Test Drive: MIDI Files from 27th Dimension

Editor's note: We stumbled across 27th Dimension's MIDI files at the NAB show in Las Vegas earlier this year and promised to check them out for you. This month, we step away from our usual Test Drive of hardware to take a look at an interesting application of MIDI technology in the production library business.

Doing the honors is Dallas resident and good friend, Brian Wilson. Brian is the Creative Director at Power 95 in Dallas and is also a very astute MIDI musician. If MIDI files were intended for anybody in radio production, Brian certainly represents that person.

by Brian Wilson

How often have you placed a CD of production music in your CD player, searching for that perfect cut of music, only to find one that's close to what you needed, "but it's not quite right?" More egotistical production guys might say, "I would have done that cut differently" (read: "better"). With MIDI files, you have the ability to change a particular piece of production music to better suit your needs, just by using your personal computer and MIDI keyboards! (You DO have all of that stuff, don't you?!)

If you purchased a production library in the past few years, chances are that some, maybe most, maybe even all of the tracks in the library were produced using only sequencers and MIDI instruments. Each drum hit, each brass stab, every note of these tracks is nothing more than a MIDI command. These commands tell the keyboards which notes to play, much like the commands of a computer program tell the computer what to do.

As with everyday computer files, these MIDI commands can also be stored to floppy or hard disk as a file of computer or sequencer data. They can even be sent down a phone line via a modem. If you have the hardware (computer, synths, samplers, etc.) and the software (most any popular music sequencing program), these "MIDI files" then represent production music in its rawest form. You don't just have access to the music track, you have access to each note and each instrument of that track. You can change the instruments, add drum parts, add pitch bends, and adjust the tempo of the track with just a few keystrokes. The files are referred to as Standard MIDI Files or SMF's, and they will transfer into any device that reads Standard MIDI Files. I'm fortunate enough to have a fairly nice MIDI studio at home where I put the MIDI files to the test. I popped the 3.5 inch disk into my Macintosh, booted up my sequencing program (MasterTracks Pro 4), and opened the dialogue box "Import Midifile." After selecting a file from the disk, the computer translated the MIDI file into my sequencer's format, complete with instrument listings on each track. This makes it easier to get started, because if you accidentally assign the keyboard part to the drums, it sounds like a bunch of DEA agents just opened fire on Phil Collins, and you'll spend the rest of the night figuring out what went wrong. After assigning MIDI channels to each instrument (a couple of multi-timbral boards are necessary, or dozens of single channel keyboards), I got busy.