Managing sounds to compose music

We saw the various possibilities offered by a sound card, as well as the methods used to generate sounds.

While working with a MIDI software (like Pizzicato), it is useful to select, collect, handle and play instruments sounds with which you want your scores and composition played. How ?

I suggest the use of the SoundFont standard, created by the Creative Labs and Emu companies. It is a well known sound format and you can find lots of sound libraries, some free and some to buy. Let’s see the practical steps to select your sounds, create a bank and assign them so that Pizzicato can play your scores with your sound selection.

The first phase is to select your sounds. This needs to steps : find sounds and listen to them. To find sounds, use your prefered Internet research tool (Google, Yahoo, Msn,…) and enter keywords “Free SoundFont”. You will rapidly find numerous sites with SoundFont instruments and effects. Some are good, some are bad. You must then listen to them and test them.

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For this, you can use the Virtual Sampler 3 software. You can download its demo version at http://www.maz-sound.com/index.php?show=product&id=2 Once installed, you may open a SoundFont file and listen to the sounds with a musical keyboard displayed on the screen.

When installing the software, specify that you want the “Speedsoft Midi Cables” installed. With them, Pizzicato will be able to send the notes of your score to Virtual Sampler 3. These “virtual cables” may then be selected in the Pizzicato Option menu, Midi Setup… and set in the MIDI output.

You may proceed as follows to select your sounds :

  • Add a directory in your hard disk for the sound files you download, for instance C:\SoundFonts\Download
  • Use a search engine to find sites offering SoundFont files
  • Download a sound in your directory. SoundFont files have the “.sf2” extension
  • Start Virtual Sampler 3 and click the “sf2” button in the middle of the screen.
  • Using the opening dialog, select the downloaded file
  • The sounds contained in the file appear in the main part of the screen. By clicking a sound, you may then listen to it by using the musical keyboard displayed on the screen. If the sound looks good for you, move the file to another directory, for instance C:\SoundFonts\My Sounds
  • Continue to select your prefered sounds for each instrument family you use,…
    The next step is to assemble those sounds into a personal sound bank that can be used by Pizzicato (or by any MIDI software).
  • The idea is to take each sound you have individually selected and create a unique SoundFont file (.sf2) that contains them all.

For this purpose, you may download the free software “Vienna SoundFont Studio 2” on the Creative Labs site at (http://www.soundfont.com/downloads.html ). This software lets you create a sound bank and fill it with sounds from various other banks and then save them in one unique file.

The main problem is the correspondance between MIDI and the created SoundFont file. The Vienna software lets you assign a Preset number (0 to 127) and a bank number (0 to 127). First assign all sounds to bank 0 and for the preset, respect the General Midi numbering (you can find the list at http://www.bluemax.net/techtips/Midi/Midipatchnum.htm but be aware that some user interfaces use a number from 1 to 128 and some others between 0 and 127; subtract or add 1 accordingly).

For instance, if you find a good violin sound, assign it bank 0 and preset 40 (41 minus 1 for the violin, see the list). In this way, you stay compatible with General Midi and the MIDI files you create or open stay standard on the sounds used.

If you create an extensive sound bank, for instance by adding 10 different violin sounds, keep the same preset but use other values than 0 for the bank number, while keeping the 0 bank for the default violin.

While doing this, write carefully on paper the sound table (preset, bank and instrument name), because you will need it to create a compatible synthesizer for Pizzicato.

To use the Vienna software, read the help section of the help menu. This program also helps you to create Sound Font files starting from any Wav or mp3 file.

Once your SoundFont file has been created, you need to play it with Pizzicato or a MIDI software. If you have a recent SoundBlaster card (from AWE 64 up), you may use the utility program of the card to load your sound library into the card, because the card has an integrated SoundFont player. For details, see the documentation and the online help of the card (Start, Program, Creative) to know how to load a file into your card.

If you do not have a SoundFont compatible card, you may use a SoundFont player software. Virtual Sampler 3 does this, but there are others too. Search for them on the Web with expressions like “SoundFont player, SoundFont reader”. In any case, the software must give a direct MIDI link, i.e. adding a MIDI output port in Windows so that it can be used by Pizzicato or any MIDI software.

In Pizzicato, the last step is to select the MIDI output (Option menu, Midi Setup…) which corresponds to the SoundFont compatible card or to the MIDI output going to the SoundFont player software.

For the Pizzicato Light and Beginner versions, the only possible synthesizer is the General Midi, so you need to respect the General Midi preset numbering as exposed here above.

Fot the Professional Pizzicato version, you may create a new synthesizer which answers to the various sounds assigned to the non zero bank instruments. Refer to the lesson on synthesizers on the screen help or on our site at page http://www.arpegemusic.com/manual/EN630.htm Use the list you have prepared while selecting your sounds in Vienna.

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The use of the various softwares renders the task more complex and what we described here is not a simple procedure. We envision tools to create your personal SoundFont files so that Pizzicato may handle itself this sometimes complicated task of assigning presets and banks. This article was designed only to give you the main steps of the process so that you can personalize your sounds and use them with Pizzicato.

Concerning sound banks, if your needs are high regarding the orchestral instruments quality, you may orient yourself to the EW Symphonic Orchestra software which contains an impressive quantity of orchestral recorded samples. The software exists in various versions between 300 and 3000 $US. You may find information at http://www.soundsonline.com/sophtml/details.phtml?sku=EW-161 The demo files show the quality of the sound result. It seems that the software uses a personalized sample player and needs a powerful machine.

Dominique Vandenneucker

Designer of Pizzicato.

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