Beyond the Barline
Who Needs Musicians When You’ve Got General MIDI?
I’ve been a musician for many years now, and until recently I spent most of my spare time and energy being frustrated with other musicians. First came the many failed attempts to start the next great rock band in my garage. Actually, it was usually the drummer’s garage, but that’s beside the point. The musicians I worked with fell into one of three categories: those who were terrible; those who were really good, but spent too much time and energy in unrelated pursuits, such as chasing loose women and planting bombs; and Jeff.
Jeff was my always reliable bassist, and like me, he eventually got sick of all the losers we found ourselves stuck with. We took two very different paths. He found a nice girl and settled down, while I put the guitar away and became a composer.
As a composer I thought my life would be easier. I could write exactly what I wanted, and highly trained musicians would play it exactly like I’d tell them to. Well, I soon discovered how wrong I was. First of all, I suffered from an extreme handicap for a composer—I was still breathing. Most classically trained musicians won’t even consider playing your music until you’re dead.
Since dying is only a good career move for a composer who’s actually written something, I ruled out that option right away. That left me with a small group of performers who were into “new” music. At least I figured they’d be dedicated. Soon, however, I discovered how temperamental some musicians can be despite their “training.” I just wanted them to play the notes, rhythms, dynamics, and articulations that I had written clearly on the page. Instead, they would keep talking about “interpretation.” After all the hours I’d spent meticulously calculating interlocking pitch class/attack point matrices, they had the nerve to talk about interpretation? The dots are all there. What else do you need?
Then I made a critical discovery that changed my life. This discovery involved something that had been sitting on my desk for years, but with its true potential unfulfilled—my Macintosh. I had no idea at first that I could make music with my Mac. I had used Microsoft Word for word processing. I had even used Finale to write scores, but I had no idea it could play them. Then one day I accidentally opened the playback window. My world changed forever.
General MIDI and my Mac gave me the creative outlet I had always dreamed of. I finally had an unlimited ensemble of instrumentalists, all dutifully playing exactly what I asked them to play. The best part, though, is that the same ensemble resides in every Mac as part of the Quicktime Musical Instruments extension. So let’s say I write a symphony. I could send the score out to various orchestras and, if one of them actually programmed it, maybe a few hundred people would hear a woefully under-rehearsed performance. Or I could post the same score on the Web as a Standard MIDI File for performance by the “MIDI Philharmonic,” available for any interested listener to download for his or her own “Command Performance.”
You might think that General MIDI had become passé, given the recent popularity of MP3. I disagree. Unlike General MIDI, MP3 is not a creative medium. Its sole purpose is to copy existing recordings. Plus, I don’t have the patience to download 4 MB MP3 files when I can find the same tune as a 40K Standard MIDI File. Others have tried to talk me into switching platforms. They rave about a Windows compatible program called Acid that creates dance mixes of other people’s music. I mean no offense in saying this, but that’s not real composition. I struggle with every note I write, as much as my G3’s internal speaker struggles to squeak out each note. It may not be pretty, but it’s real. Okay, it’s not real, but it’s my art and it’s the best I can do. God, I’m so depressed.
Also in This Series
- Ready or Not! · November 2002
- The Other Petition · August 2002
- The Samples Have Been Changed to Protect the Innocent · May 2002
- Record Execs Ate My Hard Drive! · April 2002
- And the Award Goes to… · March 2002
- Expos, From a Distance · February 2002
- My Resolution · January 2002
- Too Much Hype · November 2001
- And They’re Off! · September 2001
- Complete Archive