Sep 23, 2009 New compositions
My new song is called Come Home and is based on a sample DVD that has many short clips of vocals. So if the vocals sound familiar, it’s because many people have used them, but the song as a whole is still what the composer makes it.
All in all, using vocal samples is much like a collage. It’s about arranging the clips such that they don’t sound like a radio commercial.
Sep 11, 2009 New compositions
I told you I’m into Vocaloid, the singing computer. Today’s track is a song based on Vocaloid, in the sense that it inspired me to write some music I would never write without it, even if I had a real singer.
It’s a simple song, in that it consists of a bass, keyboard and a singing voice. The voice is computer generated, as said, so don’t expect too much from a performance point of view. The power of Vocaloid is in its compositional usefulness. There’s only so much you can ask from a real singer, but with Vocaloid you can experiment endlessly.
The song consists of two and three part counterpoint (counterpoint is several melody lines sounding together) and I know that if I want to be Bach, I will have to write five or six part counterpoint. I tried four parts, but that obscured my melodic intentions and I find two and three parts more effective for my style.
Because I tend towards a melodic way of writing, I assume that my melodies have more movement in pitch, per unit time, leading to the harmony being more defined. Writing more than three parts would then over-define the harmony, because there has to be an aspect of suggestion, as opposed to using every note in the chord. The latter would be too unambiguous and therefore uninteresting, but I’m not a musicologist.
The voice you hear on the track is that of an opera singer, and it’s evident that many classical singers nowadays are familiar with modern styles such as jazz. The song isn’t jazz, but it does have a jazzy flavour, perhaps because of the bass (I’ve always been interested in the jazz bass) or because it has some dissonants that may be more proper to jazz than to classical music.
For the keyboard part I used a synthesizer sound, but an acoustic or electric piano will do just as well. For the keyboard part all that is required is a one-armed pianist, because the part has no chords, just melodies.
The song has a few bars that require a background singer.
A couple of months ago I wrote on my art blog about a former music teacher who complained about the weird harmony I wrote (at 17), because it conflicted with my desire to reach the mainstream audience. All popular music consists of I-IV-V chord schemes, but I interjected that the composer can arrange his music such that the mainstream audience can understand unorthodox harmony. On my blog I conceded, but now I’m on the offence.
It appears that my music is better liked than I anticipated, which can only mean people understand it. In fact, the same situation exist on the painting part of the equation.
The song I’m talking about is called “Tell Me”. It’s essentially lyricless, because I’m not into that. I just keyed in some words to make Prima sing. Prima is a the name of the computer voice. The voice is that of a real person, but it seems she wants to be anonymous as a vocaloid.
The song, at long last, can be downloaded here:
….and always from the sidebar on the right of each page of this music blog.
Your speakers or ear phones HAVE to HAVE a strong enough bass sound, or else half of my music will elude you.
Sep 1, 2009 Music
I have used computers since 1980 and samples since 1990, but the most impressive piece of music related technology I’ve ever laid my hands on is Vocaloid. As a software instrument it’s still in the infancy of its development, because the text-to-speech aspect still leaves something to be desired in comparison with reality, so it cannot model a voice as realistically as a multi-sample can model a violin, for instance.
The true power of Vocaloid lies elsewhere, though. It begins with the concept of a multi-sample. In the old days a sound recording was taken of, for instance, a voice, which could be reproduced by pressing a key on a keyboard. If the singer had sang an A note, at say, 440Hz, and you would press the 440Hz A key on your keyboard, then the sound would be natural. If you pressed a key higher on the keyboard, then the sample would be transposed upward and the singer’s voice would sound if he were on helium. Multi-samples solved that problem, because recordings are made at every possible pitch, resulting in a package of short sound recordings that comprises the multi-sample. Then, a different sound recording (sample) is associated with each key on your keyboard. A multi-sample even consists of samples for different velocities, so if you press a key hard, you get a different sample than on a soft touch.
What this actually does is record the behaviour of an instrument or a singer. Each singer will produce a different set of multi-samples, even if their voices were identical, because each singer will respond differently to requests like: “Now sing a little louder, please”. I’m sure this is an uneducated, simplified interpretation of the actual technology, but I’m trying the set the stage for why I think the Vocaloid is so useful.
So, the Vocaloid takes the concept of recording a singer’s behaviour many steps further.
The data from the score file is sent to the synthesis engine, which draws on the phonetic and expression databases to create the track. To sing the word part, for example, the software combines four elements from the phonetic database: p (as it sounds at the beginning of a word), p-ar (the transition from p to ar), ar-t (the transition from ar to t), and t (as it sounds at the end of a word). The two ar elements are blended together, and the resulting vowel a is lengthened to accommodate the melodic line.
So the individual characteristics of the way the singer pronounces words is recorded, but also his style of singing and musical habits. This information is then stored in a database.
The mindblowing, fascinating aspect of Vocaloid is that this database is all-revealing. It says something about the singer’s cultural background, her musical background and even her personality. The thing with a Vocaloid is that it’s totally manipulable. You can make it sing and say anything you want, bringing out all the contents of the database. You can play with the musical style of the singer, how she reacts to various musical circumstances, revealing, as said, her musical background. Vocaloid Prima, for instance, was modelled after an opera singer and you can clearly hear the enormously rigorous and disciplined musical education she had. You can also hear that she’s a much more complicated person than Vocaloid Miriam (modelled after well-known singer Miriam Stockly).
Although Prima is an opera singer, she doesn’t have a big voice. It sounds a lot darker than Miriam and menacing, like Maria Callas. In classical music it has become fashionable to sound “jazzy”, with very clear, overtone-free soprano voices, turning a singer into a walking sinus wave. Prima, fortunately, has a very rich, complex voice.
For jazzy stuff Miriam is perfect and he has a very captivating, light sounding voice, very Northern, as opposed to Prima and Lola, the third female Vocaloid. Lola has a dark, clear voice, well-suited to pop music. I know that I will eventually buy all Vocaloids, because I’m hooked.
The thing with a Vocaloid is that as a music producer you get a very intimate relationship with the voice in question. The Vocaloid’s database contains such a wealth of information, that it’s Orwellian. The best way to immortalize youself is to have yourself Vocaloided, because the database will have your personality.
For me, as a musician, Vocaloid presents the opportunity to write songs, not just instrumental pieces, and to explore all the musical aspects of the singing voice in general and the individual singers in particular, all in a few mouse clicks. As opposed to a real singer, you can make a Vocaloid do anything, use her musical experience and explore musical pathways that are completely new.
The technology behind Vocaloid is Yamaha’s but the sound recordings of Prima, Miriam, Lola and Leon were done by Zero-G. They ask their customers for suggestions on what kind of voice they’d like to be modelled next, but I’d be more interested in: WHOSE voice? Because to me Vocaloid is about the individual musician, not about their kind.
I’d like Rihanna to be Vocaloided, because she’s such a musical talent.
With software like Vocaloid and EZdrummer you have more than sounds at your disposal, you can use the musicianship of the people that make it. The classical experience of Prima, or the clarity of mind of David Haynes on EZdrummer’s Jazz expansion pack. The more musicians realize this, the more music software producers will build their software around individual musicians, rather than around sounds or styles.