I wanted to my expand my music learning hobby into modern-sounding music, and at first I was considering buying hardware synthesizers to plug into my Yamaha Clavinova keyboard, but instead I bought a software solution called “Reason“. Learning Reason, and then learning how to create live improvised music in styles sounding like House, techno, trance, Dubstep and other Electronica variants, is my goal. This blog post will record some of this process. (link to video tutorials.)
Oct 17, 2012. To setup reason, I had bought a dedicated “gaming laptop” with a high-end processor and graphics card. I bought a MIDI to USB cable from eBay. I had ordered Reason online, and it took a week to arrive by mail from Europe. I got their “Balance” USB interface device.
The Balance device was problematic at first. I wasted a day wondering if my microphone was borked, and wondering if my windows-7 laptop had its sound drivers screwed up. But out of desperation, I moved Balance onto each of my laptop’s 3 USB ports, and it worked on the 3rd try. ( The first 2 ports, unknown to me, were actually some kind of hidden hub, not real USB ports.)
Once Balance was working, I soon realized I needed more gear from the music store. I drove out to buy “patch cables”, and managed to connect Balance’s audio output back into my Clavinova’s “AUX IN” ports. So the synthesizer sounds would play back nicely through my clavinova’s speakers. But this revealed another problem. If I wanted to stop hearing the native clavinova piano, and only hear the synthesizer, I couldn’t. Turning down the volume of the piano also turned off the synthesizer sound.
But luckily, I had a old audio “mixer” on hand, and I have a fantastic stereo amplifier system and great speakers including subwoofer, in my home office.
So another drive to a music store to buy more patch cables and connector adaptors. Now I’ve got Balance audio output going into the mixer, then out to my stereo system. I also hooked the laptop’s audio into the Mixer (because Reason’s music uses Balance output, but everything else on the laptop was still using the onboard laptop speakers). I also hooked up my main work PC into the mixer. I hooked the Clavinova’s regular AUX outputs into the Balane line 1 inputs, because it lets me record the Clavinova into Reason, which is much better than recording onto the Clavinova’s USB stick.
So now I have control of everything’s sound volumes, and its all playing through my big speakers, and sounds fantastic. ( I suppose it is a bit of an annoyance, that I needed to buy a bunch of patch cables and use a mixer, to make all this work… the Clavinova is so simple and elegant in comparison.)
Oct 30, 2012 update. I learned about Nektar Panorama keyboard, made specifically for use with Reason. I’m thinking of getting one for my office at the hospital. Here’s Nektar’s facebook about P6.
Nov 4, 2012 update. I’ve been struggling with Clavinova MIDI, so I thought I would document this, in case it’s helpful to future web searchers.
Although the keyboard and the right pedal for Sustain were working perfectly via MIDI, nicely controlling how Reason’s synthesizers play, I couldn’t make the middle or left pedal do anything, Until, I discovered that I have to manually edit the Clavinova (“FUNCTION” button), and on the Controller tab, set the middle pedal to be “Mod/S.Art1”. And then suddenly it works in MIDI and Reason uses that pedal as if it were a “mod wheel” on a synthesizer. So incredibly important this is… because nearly every synthesizer setting in Reason, will change its sound behavior by turning the mod wheel. So I’m hearing wonderful effects like changing phasing, chorus, reverb, harmonics filtering.. when I press the middle pedal.
And changing the Left pedal to be “Pitch Bend” instead of Soft, gets all the pedals doing something in the various Reason synthesizers.
One side effect of setting the middle pedal to “Mod/S. Art1” is that the “modulation” aspect still takes place on the Clavinova too. And with the default Grand Piano Voice, that modulation is some kind of Tremolo. In order to stop that, I have to go to the Voice Set page, and turn ‘AMOD’ to 0.
( Here’s the displays in Reason, proving the pedals are all working and sending their midi data.)
(And I show the Velocities of notes received, but I’m noticing that its actually very difficult to achieve velocities under 16 or over 112, without ridiculous finger behavior, so I think I’ll investigate possible ways to re-scale the velocities to spread out the middle range.)
And now to document something that didn’t work. The Reason manual describes a way to split midi keyboard input. I tried it, starting in Reason->Preferences->Advanced to set my Bus A to accept incoming MIDI.
Then setting Reason->Hardware Interface->Advanced Midi so that channel A-1 goes to a Malstrom and A-2 goes to a Thor synthesizer.
Then on Clavinova, setting Function->Midi->Edit->Transmit so that Upper and Lower keys are sending Channel 1 and Channel 2 respectively.
And this sortof works, but not well enough. ( I also tried Right and Left settings). The problem is some notes that should be on channel 2 only, also go to channel 1 sometimes, and some notes never get note “off” messages, so they keep sounding and sounding. So that is basically unusable. Instead therefore, I was forced to learn to setup a Combinator (page 517 of the Reason 6.5 Operation Manual). That works. It’s just tedious to set up.
Nov 19, 2012 update. Here’s a link I want to re-visit. Liquid Notes does experimental re-harmonization very very easily and beautifully. I think I can learn a lot from it, just by hearing the variety of chord progressions that it can suggest, and trying them out for myself. I also want to return to this video series on Music Theory for Electronic Dance Music. (but it starts out pretty basic and boring.
Nov 27, 2012. Today I learned about software called Melodyne, which turns audio into midi. That’s an amazing way to take a tune you hear, and move it into a form where you can completely fiddle with it, easy to make re-mixes, re-harmonies, etc.
Jan 2, 2013 update. I stumbled onto a few more apps that do computer-generated harmony, and I’m just jotting them down here, so I can find them again in the future. Synleor Harmony Improvisator, Hotz Translator, and Sugar Bytes Consequence, synfire, ChordPulse, Band in a box. Refill The Theory, RapidComposer.