start menu is gone though, but there are alternatives). That also hints that there is a good possibility that your previous DAW/MIDI programs will still run. It’s supposed to be the next Windows after all. In fact, Sekaiju which is made with an old version of Microsoft Visual C++ (Win 9x era) works on Windows 8 (after going through some paranoid security questions).

Sekaiju on Windows 8

Sekaiju on Windows 8 “desktop mode” with some recorded notes. The Korg microKey MIDI controller is also seen in the device manager.

Windows 8 installation annoyances

Something always goes wrong. Especially when trying new things.

1. My SD Card was formatted!

Both the local drive and the removable SD card in my device are 32 GB. At first I was having trouble that the installation does not want to use the disk I’ve selected and formatted. As it turns out the solution was to remove the removable SD card from the tablet. And as it further turns out, it appears that installation was selecting and formatting my SD card!!! Farewll backups. Although I had backed up the primary drive with Macrium Reflect, files that were only in the SD card will have to be restored with special means (Photorec seems to be helpful. EaseUs Data Recovery may do a better job, preserving file names and folders but it is much more expensive than Windows 8!). Moral lesson, remove SD card or any other unnecessary media before installing Windows 8.

2. Product key won’t work if you clean installed over a previous Windows.

Formatting before installing a fresh OS had always been the preferred way as “upgrading” always had issues. The problem when activating, a clean install is not seen as an upgrade, and hence the upgrade product key is thought to be invalid. “Fortunately”, many had the same problem and someone came up with a work around. Quoting from a brilliant, wonderful human being named BinaryInk as I found in the answers.microsoft.com forum

“The work around for this, while probably not officially supported for obvious reasons (they want more money), is to change a registry key. This was posted for Windows 7 update keys doing the same thing on a forum (though I had an update version AND did a clean install MULTIPLE times without having to do this) but worked without an issue on my laptop running Windows 8 regardless.

1. Run the registry editor (regedit)
2. Find the following key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Setup\OOBE
3. Change the value for ‘MediaBootInstall’ from 1 to 0
4. Open an elevated command prompt (run as admin)
5. Run the following command: slmgr -rearm
6. Reboot

If you already entered your key, check the activation: for me it was already activated and I needed to do nothing more. If not, type in activate windows and type in the key; it should work. Also, do yourself a favor and export this key from regedit and save it somewhere if you ever are required to do another clean install. I know I did.”

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Categories: Music making Tags: , , , ,

Gifts I’ve received for supporting the next generation You Rock MIDI guitar

November 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Back from Hungary to my hometown, I found these on my mail box:

You Rock Guitar gifts

A lifetime’s worth of plectrums, stickers, and funky earphones — gifts I’ve received for supporting the development of the next generation You Rock Guitar in Kickstarter.

A few months ago I decided to support the development of the You Rock Guitar Pro in Kickstarter. So I decided this time to give a little review about the You Rock guitar (YRG)…

I’m an owner of the early version (YRG-1000) of this guitar as I’ve seen it before in thinkgeek and knew that it is a great concept. First, it is a MIDI device. Any app you know that will work with a MIDI device can be controlled by this. It does not require special drivers, just like many MIDI keyboards. It can use either USB or 5 pin DIN connection. In my opinion, it is the poor man’s replacement for the Roland Gk-3 plus GR-50/55. It is also probably my first possession that introduced me to the wonderful world of MIDI that eventually snow balled to DAWs, soundfonts, VSTs and all that digital music production stuff. It can also be played as a stand alone “electronic” guitar (though considering its size and how much circuitry and memory can be crammed into it, the built in sounds may be as cheesy as Windows GM) and as a game controller (though the leading guitar games use 5 button toys… anyway that widens their market as it will also include imaginary guitarists and this makes a room for developing  a more real midi guitar game).

Unlike other MIDI guitars, the YRG does not use a separated switch per note on its fretboard, hence it looks much cleaner and more guitar like. Since the strings are not segmented, sliding up and down the fretboard becomes possible as in a real guitar. The strings use a sort of touch sensor instead. As there’s no need to push the strings like switches (I’m assuming this is how it’s done on other MIDI guitars based on how they look), tapping on the fretboard is much easier (even compared to a real guitar). But since they are not real suspended strings, they can not be bent, although with little practice, the whammy bar can be substituted for the same effect.

What prevented me from using the YRG-1000 more often is it’s not so responsive strings for the right hand. If you’ve play a real guitar, you have to pluck harder than usual for the YRG-1000 to produce a sound. That was undesirable for a self proclaimed guitar virtuoso like myself. It limited it’s playability as you lack control on the notes softness or loudness. The greater force required also made finger picking less comfortable. It’s sensitivity/responsiveness is the main feature I wished that they continue to improve. Anyway, Inspired Instruments claim to have improved this part in the second generation YRG.

Although, my contribution to the kickstarter project is minimal, I strongly believe that it is worth supporting. MIDI guitars are far behind MIDI pianos, despite the fact that there are probably more guitarists as guitars are more convenient, size wise and price wise. A cheap guitar is not as bad as a cheap piano (whether acoustic or electric). Having a MIDI device, whether a piano or a guitar, is like having an instrument for all instruments. Looking at youtube videos of the Roland GR/GK series may give you an idea of what can be done with a MIDI guitar.

I won’t be buying right away when the YRG Pro is released though. Primarily due to my room running out of space. I’m also the type who waits for feedback from initial buyers. And depending on how much it turns out, I’m not sure yet whether a Roland GR/GK might be a better choice. And there are also shipping and import tax considerations in my location. It will be made of wood. That’s heavier. I’m also worried that the neck might no longer be detachable. One thing I really like with the YRG-1000 is how it easily fits in a normal school bag. I also personally don’t know how playable is the Gen 2 YRG. The YRG Pro will be using the same Gen 2 pickup, so maybe its improvements wont matter to me and I might instead settle for a Gen2.

Anyway, I think the picks and earphones are not bad as rewards for a little gamble on technology. And these little stuff, although commonly taken for granted, are very practical. I might make backing interesting projects a new hobby just for the fancy gifts (and the greater good), even without motive of acquiring the actual product being developed. I may still have doubts about the YRG Pro in this particular case, but it is still fun to have supported the Inspired Instruments team in a small way.

Categories: Music making Tags: , ,

A media player with waveform view? (foobar2000)

November 12, 2012 8 comments

Anyone who has worked with an audio editor like Audacity or Traverso DAW would know that for something normally invisible like sound, a picture really paints a thousand words. Even if you’re the casual soundcloud listener, you know right away from the waveform when a sound will be loud or silent. If you are transcribing or learning a song, scrolling through the waveform is much more intuitive than just looking at the track time. It may also come in handy if you want to quickly inspect the samples in an sfz or kontakt instrument.

Nonetheless, despite its usefulness, many popular media players (e.g. VLC, Windows Media Player) do not have such a feature. After all, a normal person is not likely going to stare at a sound player. Perhaps this is why soundcloud has its waveform view. To keep your attention. Imagine soundcloud using horizontal scrollbars instead. Ew…

As I have been editing tracks and samples recently, I thought that seeing the waveforms of songs I regularly listen to might improve my skills and intuition. Although I can somehow use Audacity for this purpose it is not designed as a player that will go through your play lists. You have to wait a little for it to load a file.

foobar2000 waveform

foobar 2000 with a wave seek bar component.

Fortunately, there is an audio player that has this capability, foobar2000. I’ve already been using foobar2000 for its other praised features such as playing an audio file unadulterated. But I haven’t dug into it’s menus and preferences to notice that it has a spectrogram visualization. Foobar’s shipped spectrogram is not exactly what I had in mind though. It’s too quick as it is zoomed into a fraction of a second. For something with a wider view, similar to soundcloud’s visualization, use wave seek bar component instead. It also allows you to jump to different regions of a track, visually, instead of blind trial and error as with most media players.

Did I mention that foobar2000 is an “audio player?”. Yes, we’ve gotten so used to “media players” playing both audio and video, but this is not really necessary. Of course a video player must also be able to play the audio contained in the video file so it is just thoughtful to extend this feature to videos without pictures. But there are audiophile developers who would rather make a great audio player than have something generic for both. And since there is a tight competition with all the good media players out there, chances are, you’ll get one for free.

Categories: Music making