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PostPosted: Thu Oct 19, 2017 10:03 pm 
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I heard it's supposed to be based off of the Roland SC-55, but the Roland SC-55 destroys it in a head to head comparison. If I'm not mistaken, Windows has used the same soundfont even before Windows XP, which I assume it sounded as relatively bad as it did so it could play off of any computer hardware from the period, and they haven't bothered to upgrade it, or what? I think MIDI gets a bad wrap because of it, even though MIDI files are relatively easy to make, very small, and have potentially really good quality.


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 19, 2017 10:29 pm 
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Back when people had homepages instead of facebook, MIDI was synonymous with bad sound outside music production thanks to the windows soundfont.

I think the inspiration was not the sound per se, but the "general MIDI" standard which specifies what instrument/voice/ensemble should go into what patch number and how they should be organized in banks.

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 19, 2017 10:32 pm 
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Inspiration for what? Inspiration for what sound effects were used, because they sound like cheap toy instruments.


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 19, 2017 10:36 pm 
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MP3 files are even easier to make, small enough that it doesn't matter to a modern PC, and sound even better. They're also device-independent. In addition, GM is a bit tricky to get right because all the instruments have to work together in all possible situations, but I suppose that's hardly an excuse for a bad-sounding knockoff of a good-sounding GM synth... I guess they just haven't really cared for a while, since nothing uses GM any more.

Several years back, I slung together a sound bank and associated sound card settings specifically to sound good playing TIE Fighter music - I ran a couple instances of a simple reverb on the sound card's DSP so as to save CPU cycles for DOSBox, and routed the music through the reverb and the sound effects through a dry channel. (That old computer has a nice sound card.) I suppose one could do the TIE Fighter dynamic music thing with MP3 or OGG snippets, since a modern computer should have no trouble with overlapping playback, but to my knowledge nobody has...


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 19, 2017 10:37 pm 
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The idea is that if you want an oboe, for example, you'd call program change #69. Before general MIDI, there was no guarantee that was what you'd get.

It really has nothing to do with sound.

MIDI was invented to let synthesizers, controller units, sequencers and recording equipment communicate. Everything else is up to interpretation by the synth in question.

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 19, 2017 11:34 pm 
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93143 wrote:
MP3 files are even easier to make

I should have said compose, because I have no idea how you'd actually make a song with an MP3. You could get a sound sample and drag it everywhere, aligning it perfectly, but this would be a nightmare.

93143 wrote:
and sound even better.

Isn't this debatable? (Due to MP3 compression that some audiophiles can reportedly hear the quality loss.) MIDI sounds only as good as the soundfont in terms of clarity, and I really don't think there is much of a limit to the number of simultaneous instruments anymore. The number of total instruments to choose from might be a problem I guess. What can you do to an instrument under MIDI? You can change the pitch and the volume, but can you add echo or reverb or anything like that?

93143 wrote:
They're also device-independent.

Well, the way I see it, you can also customize the music however you like by making your own soundfont. (Not that I know how to do this though. :lol: )

93143 wrote:
I guess they just haven't really cared for a while, since nothing uses GM any more.

Yeah, that's what I figured...


Last edited by Espozo on Fri Oct 20, 2017 5:15 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 19, 2017 11:42 pm 
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93143 wrote:
I suppose one could do the TIE Fighter dynamic music thing with MP3 or OGG snippets, since a modern computer should have no trouble with overlapping playback, but to my knowledge nobody has...
The indie game Luftrausers has a set of five stems for each of the three musical parts, and each stem corresponds to a different property of your aircraft. So the specific background music you get is a function of the exact thing you're flying.

It's a neat mechanic, but gets lost in the chaos of gameplay.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 20, 2017 1:25 am 
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Quote:
If I'm not mistaken, Windows has used the same soundfont even before Windows XP, which I assume it sounded as relatively bad as it did so it could play off of any computer hardware from the period
Possibly, but I remember my Windows 98 computer had good midi, but then when I upgraded to a Window XP computer it suddenly turned into the infamous toy instrument quality. I don't know if the midi was part of the soundcard hardware on my 98 computer or something though.

I'm currently using CoolSoft's VirtualMIDISynth with a general soundfont, and it sounds so much better than Windows' crappy one.

Quote:
Isn't this debatable? (Due to MP3 compression that some audiophiles can reportedly hear the quality loss.) MIDI sounds only as good as the soundfont in terms of clarity
Since MP3 is a digital sample waveform format it's kind of hard to compare it with midi, they have different uses. But yeah now there are better lossy sample formats than MP3.

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What can you do to an instrument under MIDI? You can change the pitch and the volume, but can you add echo or reverb or anything like that?
Yes I think midi has commands for effects like echo and reverb and also things like sustain pedals on midi keyboards. But you can't do anything outside the specifications so I guess it's mostly only good for music and simple sound effects.

Quote:
Well, the way I see it, you can also customize the music however you like by making your own soundfont.
But because of that, if the target device is a PC you don't know what midi playback capabilities and soundfont the users are using, so it will sound different on every user's system. By using FLAC or MP3 you are guaranteed that it will sound mostly the same on all systems.

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I guess they just haven't really cared for a while, since nothing uses GM any more.
I think games still often used some kind of midi until very recently though? Nowdays orchestrator music is getting more popular though.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 20, 2017 3:01 am 
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Quote:
Yes I think midi has commands for effects like echo and reverb and also things like sustain pedals on midi keyboards. But you can't do anything outside the specifications so I guess it's mostly only good for music and simple sound effects.


This is incorrect. You can get very sophisticated with MIDI. This is done through CC (control change) messages. With these you can program just about any parameter in your synth; including but not limited to patch parameters, internal fx (not just echo/reverb but any imaginable effect), and whole bank and RAM rewrites (for example including patches, samples, waveforms, depending on the synth). EDIT: oops, the stuff marked in red is not CC, but SysEx, which is designed do do just about anything... some synths would let you upload new firmware via SysEx messages, potentially working as a jailbreak. Naturally, SysEx is even more wild west.
. They have a sample rate and sample depth which sometimes (rarely) restricts you, but a competent synth can work around that.The crux is, CC:s are designed rather open ended so synths can use them for whatever the engineers want them to. While some synths and samplers may adhere to a loose standard, it's a bit of a wild west case. I'm not sure but i wouldn't be surprised if windows and most old midi to audio cards simply doesn't listen to the bulk of the CC range.

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Last edited by FrankenGraphics on Fri Oct 20, 2017 10:39 am, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 20, 2017 4:59 am 
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Espozo wrote:
93143 wrote:
MP3 files are even easier to make

I should have said compose, because I have no idea how you'd actually make a song with an MP3.

Okay, perhaps I misspoke there.

An MP3 (or any other audio format with PCM output) is just a recording. You can use microphones, or hardware or software synthesizers of any description, or samples recorded by someone else. You can arrange things manually in an audio editor or a DAW software, or you can trigger and shape things with MIDI, or you can use proprietary automation and sequencing features in the software you're using. Or you can use an old-school mixing desk and magnetic tape, and just digitize the master. You can add hardware or software effects to individual components, or bunches of components, or the whole mix. Or do the whole thing live through a stereo mic and don't even bother processing it. It doesn't matter how you do it, as long as the result sounds the way you want it to. If you really want to, you can just record the Windows synth playing a MIDI file and compress it as an MP3 - I'm not at all sure nobody has done this, and I do know for a fact that at least one version of TIE Fighter had some CD audio that was just the original MIDI soundtrack recorded through an AWE card.

With MIDI, you can generally just record it with a keyboard, but sometimes it requires extra editing to get the performance you want (the advantage is that you can easily just tweak stuff, fix wrong notes, adjust timing, etc.). Or perhaps one might use an instrument other than a keyboard to get the required data without an inordinate amount of messing around; for instance, MIDI guitars are a thing. Software exists that allows you to notate music and have the computer play it via MIDI, or export a MIDI file. Basically the problem with using MIDI for distribution is that it's limited to the real-time synthesis capability of the target platform, which is often uninspiring...

...

I was really into computer-generated music a while back (actually I kinda still am, but I'm too busy most of the time). Not being a composer, I tended to take other people's MIDI files as my starting point. For example, I found this (NB: playing this file can change the media player's output level in the Windows mixer, so other stuff plays super quiet for no good reason) on the net and liked it, so I used a bunch of samples and effects and custom programming to turn it into this (some bits are inspired by the original). I'd say it turned out pretty well considering it was my first, and so far only, serious attempt at metal; there are a few things I'd change but I overwrote the Cubase file...

In 2005 I recorded a piano sample set from an old, unmaintained upright in the basement I was renting with my sister. The sample preparation took forever and the programming is still not done, but I have a working prototype that's sort of playable. I've tested it by running MIDI scans of old piano rolls through it. This is what Punchinello sounds like on a real player piano. This is what it sounds like on the alpha prototype of the Nearly Upright.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 20, 2017 5:14 am 
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My favourite was the Windows 95 OPL3 general midi sound, back before they had the GS Wavetable (Was that introduced in Windows 98?). I used to write lots of MIDI for it and I liked some of the sounds it made a lot. Later on I learned how to program the sound card directly though and that's when I found out all about FM synthesis.

Before the GS Wavetable there were actually all sorts of competing software wavetable MIDI players available. They all had their own patch set, and you can imagine how different the same file sounded in various players.


The question of why the GS Wavetable isn't as good as some other solutions:

I think problem 1 is that it had to be a lightweight and small implementation, to keep the CPU usage low and suitable for background play while doing oher things; this limits a lot of potential techniques (e.g. you can get better results from layered mutlitimbral sounds than just samples, but it takes more computation).

Problem 2, as stated in several different ways above, is that every General MIDI sound set sounds different. If a MIDI is composed for one synthesizer, it will generally sound poorly on every other one. There's no guarantee of balance between instruments, no guarantee of specific timbres, just a vague set of names like "guitar" or "piano" or "gunshot". You can't just play a MIDI on device A and device B to compare the quality of the device.

FWIW I think a lot of people have composed good music intended for the GS Wavetable (my go-to example is usually 3D Space Cadet Pinball). If it was composed for this device it has a lot of potential to sound good on it. (Here's a recent GS Wavetable album by Svetlana.)


MIDIs you find on the internet come from many different eras, and I think most of them come from long before the time when GS Wavetable became common. MP3 was already taking over before Windows 98 happened. MIDIs are from an earlier time when a super-compact representation was more important.

All that said, there are even ways to write MIDI files that sound fairly robust across different players, but there's a real art to that. Open orchestration, relying on counterpoint vs blend (e.g. Bach tends to work fine on anything you play it with), etc. this was a big concern for me around ~1997 when I was making and sharing a lot of MIDI files myself. I was constantly trying different playback methods to compare, because I knew it was likely people weren't playing back my stuff on the same thing I wrote it with.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 20, 2017 7:45 am 
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The windows softsynth just implements the very basic things needed to make sound at all. 22KHz, basic freq scaling (no sophisticated interpolation methods) and volume, no filters, no reverb or chorus or any other effect, it had to run on stuff like 486 CPUs and still do at least 24 channels. I think the playback code never changed in any meaningful way since it was introduced in Win98 with WDM drivers.
You could possibly experiment with replacing GM.DLS with your own sound font to change how the default softsynth sounds like, but you won't still get any of the effects like reverb.

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 20, 2017 10:16 am 
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rainwarrior wrote:
My favourite was the Windows 95 OPL3 general midi sound, back before they had the GS Wavetable (Was that introduced in Windows 98?). I used to write lots of MIDI for it and I liked some of the sounds it made a lot. Later on I learned how to program the sound card directly though and that's when I found out all about FM synthesis.

The OPL3 sounded awful, and was lacking any GS extensions such as extra drumsets as well as not being able to change for example pitch bend range or detune. It was awful.

When the Microsoft GS wavetable was introduced with Windows 98 (yet it was introduced there indeed) I found it was amazing and sounded great. Of course it didn't age so well, but at least you got a workable GM + minimal GS set on your computer. It is a subset of the SC-55, which is why it sounds poorer - lacking reverb, less instruments, etc...


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 20, 2017 10:49 am 
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Pokun wrote:
I don't know if the midi was part of the soundcard hardware on my 98 computer or something though.
That was during a period when there were a bunch of sampler soundcards. (The GUS, the AWE32, and a few less famous options)

Sometime around the start of Windows XP, though, it became assumed that CPUs and a softsynth were both Good Enough. Drivers often included their own incompetent software emulations of EAX, which caused crashes.

Quote:
I'm currently using CoolSoft's VirtualMIDISynth with a general soundfont, and it sounds so much better than Windows' crappy one.
I'm pretty pleased with Airfont 340.

Bregalad wrote:
The OPL3 sounded awful, and was lacking any GS extensions such as extra drumsets as well as not being able to change for example pitch bend range or detune. It was awful.
The default OPL3 General MIDI patch set wasn't great, but it unequivocally sounds different from the crappy default softsynth, and depending that can be better.

For whatever reason, my previous computer had an OPL3 core embedded in its southbridge; I liked going and using it occasionally.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 20, 2017 11:47 am 
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I've wondered now and then for a 15 years when/if the time is ready for MIDI compositions to return in interactive media/games.

For all the praise the DOOM reboot soundrack got, all it is on a technical level is a group of layered, static submixes that are then software mixed by cues from the game.

With a strong enough CPU/DSP and heaps of RAM (at least enough RAM is something we can have today), we could have a midi-driven audio engine processing a mix of music and sfx in real time at the same time as the application. A midi generator + filter controlled by game cues could modify scores as they are played on the go, manage mixing, acoustics, sfx. We're not just there yet, i suppose. Or well, we could be, but not with the cinematic soundrack/AAA expectancies.

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