Really impressive polyphonic dictation

March 5th, 2013  |  Tags: ,  |  2 Comments

I bought and started downloading the upgrade to Ableton Live 9 after it was released this morning and had a chance to play with it after work. (Happy birthday to me!) I’ve used Live since version 4, and it has been my first choice for producing electronic and electroacoustic music in the last few years. So far, Live 9 seems like a good upgrade overall, but I think the killer feature for my workflow is its ability to take polyphonic audio and transcribe a MIDI sequence for further arrangement or manipulation.

I was skeptical that this would work all that well (even monophonic audio-to-MIDI converters have been more “interesting” than “useful” in the past), but I plugged in a guitar1 and hastily recorded the hook from the Isley Brothers’ “Footsteps in the Dark”2. The results from using Live’s MIDI extraction were really quite impressive. This audio clip consists of the hook three times: first, with my original guitar recording, then crossfading between that and a synthesized electric piano driven by an extracted MIDI sequence, and then finally just the synthesized piano.

While this output is usable and surprisingly faithful, it’s not perfect. Live misses the appoggiaturas, but that’s absolutely forgivable (especially since I suspect that discarding appoggiaturas is the result of a tradeoff that also discards, e.g., the vast majority of fret noise). I’m optimistic that it’s good enough to use for transcribing reasonable recordings of many real instruments. As a terrible keyboardist (even worse, one who owns a crummy keyboard controller), I’m excited about the prospect of using my fretted stringed instruments as input devices for generic musical ideas (and not merely as things that make fretted-stringed-instrument and processed-fretted-stringed-instrument sounds).

1 Specifically, I was running both pickups of a stock Epiphone Wildkat into a Tech21 Blonde pedal with neutral but realistic settings and then recording that through a passive direct box.
2 It was a good day, but I’m not sure whether the Lakers even played the SuperSonics, let alone beat them.