Saturday, August 06, 2016

Synch or swim

I’ve been attempting to improve my playing by the traditional method: practice. For grins mainly, I’ve posted some of my attempts on YouTube under my human alias, with a mixture of recorders and EWI, along with the computer playing along.

The rather splendid MuseScore website carries what appears to be crowdsourced sheet music, and a free download to read and to write music manuscript, and then to arrange it for bagpipes and taiko drum if you like, although I’ve generally been sticking to flute and strings and rearranging for recorder of playing along.

Telemann’s Canonic Sonata No.1 Allegro, for example, has two flutes playing the same tune with Flute 2 exactly one bar (two beats) behind Flute 1. I turned off Flute 2 and played that part, with Flute 1 and the scrolling sheet music being handled by the computer. The sound was all picked up by the computer’s internal microphone and the webcam captured the video to prove that it was actually Muggins playing.

The other software I use is the free Audacity, which captures just the sound and records it on one channel. Subsequent recordings go on separate channels that can then be edited for volume and timing, and the whole thing mixed. Multi-part playing becomes possible.

My video editing software is the free version of Cyberlink Power Director, so I can, at least theoretically, cut video of my playing each track into a single video file.

That’s a lot of skills to learn: playing, reading music, video capture, audio capture, video editing, audio editing…

Now on to the technicalities of audio capture.

The computer’s internal microphone is appalling. It’s designed for basic voice capture so that Skype is possible. I tried an external hand-held microphone, but that’s simply not sensitive enough. Instrument-mounted mics are both expensive and Not Coming in Doha™. Any noise gets picked up while recording,which includes all the other tracks that are playing, plus the air conditioning, plus any random bleeps and pings if the computer reports any incoming messages, virus alerts, yadda yadda.

One possible solution is to follow the sheet music and play in silence, and have the computer pick up just the line being played. Synching multiple lines then becomes impossible because real rhythm tends to drift without some audio feedback. It does when I’m playing, and I’ve got a good enough sense of rhythm to play drums. A metronome gets picked up on the same audio track and can’t be removed. Another approach is to play along to the other parts, but to pipe these into an earpiece so that I can hear what I’m playing with one ear, hear what the computer’s playing with the other, watch the sheet music, and capture only my live instrument.

Theoretically plugging in an acoustic instrument can work with a flute mic that’ll only pick up what a wind instrument is producing without all the ambient noise. Expensive and Not Coming in Doha™(q.v.)

It’s all a little easier with the EWI. I can plug the output from that instrument directly into the computer as if it’s an external mic. When I play the synch track through the computer I can hear it, but the computer only records what is coming out of the EWI. But because nothing is easy, I can’t hear what I’m playing. So I have to plug the EWI into a separate speaker. I’ve got a Fender Mustang Mini practice amp, so I use that. It’s the one I use for playing when I’m not using headphones and am disinclined to show consideration to my neighbours.

The net result, once I’ve made separate clean audio recordings of each line and separately captured each as audio and video, I can mix the audio and then add that to the video tracks. I do need to get all the video playback speeds exactly right so that audio and video match, and this is proving a challenge. Perhaps I need to pay for better video editing software, or learn how to use the package I’ve got.

The other thing, which is actually pivotal to success, is learning how to play the bluddy instruments!


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