Archive for the ‘audio interfaces’ Category

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Noel Gallager and Focusrite combine for TCT live sessions

April 1, 2009

Oasis songwriter teams up with Focusrite and Gareth Johnson to record and mix live sound for Teenage Cancer Trust…

Noel Gallagher Teenage Cancer Trust gig

Noel Gallagher at his Teenage Cancer Trust gig

Gareth Johnson is no stranger to recording live music. For years now he’s been drafted in for live mixing duties for the likes of Kasabian, The Who, Kaiser Chiefs and Duffy. Now he’s adding Noel Gallagher to a CV that’s littered with A-listers from the cream of major record labels and a stack of independents too.

For the last four years Gareth has also been involved with the Teenage Cancer Trust (TCT) gigs, an annual outing for the charity that sees them pack the Royal Albert Hall (RAH) for a week of stellar performances from some of the biggest stars of the day.

As a part of raising awareness for the week-long festival, which kicked off  March 24th, Gareth has been drafted in to capture the sound of rock‘n’roll once again.

To coincide with this year’s concerts, Noel Gallagher released the recordings of his performance at TCT RAH in 2007. The Oasis singer and songwriter performed a selection of Oasis’ greatest songs, as well as some of his favourite tracks by other artists, including There Is A Light That Never Goes Out by The Smiths and Butterfly Collector with Paul Weller.

The new live disc, The Dreams We Have As Children, was released digitally and as an exclusive covermounted 11-track CD with The Sunday Times.

Over the years Gareth has become a tour-de-force on the live circuit, assembling a rig that he can rely on to get the best results – the artists he’s recording are global superstars, so there can be no compromise and no second takes.

Gareth and his Liquid Mix

Gareth and his Liquid Mix

“To capture the performance we use Focusrite Octopre preamps. I chose them because they’re reliable and neutral enough to leave scope for a wide range of mix options.”

“Then for mixdown, I need to be able to instantly recall settings on complex mixes with high track counts, which is where Focusrite’s Liquid Mix comes into its own. Working with racks of traditional outboard on projects like this would be a massive pain, but with Liquid Mix it’s just not an issue.”

“Basically Liquid Mix has revolutionised the mix process by enabling me to introduce some great tones and colour into my mixes. No patchbays, no dodgy cables – just a virtual rack stocked full of the finest outboard known to man!”

Using Liquid Mix also means I can keep costs to an absolute minimum, which is essential when working with the TCT. So the whole rig consists of Focusrite Octopres at the front end, then into the Macbook Pro (and Logic) before bringing in the Liquid Mix. Finally I run the audio through an external 16 channel summing box before taking a stereo mix back into the computer. Of course good monitoring is always important, and for this I use my trusted KRKs.

“The Liquid Mix is a real solution for a very real problem. Yes, of course I want bottomless pockets to buy loads of great outboard for my studio, but that’s just not going to happen. I can, however, afford the Liquid Mix, which is much more convenient and packs just as much of a punch. Ultimately, what we have here is a revolutionary product.”

“Dynamic convolution is a great asset in the studio. I own a few of the units that have been emulated on Liquid Mix, and while it’s nice to look at a rack full of expensive outboard gear, in the context of a large multi-track mix you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the emulation and the real thing.”

“Liquid Mix is a great way to get character, colour and tone into your mix, and really useful for getting elements to jump out in the mix. I used API 550b emulations on the guitars, I love the 1176 on the vocal, while for the strings I opted for the Massive Passive emulation. Then I used the SSL G series comp to glue the mix together. And the results? Well, they’re just awesome.”

Links:

Liquid Mix at Dolphin

Teenage Cancer Trust website

Oasis Myspace page

The Complete Noel Gallagher Gear Guide

To view Oasis gear available at Dolphin Music, please visit the Oasis Artist Page

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Make Your Own Multitouch Screens: Max Multitouch Framework

March 24, 2009

The idea : control max user interface directly within a multitouch screen. This “framework” consists in a set of max abstractions. to “multitouchize” a patch, you just need to place an “mmf.interface” abstraction in your patch, and add to presentation mode and give a name to all the UI object you wish to control with your multitouch screen… and that’s all ! MMF will do the rest… to talk about MMF, repport bugs, request features, share patches.

Max Multitouch Framework by composer Mathieu Chamagne makes turning your Max patch into a multitouch interface a breeze. When I first reviewed the Lemur, I was frustrated by the hardware-style abstraction between your software and the interface. Why was I having to go through Max patches painstakingly assigning Lemur controls to Max controls – why not just make the Max controls appear on the multitouch screen? Well, that’s exactly what you get with MMF. Using a set of Max abstractions, all you have to do is build your Presentation Mode style UI and add in the MMF ingredients – it automagically becomes touchable on a variety of displays.

It’s not hard to imagine how great this could be for musicians, especially those who have already been building original sonic creations in Max/MSP. Best of all, you don’t need an expensive, non-portable table with a projector inside, either – commodity hardware works just fine right now.

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Livid’s Ohm64: Love Child of a Monome and a DJ-VJ Mixer Controller?

March 20, 2009

Look out, Akai APC40. There’s another contender in the emerging Controller With Lots of Buttons And Also Faders and Knobs and Crossfader product category. Livid’s Ohm64 combines the light-up button grid with faders, knobs, trigger buttons, and most importantly, unique customization options and a lovely wooden case. What’s unique about this one:

  • High-end materials: anodized aluminum faceplate, “immersion gold-platted circuit boards” (guess that’s circuit bling), an optional wooden body (aluminum is available, as well, but wood is more fun).
  • Not mass-market: hand-assembled, small-production Austin creation.
  • Fully class-compliant, no drivers (also true of the APC as far as I know, but nice – and ideal for Linux, too, in case you want to run this with a netbook or a Pd-running souped-up *nix laptop)
  • Open-source, customizable MIDI talkback: when you’re ready to customize just how those LEDs light up, there are included open source tools and fully programmable MIDI mapping

Bonus: it comes with a powerful, full-featured VJ app in the box, Cell DNA, though of course you can use it with anything you like.

The real story to me is the customization. Whereas the APC40 is entirely proprietary in design, has evidently limited MIDI mappings, and a mysterious mechanism for programming two-way communication, the Ohm64 is open, open source, and software-agnostic. If the open source thing catches on, that could mean a community of friendly folk thinking of smart ways to reprogram this thing for different apps. Ironically, that means that in the long run, the Ohm64 could wind up with better Ableton Live integration than the hardware Ableton chose to back – though all bets are off until we get these devices in our hands.

I would say the APC is probably more direct competition for the Ohm64 than the Monome, despite the 8×8 light-up buttons. The Monome is much lighter and slimmer, it takes a minimalist approach (no big knobs or faders), and uses OpenSoundControl in place of MIDI. The Ohm64 seems likely to appeal to those who weren’t Monome fans, and visa versa. And some lucky ducks are naturally going to own both.

But the important thing is that the Ohm64 joins the Monome in its crusade for open-source customization of a commercial product. Whatever the Ohm64 is when it ships, it’s that question of what people can do with it that may determine its real value. I have no doubt people will be reverse engineering the APC40, too — starting with figuring out how to fake the hardware “handshake” it uses so other devices can emulate it in Live. But it’ll be interesting to see how these different philosophies pan out, so to speak.

We’ll keep you posted….

Souce:  Create Digital Music


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AKAI release Vintage Beat Machines for MPC

March 17, 2009

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Fat kicks and raw snares.

Vintage Beat Machines is a a sample library for MPCs containing all kinds of classic drums and percussion sounds. You’ll find some of the most common sounds, and some sounds you’ve likely never heard before. These sounds are from drum machines, beat and rhythm generators, and other synthesizers dating from the 1980s all the way back into the 1960s!

These sounds have the less-refined, more raw sound qualities that many producers prefer for their drums. Until now, building a library of these classic sounds has meant locating expensive and rare equipment – a time-consuming and costly process. With the Vintage Beat Machines Sample Pack for MPC, you’ll have everything you need in a single, affordable download.

According to the manufacturer, this sample pack works with all MPC models and contains samples and analog synthesis-based sounds from nearly all well-known units dating back to the 1960s.

This sample pack works with all MPC models and contains samples and analog synthesis-based sounds from more than 55 different beat machines.

  • Sample library for all MPC models
  • Classic drum and percussion sounds from drum machines, beat and rhythm generators, and other synthesizers
  • Less-refined, more raw sound qualities
  • Samples and analog synthesis-based sounds
  • Sound from from more than 55 different beat machines
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Upgrade any Microphone! Affordable XLR to USB Converter from Blue

March 11, 2009

Blue Icicle

The Icicle is Blue’s new stylish USB converter and mic preamp combo that allows you to connect any XLR microphone directly into your computer via USB! The Icicle features a studio quality microphone preamp, 48V phantom power, fully balanced low noise front end, analog gain control, and driverless operation.

THE BLUE ICICLE MICROPHONE IS HERE AT DOLPHIN!

Setup is a snap! The Blue Icicle works with both dynamic and condenser microphones, providing high quality and hassle-free connectivity with Mac or PC. Whether you’re using a microphone for digital recording, podcasting, voice messaging, or voice recognition applications, the Icicle is the quick and easy way to get connected.

Hook UP Diagram

Blue Icicle XLR to USB Mic Converter/Mic Preamp Specifications:

  • Sample/Word: 44.1K/16 bit
  • Power Consumption: 200mA (from USB bus)

System Requirements:

  • Macintosh: Mac OSX with USB 1.0 or 2.0 and 64 MB RAM (minimum)
  • Windows: XP Home Edition, Professional or Vista with USB 1.0 or 2.0 and 64 MB RAM (minimum)

Blue Icicle XLR to USB Mic Converter/Mic Preamp Features:

  • Works with Mac or PC computers
  • No Special Drivers Required
  • Studio Quality USB microphone preamp
  • Supplies 48V phantom power for . condenser microphones
  • Phantom power active light
  • Fully balanced low noise analog front end
  • Analog gain control
  • Blue Icicle XLR to USB Mic Converter/Mic Preamp Includes:

Includes 6-ft USB cable

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Apogee Dumps Windows, Tells Users Macs are Better

February 25, 2009

Maybe it was aesthetically incompatible with ugly PCs.

Apogee Electronics has just announced they’ve dropped support development for Windows. Now, that’s their prerogative – not least because customers who prefer using Windows can simply choose to buy their competitors’ products. But in a press release entitled “Apogee Discontinues Windows Support,” “Apogee Discontinues Windows Development,” Apogee decides to tell you why, if you’re using Windows, you’re using an inferior platform.

Correction: Apogee just sent an updated press release.

ATTENTION ALL RECIPIENTS: Correction to Apogee’s most recent press release titled “Apogee Discontinues Windows Support”.

IMMEDIATE: Please revise headline to read “Apogee Discontinues Windows Development”

Apogee Electronics will no longer develop products for the Microsoft Windows platform. Apogee has made this decision in order to focus all research, development, and support resources on the Apple platform with its unparalleled power and stability. Apple offers a wide range of affordable, powerful desktop and laptop solutions ideally suited for music creation and audio production.

This comes as no surprise, as Apogee’s interface line has already focused on the Mac. And, honestly, maybe that’s a good thing; the added focus could benefit Apogee as a small, boutique vendor.

More helpful advice if you are using Windows:

Windows users can obtain the Apogee sound by connecting Apogee converters to their Windows-compatible audio interface via AES, optical, or S/PDIF. Apogee technical support will continue to support legacy Windows configurations installed on Windows XP Service Pack 2.

Well, of course, that’s correct: if you’re just using Apogee for their converters, you can connect to Linux or FreeBSD or an Amiga or whatever you like, provided the audio interface itself has digital ins and drivers on your OS of choice.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think Apogee is free to do what they want. It also doesn’t speak well for Windows – it’s a vote against Windows as a platform and the costs of developing for and supporting it. But locking yourself to one platform has dangers, too. Apogee invested a lot of time and resources into supporting their Duet FireWire interface, only to see Apple drop FireWire from their non-Pro MacBook line.

Anecdotally and statistically (in surveys and server logs), we see about 40-50% of you using Windows. So, whatever Apogee’s opinion of the Mac platform’s merits, I don’t see this as making that market any less relevant. In fact, I expect the handful of vendors paying attention to Linux, too, could have an edge as platforms evolve over the coming years. Apogee may be better off focusing on the Mac, but that leaves some opportunities for those vendors supporting PCs.

Source: createdigitalmusic

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Akai MPK25 Portable Keyboard Controller with MPC Pads – Coming soon

February 20, 2009

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Portable performance and production.

The Akai Professional MPK25 is a portable keyboard controller with MPC production controls. Based closely on the MPK49, the first keyboard ever to feature MPC pads, the MPK25 scales down the keyboard by 24 keys and retains the utility, capability, and flexibility that makes the MPK49 one of the world’s hottest keyboards.

Its smaller, more portable size makes the MPK25 the perfect travel companion. Its small footprint can fit in your lap on the couch or on a plane, enabling you to create tracks whenever inspiration strikes. All you need is your laptop and the MPK25.

CREATIVE INPUT
MPK25 combines a 25-key keyboard and 12 genuine MPC pads. The keyboard is semi-weighted and features aftertouch for expressive melodic control. The MPC pads are pressure and velocity-sensitive to capture every nuance of your creative concepts. The pads can access four banks of sounds, so you have 48 samples at your fingertips with the touch of a button.

MPK25 places dedicated transport controls within your reach for easy control of some of the most important tracking and editing controls. The MPK25 has modulation and pitch-bend wheels for expressive musicality, and two assignable footswitch inputs enable you to connect an expression pedal or other continuous controller and a footswitch for momentary controls like patch change or start/stop.

Q-LINK COMMAND
One of the most important input devices on an MPC is its Q-Link assignable control section. The MPK25 gives you twelve virtual knobs and four virtual buttons that are assignable to control nearly any software parameter. You can control two different parameters per Q-Link thanks to the knobs’ dual-bank selection.

EXPRESSIVE ENGINE
Two technologies pioneered in the MPC series and built into the MPK series are MPC Note Repeat and MPC Swing. These note-modifying features can be heard in many of the most popular tracks over the last two decades. MPC Note Repeat is a capability that enables the MPK (or MPC) to automatically play a rhythm pattern, such as 16th notes on a hi-hat, for accuracy and speed of entry. MPC Swing is sometimes referred to as “the heart and soul of hip hop” because it turns perfectly aligned sequences into human feeling time alignments. You can specify exactly the degree and timing of swing you want to apply for the perfect feel.

On top of MPC technologies, the MPK25 has its own arpeggiator, which enables you to create quick, creative riffs in seconds.

MPK25 also has MPC Full Level and MPC 12-Level on its pads, as well as Tap Tempo and Time Division so you can nail the tempo, timing, and dynamics exactly as you hear them in your head.

COMPLETE SYSTEM
The MPK25 is a MIDI controller that sends its MIDI values over USB. It is bus powered, so all you need to connect and power the MPK25 is the supplied USB cable. Because it is MIDI compliant, the MPK25 works with most MIDI recording, sequencing, and performance software for musical performers from keyboard players to producers to DJs and even VJs!

The MPK25 comes with Ableton Live Lite Akai Edition, one of the most popular and powerful performance and production programs in the world. Ableton Live Lite enables musicians to spontaneously compose, record, remix, improvise, and edit musical ideas in a seamless audio/MIDI environment.

Create and perform anywhere with the MPK25. It’s the most expression you’ll find in a portable, convenient package.

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Alesis USB Pro Drum Kit – Professional USB Drumset

February 18, 2009

alesis-usb-pro-drum-kit

THE ONLY DRUMMER-FRIENDLY CONTROLLER
Just plug the Trigger|iO interface into your Mac or PC’s USB port, load up the included copy of FXpansion BFD Lite, and you’re ready to play. Because USB Pro Drum Kit is MIDI compatible, you can track a performance, and then go back afterward and tweak your sounds. Try that with acoustic drums!

USB Pro Drum Kit also opens up a new world of software including BFD, Toontrack, and Reason to drummers and producers looking for realistic drum performances.

ADVANCED DRUM PADS
USB Pro Drum Kit’s acoustic-feeling drum pads are built around 8? mylar drumheads and acoustic-dampening foam for quiet response. The snare and tom pads are dual-zone, enabling rimshot or rim-click sounds on the snare and additional sounds such as wind chimes, cymbals, gongs, and cowbells on the tom rims.

When they wear out, the drumheads can be replaced with any model you choose from any manufacturer. The heads are tunable with a standard drum key for adjustable tension and feel. The triple-flanged counterhoops are covered in removable, sound-reducing rubber sleeves, which further cut acoustic noise.

USB Pro Drum Kit includes a self-standing kick tower, to which any model of single or double-bass-drum pedal can be attached. The kick pad also features a tunable, 8? mylar playing surface.

CYMBALS WITH BUILT-IN TRIGGERS
USB Pro Drum Kit comes with our top-of-the-line SURGE Cymbal Pack with choke: the only serious choice in cymbals for triggering electronics. The kit comes with a 12? SURGE Hi-Hat Cymbal, a 13? SURGE Crash Cymbal with choke, and a 16? SURGE dual-zone Ride Cymbal with choke. Based around a true brass-alloy cymbal and coated with a clear sound-dampening layer, SURGE Cymbals feel like acoustic cymbals because they begin life as just that. The Crash and Ride cymbals feature large choke strips on the undersides for even more attention to accurate cymbal control. The Ride features dual-zone triggers for bell-clanging nuance. And the SURGE Hi-Hat Cymbal is continuously controllable using the included pedal.

alesis-surge-cymbals-300x187

SURE-GRIP HARDWARE
The fully adjustable rack is built of 1?-inch metal tubing, which is standard throughout the drum industry. It’s easy to expand USB Pro Drum Kit with any manufacturer’s clamps and mounts. All necessary clamps, professional ?-inch cables, and mounting hardware are included. All clamps adjust with the included drum key. Pad-mounting L-arms feature non-round arms to eliminate slippage from playing. All of the hardware on USB Pro Drum Kit is designed for sure grip and extensive adjustability.

No other drumset blends the realistic feel and touch, with the sonic and creative flexibility USB Pro Drum Kit.

Alesis USB Pro Drum Kit Features:

  • Five-piece electronic drumset: kick, snare, three toms, SURGE Hi-Hat, Crash, and dual-zone Ride Cymbals
  • 8? drum pads with tunable mylar drumheads for customizable feel
  • Brass-alloy SURGE cymbals are real cymbals with triggering
  • SURGE Cymbals feature exclusive sound-dampening layer to cut the acoustic noise
  • Dual-zone snare and tom pads enable access to a wide palette of sounds from a standard setup
  • Choke capability on SURGE Crash and Ride cymbals
  • Ultra-fast triggering and intuitive operation
  • Interface accommodates up to 10 inputs including continuous control hi-hat
  • Easy to expand with additional Alesis pads and SURGE Cymbals
  • Includes BFD Lite virtual drum-module with sound library
  • Practice quietly with headphones or connect to a PA to rock out loud

Alesis USB Pro Drum Kit INCLUDES:

  • Trigger|iO trigger-to-MIDI interface
  • 8? dual-zone snare pad
  • Three 8? dual-zone tom pads
  • Bass drum pad with tower and mount for single or double pedal (pedal not included)
  • SURGE 12? Hi-Hat Cymbal
  • SURGE 13? Crash Cymbal with choke
  • SURGE 16? dual-zone Ride Cymbal with choke
  • Continuous-control hi-hat pedal
  • Metal drum rack with 1?-inch tubing
  • Complete set of firm-grip hardware mounts
  • Complete set of connection cables
  • Drum key
  • Software CD with FXpansion BFD Lite
  • Owner?s manual

Alesis USB Pro Drum Kit Specifications:

  • USB Computer Interface
  • 10-1/4″ TRS Trigger Inputs
  • 1- 1/4″ TS input for Hi Hat Continuous control messages
  • 1- 1/4″ TRS input for up/down value footswitch
  • USB 1.1 Jack
  • 1 MIDI Output
  • 20- Presets (can be overwritten)
  • Controller remapping support
  • Trigger|iO Dimensions: 8.5 inch W x 5 inch D x 1.75 inch H
  • Trigger|iO Weight: 1 lb, 15 o
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Touch Mix iPhone deadmau5 DJ-Remix App, from Future Audio Workshop

February 17, 2009

Touch Mix is a simple music app for the iPhone and iPod touch that lets you play, mix, and remix ten exclusive tracks by producer deadmau5. Now, of course, you’re unlikely to grab this in order to DJ nothing but deadmau5. (The all-deadmau5, all-the-time approach?) But the app demonstrates that iPhone-only artist releases can be a whole lot more fun than just a few tracks and some static album artwork. And it also shows off what a handheld DJ interface could look like, with a pretty efficient one-screen-per-deck design that doesn’t overwhelm your fingertips.

Features:

  • Two players, two sets of playback controls
  • Interactive display warns you as the next track is queuing
  • Separate crossfader, volume
  • Effects: loop, filter, flange, delay
  • Adjustable speed, bpm
  • Scratch, back spin by touching live waveform

Yes, that’s quite a lot more than simply plopping in some static content. Just guessing, but I imagine we could see this app applied to other music, as well. (What you can’t do — yet — is bring in your own waveforms, which would make all the difference.)

Touch Mix is the work of Future Audio Workshop, the folks who brought us the lovely drag-and-drop, OpenSoundControl-compatible Circle synth. FAW’s Gavin Burke had a chat with us about how he thinks about design. (If Touch Mix isn’t meaty enough for you, you can use your iPhone or iPod touch to control Circle in real-time; you’ll find an app that works with the popular TouchOSC to ease setup.)

Visit Deadmau5 Profile here

from Create Digital Music

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GarageBand ’09: An in Depth Look

February 13, 2009

138701-garagebandmagicgb_original1

Make and learn music with the latest GarageBand

Unless you have an active interest in producing podcasts or creating a musical score, it’s likely you’ve opened GarageBand once and then never bothered with it again. Of all the programs that make up the iLife suite, none is more overlooked than this application. And, given its original focus, that’s not too surprising. Making music requires a skill not common in the general population of computer users.

Lessons are well presented and move quickly toward learning songs; multiple views in lessons; guitar amps and stomp boxes are intuitively presented and sound good; Magic GarageBand supports recording; interface reorganization makes it easier to locate features.

No MIDI control of stomp boxes; can’t have more than one GarageBand project open at a time; no improvement in notation printing from last version.

138701-garagebandproject_original

And so, with each version, Apple tries to explore a different angle, hoping to bring in a new audience for GarageBand. Two versions ago, with GarageBand 3 (), it was podcasting. In GarageBand ’08 (), Apple introduced Magic GarageBand, a feature that allows you to jam along with a canned band. With GarageBand ’09, the new lure is guitar and piano lessons—nine basic lessons for budding musicians as well as a handful of optional artist lessons for learning specific songs by such well-known musicians as Norah Jones, John Fogerty, and Sting.

Veteran GarageBand users who’ve already mastered their axes aren’t left out of the mix. Guitar players now have the opportunity to play through five newly modeled amplifiers and a host of stomp box audio effects. Players who were frustrated by Magic GarageBand’s inability to record what they noodled will be pleased to learn that recording is now part of the magic. And, regardless of who opens the application, users will discover a redesigned interface that makes existing features easier to find.
Lessons learned

The marquee feature of GarageBand ’09 is Learn to Play, the application’s basic and artist piano and guitar video lessons. GarageBand ’09 includes the first basic guitar and piano lessons. You can obtain eight additional free lessons for each instrument by choosing the Lesson Store entry in the New Project window, selecting the Basic Lessons tab, and then clicking the Download button next to the lessons you want to download from the Internet. Artist lessons are obtained similarly, but cost $5 each. Unfortunately, these lessons work only on Intel Macs with a dual-core processor, though the rest of GarageBand ’09 works with PowerPC-based Macs.

Each basic guitar and piano lesson is taught by “Tim,” an approachable instructor who begins with the physical layout of each instrument and, in later lessons, walks through the basics of playing the instruments. For the piano lessons this includes left and right hand notes and fingering, sharps and flats, rhythm, major and minor chords, and scales. The guitar lessons include basic major and minor chords, major and minor barre chords, strumming, single note melodies, and power chords.

Nearly every lesson ends with a song that you’re welcome to play along with. Each lesson also includes a Play section that allows you to play along with the teacher (and record what you play). The lessons are nicely produced, well paced, and presented in a way that you can easily zero in on exactly what you’d like to see. You can, for example, use the Mac’s number keys to switch views. In the piano lessons, nearly every view includes Tim at the top of the window and a keyboard at the bottom. But you can switch views to see the treble clef, bass clef, grand staff (both clefs), or chords in between Tim and the keyboard. In the guitar lessons, there’s Tim above and a fretboard below with switchable views that include guitar chord boxes, chords, tablature, and notation. Lefties can also change the orientation of the fretboard at the bottom of the screen.
You can view the instructor, instrument, and music in a variety of ways.

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When Tim plays, you can see what he’s playing reflected on the piano keyboard or fretboard at the bottom of the screen—when he places his third finger on E above middle C, for example, a blue 3 appears on the keyboard’s E key. It works similarly on the fretboard—when he fingers a chord, those frets associated with the chord gain a blue dot and the strummed strings vibrate.

When you plug a MIDI keyboard into your Mac, it becomes available to GarageBand, allowing you to play a piano sound within the lessons. If you’re using a guitar, you tell GarageBand whether you have an electric guitar plugged into an audio interface attached to your Mac or you’re using an acoustic guitar and a microphone. GarageBand will record it accordingly. You can switch on a metronome as well as slow down the speed of the music so it’s easier to play in time (when you adjust the tempo, Tim’s voice is muted). You can also change the sound mix, adjusting the teacher’s voice, teacher’s instrument, the band (and each instrument within the band), and the volume of your instrument. You can also loop sections of lessons so you can repeatedly practice them.

The Artist lessons are just as beautiful to look at and offer the same kind of interactivity. The teaching ability of the artists varies—some are more thorough instructors than others. Norah Jones, for example, speaks as if she’s had formal musical training and explains the way she voices her chords by describing their position (root, first, or second position). One Republic’s Ryan Tedder doesn’t offer this level of detail but rather shows you how he plays a particular chord. Sting assumes you know how to make more complex chords on the guitar and so simply tells you the chord names and shows you how to finger them. Not surprisingly, none of the artists completely agree on technique so you may see them do something—finger a chord, for example—that contradicts something Tim has taught you.

Some of the artist lessons are offered in both Simple and Advanced versions, allowing both beginning and experienced musicians to get some enjoyment from them. And each artist lesson includes a video of the artist speaking about the song or another subject close to their heart. (Norah Jones doesn’t touch on her song at all, for example, but rather discusses the advantage of hauling a relatively portable Wurlitzer electric piano to a gig versus the back-breaking Fender Rhodes.)
Getting you started

GarageBand’s approach to teaching piano and guitar is an intriguing one—providing enough information to have you playing a song as quickly as possible. It’s a great approach for giving nascent players the kind of success they need to keep at it, but there are compromises as well. Some subjects aren’t covered very deeply and, of course, there’s no one standing over you to check on what you’re doing. But depth isn’t what Learn to Play is about. Rather, it’s a starting point for learning to learn how to play.

Fortunately, you have other choices as GarageBand ’09 isn’t the only instructional game in town. You can get more in-depth computer-based lessons from iPlayMusic, iPerform3D, and eMedia Music. And iVideosongs offers some beautifully filmed artist lessons. (I discuss some of these and other instructional methods in Learn to Play an Instrument.) Of course, there’s still no substitute for a real teacher who can give you customized assignments based on your ability.
Rock on

In previous versions of GarageBand, you could play real instruments through the program’s amplifier simulations (or apply those simulations after the fact) as well as apply effects to that instrument. But many people missed these features as they weren’t easy to find. GarageBand ’09 includes interface changes that make many features more obvious (as I discuss later), and none more so than the guitar amps and effects. Not only did GarageBand’s designers bring these guitar features to the fore, but they completely rebuilt the amps and effects from the ground up.

These features are found in the new Electric Guitar tracks. These tracks are real instrument tracks that place one of five amp models (modeled after Marshall, Mesa Boogie, Vox, and Fender Combo and Tweed amps) front and center. You can easily change amps as well as adjust the settings of each amp—the amps carry knobs for adjusting Gain, Bass, Mids, Treble, Presence, Master, Output, Reverb, Tremolo Rate, and Tremolo Depth. (Those who find adjusting virtual knobs clumsy with a mouse will be happy to learn that you can click on a knob and then twist it by moving a mouse’s scroll wheel up or down.) You can also edit the amp’s master echo and reverb settings. The work that went into these amp models is apparent—they sound very much like the real deal, complete with noise when you’ve cranked them up.

The new Electric Guitar tracks support modeled amps and stomp box effects.

Electric Guitar tracks use stomp box effects—effects modeled after the small effect boxes that routinely litter the floor around electric guitar players. Stomp boxes include Phaser, Overdrive, Distortion, Fuzz, Chorus, Flanger, Vibrato, Filter, Delay, and Sustain. You can have as many as five stomp boxes at a time and changing the position of where the stomp boxes appear in the interface changes the sound coming from the track (so the boxes work in serial order). Each stomp box includes an On/Off switch as well as knobs for adjusting the parameters of the effect. The stomp boxes also sound very much like the real deal.

You’re welcome to create your own arrangement of amps and stomp boxes, but before you do you might care to try one of the 37 included presets. If you want to sound like The Edge from the early ’90s, for example, choose Dublin Delay. Dick Dale wannabes can dial in Surf, which features the Combo amp with a fair bit of amp reverb and tremolo and a Sustain stomp box.

Before you toss your outboard gear in favor of GarageBand’s amps and stomp boxes, note this crucial omission—like much of the rest of GarageBand, amps and stomp boxes can’t be controlled via MIDI, and that’s a shame. Guitar players like to kick in effects as they play and the only way to do that in GarageBand ’09 is to take your hand off the guitar and click a stomp box’s virtual buttons. You can control parameters for stomp box effects after the fact using GarageBand’s automation controls, but it’s not the same thing. Electric Guitar tracks demand some way to stomp a real switch while you’re playing and a MIDI controller is the means. It’s time, Apple.
Additional enhancements

Magic GarageBand has seen some needed improvements. While the band is still limited to the same nine songs as before, you can now record what you play and export that recording as a multitrack project in the usual GarageBand interface. You also have the ability to shuffle the backing instruments by clicking anywhere other than on an instrument. This makes for some unexpected (and sometimes welcome) combinations. You can also now mix the levels of each instrument as well as quickly mute or solo each one with the click of a button. And you can choose any software instrument sound you like as your instrument when playing through a MIDI keyboard. You’re no longer limited to a handful of instruments as you were in GarageBand ’08.


Magic GarageBand now lets you record your part and mix the band.

Finally, Apple has rejiggered the look of GarageBand in helpful ways. It now bears the same gray tone as Aperture () and Logic (). The New Project window contains a broader variety of projects including Piano, Electric Guitar, Voice, Loops, Keyboard Collection, Acoustic Instrument, Songwriting, Podcast, and Movie, making it easier to start with a template configured for the kind of project you want to create. For example, choose Podcast and the resulting GarageBand window is populated with Podcast, Male Voice, Female Voice, and Jingles tracks. (Regrettably, you still can’t have more than one GarageBand project open at a time.)

When you add a new track, you see a redesigned window that lets you easily choose a Software Instrument, Real Instrument, or Electric Guitar track. Loops are now found on the side of the main window rather than below. Effects are no longer hidden at the bottom of the Info pane but rather available from an obvious Edit tab in the Info pane. And text is larger throughout the interface. Taken together, it’s easier on the eyes as well as easier to find the functions you’re after. Veteran GarageBand user though I may be, with the new interface I was able to find features I’d forgotten existed.
Macworld’s buying advice

As a musician and podcaster, GarageBand remains one of my favorite iLife ’09 applications—I’m able to pull compelling results from the program without a lot of work or worry. Nothing about the latest version changes that. What GarageBand ’09 brings to the table is the possibility that more people—specifically those looking to get some use from a guitar or keyboard crammed in a closet or electric guitar players seeking a more authentic sound—will stick around for a second look.

[Senior editor Christopher Breen at Macworld]

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