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Old 01-08-2013, 12:51 PM   #1
DaneM
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Linux software to use virtual instruments for midi sequencing?


Hello.

I'm a composer. I've been using the (wonderful!) program, MuseScore, to notate music and play it back with midi. This is fine for composition purposes, but not for releasing music to the public, since even good midi samples tend to sound very artificial. More importantly, this program (or perhaps the samples/midi backend) is unable to articulate things like pitch bending, tapering dynamics, etc.

I'm aware that ProTools (and others) can use "Virtual Instruments" to accomplish this--and even be nearly indistinguishable from actual instruments. Audacity seems unable to use midi/score input to control its virtual instruments (not yet implemented). I'm about to give Ardour a shot, but I've been having trouble getting a bead on "what it can ACTUALLY do," via the Internet, and am not sufficiently experienced with the program to know if I'm being inept or if the program doesn't support what I want.

Has anyone managed to use notation software (MuseScore) or its midi output to control believable virtual instruments on Linux? How?

(I'd like to release a free "album" in the near future, and have gotten some demand for independent film scoring, but lack enough instrumentalist buddies to pull this off, presently.)

Thanks for any help you can provide.

--Dane
 
Old 01-08-2013, 05:12 PM   #2
lykwydchykyn
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Making a virtual instrument "believable" is an art unto itself, quite apart from the particular OS or software being used, but you're not likely to accomplish it with a program like MuseScore, which is mostly meant for notation and plays back the music mainly as a point of reference.

Ardour's current 2.x version is strictly for audio recording/mixing; it doesn't have MIDI tracks or the ability to use software synthesizers. I think I heard that version 3 is adding this, but I'm not sure. You might want to look at Rosegarden 4, which can use software synthesizers, but if your goal is emulating acoustic instruments realistically, you'll want to investigate a sampler software and find some good (possibly commercial) samples.

What instruments do you want to emulate realistically?

Last edited by lykwydchykyn; 01-08-2013 at 05:13 PM.
 
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Old 01-08-2013, 06:06 PM   #3
DaneM
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Thanks for your reply, lykwydchykyn.

Yes, I know that digital samples tend not to sound terribly realistic, even if they're not simple midi. (I'm a guitarist, so this is particularly poignant to my ears with regard to that instrument.) Nevertheless, I have friends who use ProTools to make orchestral scores (and generate audio for them) that I can't always tell is digital. Examples:

http://www.reverbnation.com/play_now/song_7016185

I think that some of this is commercial samples--but it's obviously better than what midi can do. :-)

I looked into Rosegarden for score notation long ago, but never used its synthesis features beyond playing back notes. Can it do true "virtual instruments?"

I just read that Ardour version 3 can do SOME midi-controlled stuff, but the developer(s) has apparently banned all beta packaging, and allows only svn access, requiring some libs with uninstallable dependencies in order to compile. :-p (I'm attempting to deal with that...)

Instruments I've already written for, such as will need emulating:

guitar (electric/distorted, accoustic, classical, jazz--since my chops just aren't good enough, presently)
electric bass guitar
trumpet
tenor sax
organ
piano (less of an issue, since the midi isn't too bad)
vocals ("ooo" and "aah" samples, etc.)
drumkit
orchestral drums


Thanks for your interest in helping me. :-)

--Dane
 
Old 01-09-2013, 01:42 AM   #4
lykwydchykyn
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Rosegarden will do midi-controlled software synthesizers -- DSSI's, if memory serves. There's also LADSPA v2 (sometimes abbreviated LV2) software synthesizers. Almost none of these will emulate the instruments you're after.

It's been around ten years since I was last involved in anything approaching professional music production, and I haven't kept up with the state of the art. If they've replaced MIDI with something better, I haven't heard about it. I wasn't sure what "virtual instruments" are, at least not by that terminology; so I googled it, and AFAICT it's just another term for software synthesizer, which is just a MIDI synth implemented in software. Those have been around since the 90's, though I'm sure the quality has improved.

What I can tell you is that I haven't seen anything on Linux that we didn't have on other platforms ten years ago, at least fundamentally (granted, it's free on Linux and the quality is "as good or better" than what I had), and that the selection of software synthesizers is pretty lacking. You can probably get better samples or patch sets than what Muse is using (probably the default Timidity set, which is apallingly bad), and with some careful programming and attention to detail get some pretty realistic results.

But nothing is going to just take an electronic score and make a realistic performance, at least not for free and not on Linux. Here's my take on the feasiblity of the instruments you mentioned:

- Emulating organs is trivial, and there are several softsynths that do a decent job.
- Emulating a piano is also pretty trivial, if you get a good sample set.
- Emulating drums is its own art, on which I long ago wrote a detailed tutorial you can find here: http://www.alandmoore.com/ramblings/...TheoryOfDP.htm
- Emulating guitars is rarely satisfactory IME. If your chops aren't up to the parts, record them piecemeal and edit them together after the fact.
- Bass guitar is doable, but loses a lot and you have to be careful with the parts. I can handle a bass so I never did much bass guitar emulation.
- Emulating vocals -- only if you want to sound like 1987. If there's one thing that will NEVER fool people, it's a phony human voice. This is what our ears were designed for.
- Orchestral drums are usually easy if you just grab a high-quality set of samples. Rolls are hard to pull of convincingly without a lot of tweaking, but just timpany/cymbal/bass drum hits are easy.
- Brass/wind instruments: again, get some really nice samples with some character, and don't overdo it. Sax hits, yes; brass pad, yes; trombone solo, NO.

I don't know if this helps or if I'm just late-night ranting like an old fuddy-duddy, but that's my once-upon-a-time semi-pro synth programmer/composer/producer experience. Make what you will of it.
 
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Old 01-09-2013, 03:43 PM   #5
DaneM
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Thanks a lot, lykwydchykyn! This is a good explanation of what I was looking for. It looks like you're right about what's available on Linux: some semi-decent midi sample sets, but nothing special.

VIs I've heard can do some amazing stuff (and yes, they're surely just samples with a lot of bells and whistles added). They actually do a very convincing job of things like non-verbal singing (such as African chants, "fantasy movie" obbligatos, etc.), but they'll likely never to verbal singing convincingly in foreseeable decades. I think the only things they can do that typical MIDI can't--that I really care about--are pitch-bending and tapering dynamics. MIDI does p, pp, fff, etc. find, but fade-ins/outs are simply not played.

Thanks for your take on instrument synthesis feasibility! I'd gathered a few of those tips on my lonesome, but I certainly hadn't figured them all out. I'll take a look at your tutorial for the drums, as the (virtual) ones I've been using are extremely "limp." The orchestral bass drum sounds like a particularly weak kick drum (and uses the same sample, as far as I can tell). :-(

I'll look further into this, but I think you've set me on the right path (at least until some better stuff comes to Linux).

Thanks again!

--Dane
 
Old 01-09-2013, 04:31 PM   #6
lykwydchykyn
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DaneM View Post
I think the only things they can do that typical MIDI can't--that I really care about--are pitch-bending and tapering dynamics. MIDI does p, pp, fff, etc. find, but fade-ins/outs are simply not played.
Technically MIDI *can* do these things, but it's unlikely that this was taken into account in Muse, since it's mostly for scoring, not creating realistic performances.

I haven't worked with Rosegarden extensively (since getting back into Music post-Linux-conversion, I haven't wanted to do any synth programming, just playing), but I'd imagine it can program curves for MIDI volume, aftertouch, pitchbend, modulation, and all that. If you do some of that, you can get more realistic performances. The rest is having a good set of samples, paying close heed to ambiance, and introducing some "humanization" with subtle variations here and there.

Hope the recording is fun and productive!
 
Old 01-10-2013, 12:21 PM   #7
DaneM
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Fascinating. I'll give Rosegarden another shot, then! Thanks!
 
  


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