The WHAT?, WHY? and HOW?

of 'raw MIDI files'


The MIDI files contained in this web site have been described as 'raw'. That adjective 'raw' immediately raises three kinds of question:-

WHAT does 'raw' -  in the present context -  mean?

WHY are the files in this state?

HOW are they intended to be utilised? 



In an oft-quoted quip, Lewis Carrol's 'Hunting of the Snark'  assures the reader that 'What I tell you three times is true'. Well, I intend to tell readers not merely three but very many times,  that the files offered here are NOT, repeat NOT  in any sense finished musical performances. And if I re-iterate that simple message 'ad nauseam' this is for very sound reasons.

Everyone knows the difference between a printed music score and an actual performance. The former is essentially an incomplete and compressed set of coded instructions for the realisation of the latter.

The MIDI files here presented are neither scores nor performances. However they share some - albeit certainly not all - the features of both scores and performances. You may think of them as some peculiar hybrid.

Comparison with the printed score 

In common with the score our MIDI files specify what notes are to be played, at what time step, duration and by what instrument. However - and quite intentionally - all expression marks (including accents, crescendos, diminuendos, accelerandos, ritardandos, and most speed changes) are ignored. That is what I mean by calling them 'raw'.

 However composers' instructions regarding repeats and 'da cappos' have been honoured. This accommodation comes at a price. Since the MIDI language includes no provision for repeats etc., files can sometimes be twice as long as would otherwise be the case. Similarily, the MIDI syntax does not provide for trills and grace notes which are accordingly ramified in our files. Further details of the relationship of our files to the printed score will be found  under the discussion heading 'Transcription methods,  principles and details'.


Comparison with a performance

Since the files  comply with the MIDI format, they are capable of being performed using any standard MIDI sequencer software. But please, please don't do this!

Stripped as it is of all expression and articulation, such a performance would be at best a pale parody, at worst a traumatic travesty, of the composers' intentions.

Browsers are notoriously fickle and unpredictable as to  how they treat downloaded files. In a misguided attempt to be helpful, files bearing the extensions .mid, .wrk etc are all too likely to be diverted straight to a MIDI sequencer, which then attempts to start playing them. In order to avoid this disaster all our MIDI files bear the extensions .squ (for string quartets) or .kpp (for keyboard-plus-instrument pieces). This should ensure that the browser downloads to a user-specified folder on hard disk. Thence to be dealt with as discussed in the section 'How are they intended to be utilised'.



I hear the reader protesting 'why?' 

Why have the files been left in such an unfinished state? Is this not pure laziness? A job left only part-done? 

These are criticisms which I accept; albeit - as Waugh has it - 'Up to a point. Lord Copper'. But please bear with me as I try to explain the reasons why.

In  youth I studied and received lessons in pianoforte, violin, viola and 'cello. Since then (until recently incapacitated by a neurological condition)  I played  at a decent amateur level of competence, for many an happy hour every day. 

Nevertheless, I do not feel sufficiently competent in musicianship to impose my own idiosyncratic  (and somewhat private) interpretations, set as it were in concrete, on Internet's entire  musical population! And of course this applies par excellence to those Beethoven late quartets where this musical genre attained its apotheosis. 

Nor would I wish to deprive  aficionados, be they callow novices or acclaimed professionals, the opportunity to express  their own musical interpretations. Which neatly brings us to the final topic in this section...



You may think of the MIDI files here presented as templates onto which to impose your own musical interpretation. Or again, as a  'paint by numbers' painting kit, never intended to be displayed until worked upon. Or yet again as a skeletal piece of apparatus available to  to an OEM, to be 'dressed up' as he fancies. 

One may well  question the morality of this approach. Is it not true that I am offering the opportunity of musical expression without either the drudgery of transcribing from score to MIDI, nor the discipline of mastering an acoustic musical instrument? I leave these awkward ethical considerations to the judgment of others.  

So, given a flat and expressionless MIDI file, how can the user breathe the kiss of musical life into its performance?

At it's crudest, dynamics can be controlled by simply twiddling the amplifier's volume and balance knobs during playback; or even cruder by partially blocking and unblocking the listener's ears. You think I'm being facetious. If so, yes, but to a purpose. Come to think of it the method is no more crude than that of an  conductor, employing arms and body language to interpret an orchestral performance. Straying further afield what could possibly be cruder than  the principal experimental tool of fundamental particle physics, which seeks to elucidate the quantum subtleties of matter by randomly firing bursts of projectiles at it. I have discussed some of these matters in Bibliography-1.

So now let's be serious. In order to create a repeatable interpretation of a MIDI file, we need an editing MIDI sequencer. Many such pieces of software are available on the market. However  I can only speak for the two with which I am most familiar:

Twelve-Tone Music's  'Cakewalk' or 'Pro Audio' (see Links-1) Microsound's 'Super Conductor'  (see Links-2)

Cakewalk has been my main tool in setting up, editing and correcting MIDI files in the present collection. It is a dependable workhorse. With  it's help  one can impose a large variety of effects on the performance of a piece. In fact all of those I listed as absent at the head of this section. Personally I prefer the older (circa version 5) of Cakewalk, as being more user-friendly than the latest Pro Audio 9. Software houses have a regrettable tendency to over-egg the cake by introducing a growing plethora of confusing bells and whistles to their later version numbers.

If Cakewalk is a sturdy carthorse, then 'Super Conductor' is a thoroughbred racer. Designed by a renowned professional musician and concert pianist 'Super Conductor' employs advanced techniques of predictive note shaping, hierarchical  pulse, dynamic vibrato in a 'microscore' which underpins the standard MIDI structure. Its built-in sound font library contains some of the most realistic instrument emulations I've ever heard. All of these effects can be specified and modified by the user. The result is a stunning and memorable performance. Best of all, from our point of view, is that 'Super Conductor' generously allows input of standard MIDI files. And, if that were not enough, the package includes a vast library of fully interpreted classical masterpieces. Properly to appreciate this near miraculous piece of software one needs to experience using it oneself.

Lest I be accused of partiality, let me add just one caveat. I miss the facility offered by 'Cakewalk' of a staff editing view. In 'Super Conductor'  MIDI editing takes place at the level of an events list.

Neither of the above products allow the user to create repeatable musical interpretations during actual play time. To do this we need an auxiliary piece of hardware called 'Phat-Boy Midi Performance Controller' (see Links-3). This is essentially a black box, interfacing to the PCs MIDI connector, equipped with about a dozen control knobs each assigned to one MIDI controller. Dynamic effects can be achieved by adjusting the knobs during performance by the MIDI sequencer. If the latter's record button is on during sequencing, these dynamic effects are recorded into the MIDI file, and will be reproduced  on replay. Initially the results may be disappointing, but practice makes perfect.

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