Friday, March 28, 2008

When guitars meet computers

I am always surprised by the ratio of amateur artists among engineers. For example, we are 5 guitarists among my 10 closest colleagues in the office.

I guess it's likely the need to balance rigid computer logic with forgiving art. Music is a frequent choice, guitar seems the winner over piano (because of yet another keyboard?).

But the interesting point is that one kind of guitar, the electric guitar, wakes up the computer geek when he plugs the guitar into the microphone outlet of a basic sound card: it works.

The geek has just entered into a new kingdom, the DSP (Digital Signal Processing) land. There are tons of software, mainly VST plugins, that simulate digital effects and turn a common PC into the equivalent of hundred of kilos of racks of hardware and kilometers of cable. As described in this page, in French but with a lot of images, the software is rich of attractive GUIs with buttons, sliders, and visualization gadgets. All you need is a computer, a basic sound card, decent speakers, and the software. With very few investments the result is impressive, because the sound is really great.

The geek is now ready for his first quest: the Perfect Sound.

Once he's satisfied with the sound, let's aim to the second quest: the content. Here is the second advantage of the computer: internet is a huge repository of songs, guitar tablatures, guitar lessons, and even video of guitar players.

Then it's not very fun to play alone, and here again the computer helps: it provides an orchestra, playing mp3 or midi songs along the guitar.

And here I take my revenge over the computer. It rejected my program because I forgot a semi-colon, I impose it all my rehearsal with always the same faults at the same place. And when it's finished "play it again, Sam". For once, it follows all what I want it to do.

More precisely, I'm specialized in Pink Floyd's solos, like Is there anybody there, Time, or Fat old sun. I'm very impressed by David Gilmour plays. The solos are usually slow-paced, with few notes, but each one sounds great and contributes to a beautiful harmony... He uses a lot of bends, which consists in pushing the cords on the fret to apply extra tension and then augment the note pitch gradually. Plus very small tempo shift, it gives a solo full of tensions that drag brain attention, followed by a relief as the play catches up back to normal pitch and tempo.

Gilmour's solos looks simple on the paper, but believe me there are very hard to work out with the same touch. Anyway. I'm having a lot of fun with the electric guitar plugged into my pc, the sound presets, the midi orchestra, ...

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