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Review: The Virtual Composer: Making the Most of Abaltat Muse

March, 2008


The Virtual Composer: Making the Most of Abaltat Muse

Abaltat Muse : Music Composition Software

n 1: in ancient Greek mythology any of 9 daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne; protector
of an art or science
2: the source of an artist's inspiration; "Euterpe was his muse"


by Jude Cotter

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 new tunes.

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.

[Click to listen to a sample section.]

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 happening.

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 your compositions.

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 coffee.

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.

copyright©jude cotter 2008

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 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

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