I’ve recently upgraded to the new Logic Pro X that Apple released and have found new interest in exploring the world of the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Logic always has been an awsome product, aimed at pros. It’s comparable to Photoshop in it’s power and learning curve for example. Compared to Version 9 the new interface looks a lot nicer and seems to flow between functions better. The new virtual drummer is pretty cool too ( also in GB)
What I like most though is the way DAW’s show off the advances in computing over the years. Growing up in the 80’s I had exposure to all sorts of electronic musical gadgetry, from the Casio SK-1, to the Atari ST with the original Steinberg sequencer, to the Yamaha MSX computer with FM Synth and MIDI built in, even sampling add ons and sequencer software for the ZX Spectrum.( I struggled with lessons on an old honky tonk piano for a while as well LOL) I’ve only really recently splashed out on a ‘proper’ (digital) Piano and have made some advances in reading Music and playing.
Technology seems to have moved on rapidly and we’ve been through all the iterations of improved musical keyboards with digital sampled and physically modeled sounds, hardware accelerated wavetable sound cards and now of course every thing is done in software . The Mac comes suitably equipped with digital and analoge audio I/O , so you don’t really need any thing other than Logic ( or Garageband) to start making music. Infact you have a complete recording studio including a vast library of pre-recorded Loops at your disposal.
Apple Loops are a key feature of GB/Logic which seem to possess magical powers, all hidden in plain site. ‘How on earth can recorded Audio snippets have their Key/ Tempo and pitch tranparently changed on the fly ? ‘you may ask. What is this magic ? Well the secret is that Logic detects ‘Transients’ ( the beat basically) and can use sophisticated algorithms to actually stretch, shrink and alter the sound to suit. This technology is presumably also what enables the flex-pitch and flex-time features, which posses seemingly magical and amazing abilities to fix out of time/ pitch live performances. You really have to see it to believe it.
I’ve been reading a couple of ‘future thinking’ books ( The Second machine age and Abundance ) and there are some recurring themes here. ( Bare with me ) Firstly they talk about the exponential nature of Moore’s law. Basically you double the amount of computing’ bang for you Buck’ every 18 months. It turns out that Exponential growth patterns have a strange habit of catching people out though. Bring on a story involving rice, an Emperor and the Chess board. ( Google it !) So any way, my point here is that we are now at a stage where we are in ‘the second half of the chess board’ and what this means is that CPU and Storage is going to get scarily cheap.
Here is where I think Digital Audio Workstation software is a great demo of technology. With multi core CPU’s we can now emulate multiple effects and instruments with out breaking a sweat. We can apply mind boggling DSP effects on the fly using general purpose processors and in fact we are seeing a shift towards mobile app use .
The books also talk about the democratisation of technology by the processes of De-materialisation and Digitisation. In a DAW concept it’s not hard to see these in action. Effects units and mixer hardware that would have taken up a whole room of black boxes are now emulated in Software. Logic comes with 40Gb of sampled sounds ( drums, music loops etc ) So we see that CPU and storage go hand in hand. Much as Google draws it’s power not from any sort of clever AI, but from being able to do what computers are really good at… search information. We see that the drop in cost of CPU and Storage begins to make the impossible possible.
What was that ‘Acid House Music’ thing all about ?
A question which often popped into my head as I hung out with my Skid Row T-Shirt wearing buddies. As a diversion, in my studies of Synthesis in Logic I’ve stumbled upon the answer. It’s to do with an electronic Bass line machine called the Roland TB-303, originally intended as an automated accompaniment for musicians. It turns out that it’s over engineered knobs and settings were better suited to making the crazy Acid house looping sounds though. I never knew that, but it explains a lot to someone who definitely missed that particular ‘musical boat’ !