See the Beat: Video-driven composing
A Review of Abaltat Muse
By Mark Spencer | March 01, 2009
First things first. I'm not a musician. I don't play one on TV. I'd like to be - I did just start playing acoustic guitar. But if you heard me, you'd agree - I'm no musician.
But I am a video producer/editor. And a motion graphics designer. And I frequently need music for my work.
Which makes me an ideal candidate for Abaltat's Muse.
These days, video producers have a lot of options when it comes to finding music for our projects. However, they general fall into two broad categories: you either purchase music that has already been composed, through CD collections or services such as MusicBakery.com and the newly launched istockaudio.com; or, you use a piece of software to compose the music for you. Examples abound: Ableton Live 7, Apple's, Logic, Soundtrack Pro, and GarageBand, SmartSound's SonicFire Pro, Digidesign's Pro Tools, Adobe Soundbooth, Audition, Sony Acid, Cuebase, Digital Performer...it's a long list. Some are good for music novices; others for pros. Some are built primarily for composing; others for other audio-based tasks.
Of course, if you have a big budget, you could hire musicians to score your project. Or, if you are a talented musician, you could compose and play your own music, and augment it with software instruments and effects. But for most of us, we either buy our music "pre-baked" or use software to make it for us.
Anyone who has gone the "pre-baked" route knows how difficult and time-consuming this can be. Even though sites that provide music try to make it as easy as possible to find what you are looking for with sophisticated search tools, you still need to browse and audition clip after clip to find something that matches your video. It's a very subjective process and can take hours, even days to locate the right clips - which may or may not be the right length for your needs. So you often end up editing your video to better match the music.
And unless you are musically inclined, using software to create music can be equally frustrating. This is because more novice-oriented software solutions are generally based on building music out loops. I've personally created music tracks with SonicFire Pro, Soundtrack Pro and GarageBand - these are all excellent applications, but the core music-creating part in each of them is based on building up a song out of various loops. Which can be quite effective, but ultimately the software doesn't know anything about your video, so you mold the music to fit your project.
Enter Muse, a new product from Abaltat that takes a different approach. The company calls it a "video-driven soundtrack composer", which I find to be an accurate description. It does the composing for you - without loops. Rather, it analyzes your video, and then composes music based on the video. You can then adjust, or arrange the composition in a variety of ways - including moving it into another application for arranging, such as GarageBand or Logic.
This approach is intriguing: rather than trying to find some music that fits your video, or trying to change your video to better fit a piece of music, you create music based on your video - and not a bunch of loops, but full rhythms and melodies created by virtual "bands" that you select and modify. And the music always has an ending - something that can be difficult to achieve in a loop-based application (although SonicFire Pro does a good job with this).
Color Me in 4/4 Time
Muse analyzes the colors of each frame video in any Quicktime file and then, believe it or not, composes music based on these changing color patterns. It does this by matching what Abaltat calls a virtual band to the video. This "band" (you can select one of several) composes music "on the fly" to match the video. The band builds music out of samples rather than loops by using Native Instruments' Kontakt Player and the Garritan Libraries of virtual instruments.
The key to understanding how Muse works is that it's a two-step process: first, you compose your music. This is the essentially "automatic" process that creates the song. Once the software analyzes your video and composes the music, you can then change the arrangement either within the application, using a series of keyframable "events", or by exporting a MIDI file to another application. Let's see how it all works.
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