Some time ago I was asked
by a client to add a bit of incidental music to a short promotional
video that was being shown on the web. 'Sure,' I said. 'No problem'
I said. 'What's the budget?' I said. 'Budget?' they said.
This is an all too common problem for
many of us when working in the corporate world, where the clients
don't fully understand copyright and royalty issues. Not that
they should. They do what they do, and we do what we do. But
somewhere in the middle the two have to meet and pay the bills.
So, crack open Garageband,
right? Using Garageband I can compose some music, drop it under
the video, upload, and I'm done. No copyright problems, no 'per
30 seconds or part therof' payments, no territories. Brilliant.
This was a ten minute video. Ten minutes.
That's an awful lot of composing, for a musically semi-literate
editor like me. It was a bit of a daunting task.
Then I remembered a software trial I
had recently downloaded called Abaltat Muse.
According to Albaltat's website, it is
'unique professional soundtrack composition software' which
allows the user to 'create original, royalty free, broadcast
quality soundtracks in minutes. . .'
Well, OK! That's exactly what I wanted,
something that would actually do the composing for me. What's
more, the blurb indicated that the program doesn't just assemble
loops - what it does it use the rules of music to make up completely
So I decided to give it a shot.
The first really interesting thing I
found about this program is that it uses your QuickTime videos
to do the composing.
At its most basic level, you just drop
your clip into Muse, press the 'Compose' button, and pretty much
let it do the rest. Here's how;
1. First open the program. You can see
the basic control set in this picture. There's a viewer window
where you can see the video clip, a timeline below this where
you can make adjustments via keyframes, a couple of simple tune
adjustment windows and the all-important 'Compose' button.
2. Once you have loaded the video (and
after analysis), click on 'Compose', which will give you a new
window where you can make some choices about the kind of song
you want Muse to come up with.
In this instance, the most basic level
of Muse, just choose ANN (Artificial Neural Network) Composing
(we'll get to that interesting looking 'Colours' thing later),
selected a band, a drum pattern and a time signature.
Then choose your Beats Per Minute (slower
for moody pieces, faster for action work), the complexity (which
equates to the number of notes that will be used in the composition)
and the 'Jingle' level.
A high jingle level will give you a repetitive
song, and a very low jingle level will not repeat melodies, but
will generate completely new ones throughout the song. I've found
that it's best to keep the jingle level fairly high, unless you
want something quite jazz-like.
3. That's it. Press the OK button and
let Muse do its thing. On my Octocore MacPro this takes a few
seconds to a few minutes, depending on the length of the song.
What I got from my initial run was a
nice little tune that filled my gaping sound hole perfectly.
In less than half an hour I had added ten minutes of decently
variable music and uploaded my clip for approval. That was impressive.
The next level of Muse is the ability
to compose based on the colours that appear in your video. In
basic terms what the program does is to analyse your QuickTime
Movie, identify the major colours that occur and then map them
out in a colour timeline.
You can then get Muse to increase the
number of notes it plays whenever a certain colour occurs. So
in this example I could track the colour red, and have Muse compose
the melody based on the occurrences of red in the video.
This is particularly useful in video
with very simple colour palettes or where a certain colour is
used for effect, like this example from a car commercial, where
the reds are the moments when the car appears.
To do this, you just choose 'Color Composing',
'Direct' and then select one or more colours that you want the
program to track. Then Compose.
What this does is build you a tune using
the basic settings for the band type you have chosen.
But the basic settings get old pretty
quickly, and your compositions will start to sound very similar
if you leave everything at this level.
What you can do to vary this is make
changes to the instruments and tonality, or even transpose the
song once it has been composed.
This is accomplished with keyframes.
At the point that you want to, say, change
an instrument type, you add a keyframe using the keyframe button,
or hitting 'e'. Then select the keyframe on the timeline to get
a pop-up window with a group of changeable settings.
Choose 'Instrument', then choose which
instrument you want to change, and then select a new instrument
from the drop-down menu.
To make another change, set another keyframe,
and follow the same procedure. The keyframes stack on the timeline,
and you can cycle through them with command (apple) and the left
or right arrows.
And this is pretty good. By spending
a bit of time making adjustments here you can get some nice tunes
But to tell you the truth, I was not
that enamoured with the amount of adjustment I could apply to
the tunes themselves, especially compared to something like Garageband.
So I spoke to Justin McCarthy, the developer of Muse, about the
fact that Garageband was a pretty hard act to follow in the music
software world, and he said something that I had completely overlooked.
You can export midis of your compositions
out of Muse and drop them right into Garageband or ProTools where
you get complete access to all the wonderful tools there to tweak
Justin says that Muse was essentially
designed as a pre-composing tool for Editors (just like me) who
want a perfectly timed music base for their videos which can
then be infinitely adapted to suit.
Now I was starting to get it.
So I got Muse to compose me a couple
of tracks, based on my Quicktimes of some small jobs I had hanging
around. Here's a sample
For this composition, I let Muse choose
most of the standard settings, knowing that I could make adjustments
once I moved into Garageband.
Then I exported the composition as a
midi via File > Export Midi File.
Then I opened Garageband and dragged
and dropped the midi right into the Garageband timeline window.
Here I just changed the instruments and
knocked off a couple of notes I didn't want at the head of the
track and got this.
Which I felt gave the track a fuller
sound. But I thought that I could give it more depth, and maybe
tweak the mood a bit. So I simply added some drums and replaced
the main melody with a set of the ready made Garageband loops.
Here's how it came out.
Notice that I have the main melody turned
off on track two, and have replaced it with the strings on track
seven. I've also messed with the effects on the strings, adding
some wah, echo and reverb.
And here's another set, the first a standard
comp out of Muse, the second the same composition in Garageband,
with some instrument changes, and the third, a new main melody
and the addition of some drums.
Of course there's still a ton of work
that could be done on these comps to make them tighter if needed
but, at around fifteen or twenty minutes work each, these would
both work just fine in the projects they were designed for. As
a bonus, I especially like the way that they end neatly, as this
is something I always find tricky to accomplish in Garageband,
There are a couple of hurdles for the
potential Muse User - one, while there is a trial to download,
it is very limited in options, which makes it difficult to assess.
Also, this limited version is still a very hefty download. Be
prepared with a good strong broadband connection and a cup of
I don't really see how this could be
addressed by the developer, because a more comprehensive trial
would mean an even bigger download and this would probably put
off many people at the coalface.
(Update: As I was writing this, I was
informed by Abaltat that there is a new free trail version available
that includes three bands, lots of instruments and user presets
and is now down to a 700Mb download. So I guess I have to eat
some of my words even before I've finished saying them.)
Two, and this isn't a problem per se,
I suppose - this is version 1.1.1. That means that the program
still feels a bit 'under development' and although it functions
well, it doesn't really have the 'Apple' look and feel yet.
However, I found Justin and his crew
to be very responsive to feedback about the interface, so I get
the impression that this will be part of the natural progression
as the program matures.
Apart from that, the program did what
it claimed to do, simply and quite quickly, and allowed me the
flexibility to make all the changes I wanted after the fact.
So overall I'd say it's a very interesting
package, that may well develop to a point that will give canned
music libraries a serious case of the willies.
In any case, I'm looking forward to seeing
more from the guys and gals at Albaltat, which apparently means
'Ability' in Irish. And I'm glad that someone has made it their
business to make music out of maths, so I don't have to.
About Jude Cotter:
Living and working in drop-bear ridden Australia, Jude is a freelance
broadcast editor with hundreds of television programmes to her
credit. In her spare time, she is a moderator at the LAFCPUG
forum and Avid2FCP.com.
She also occasionally teaches in person for Apple centres and
Universities and runs the small, weirdly named production company,
Who Let the Dogs Drive.Abaltat Muse