converting MIDI to WAV (or MP3), the easy way

This is a question that comes up all the time: what’s the easiest way to convert a MIDI file in to an audio file, like an MP3, under Linux? The old answer was TiMidity++ (usually just called “timidity”), a software MIDI synth that’s nearly as old as Linux itself, but it’s awkward to use and isn’t actively maintained. Today, though, I discovered that FluidSynth can do the job, and very easily at that.

FluidSynth is a synth that plays SoundFonts; in the studio it’s usually used through the Qsynth GUI, or as a DSSI plugin in a sequencer like Qtractor, but you can also use it stand-alone, through the “fluidsynth” command-line tool. To use it, you’ll need at least one SoundFont, and there’s a good General MIDI SoundFont called “Fluid” (which, despite the similar name, is unrelated to FluidSynth) that’s packaged in most distros.

This will install both the “fluidsynth” tool and the Fluid SoundFont on an Ubuntu or Debian system:

sudo apt-get install fluidsynth fluid-soundfont-gm

Then, just run the “fluidsynth” tool, specifying the SoundFont file to use and the MIDI file to play, and adding the “-F” option to dump the output to a file:

fluidsynth -F out.wav /usr/share/sounds/sf2/FluidR3_GM.sf2 myfile.mid

If you want the result in MP3, you can transcode it using LAME:

lame --preset standard out.wav out.mp3

or in to Ogg Vorbis using oggenc:

oggenc -q 5 out.wav

The great thing about using FluidSynth, apart from its simplicity, is that you can easily substitute whatever SoundFont you want. For instance, if you find Fluid too big to work with, you can user a smaller alternative, like the GeneralUser GS SoundFont, or if the piece is a solo work, you could use a higher-quality solo instrument SoundFont, like jRhodes3, which is a great Rhodes sound.

sketchbook: ghetto convolution reverb

Convolution reverb is a hell of a trick — it lets you record the reverb of a real-world environment (or a hardware reverb unit) and apply that reverb to a signal, with amazingly realistic results. Normally, those reverbs are recorded very carefully using high quality equipment, but I wanted to see what I could manage with something more modest: my phone.
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chordbot — a songwriter’s sketchbook for android and ios

I do want to make one last seq24 video, covering MIDI routing and the JACK transport, but I haven’t found the time yet. I haven’t been completely slack, though — I’ve been working on a track, and once I have a starting point on paper, and an idea of the finished product in my head, I find it hard to focus on anything else.

It’s in that mindset that I stumbled across Chordbot, and Android (and iOS) app that I installed on my phone weeks ago, but neglected to try at the time. I’m glad I waited, though, because right now it’s really proving its usefulness as a mobile sketchbook for songwriting.
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cheap bleeps: meeblip, shruthi-1, and monotron

Not that long ago people were predicting the death of hardware synths, and with good reason — software synths promised far greater convenience and flexibility at a lower price. There’s something uniquely compelling and immediate about working with hardware, though, so I’m glad to see that hardware synths live on. In fact, I’d say they’re thriving, if the new breed of cheap, quirky synths is any indication. These devices deliver unique sounds, hands-on control, and highly hackable designs, all for less than the cost of many soft-synths.
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the rock band 3 keyboard

It’s worth mentioning that for my keyboard-playing in Rock Band 3, I’m using the official keyboard controller, and I’m really quite impressed by it — it’s solid, the keys feel great, and it has a standard MIDI output for use with a PC or other MIDI gear, so for the money (AU$135-ish locally, US$80 on Amazon), I think it’s a bargain. There’s a Rock Band 3 MIDI interface coming, which I could’ve used with one of the keyboards we already have in the house, but they’re a bit big for the lounge, especially with the drums set up. The official keyboard is tiny in comparison, and you can hold it like a keytar, which means you can play it standing up (and look totally bad-ass, 80s-style, while doing so).

The MIDI output works really well — if you’re in the market for a small, cheap MIDI controller, it’s definitely worth considering, and if you’re in the market for a cheap keytar, it’s a no-brainer. The touch strip on the neck, which can be used like a whammy bar in the game, acts as a mod wheel in MIDI mode, and the Xbox controller buttons are all repurposed to cover useful features, like octave up/down controls and program changes; Create Digital Music has a great article that covers all of the MIDI features.

The one thing it lacks compared to a modern MIDI controller is a USB port, but when you can get a basic, class-compliant USB-MIDI adapter online for less than $10, it’s not a deal-breaker. I hooked it up to my laptop using one of those adapters, and within seconds I was pumping basslines out of XSynth-DSSI, using the touch strip to control the filter cutoff while I played. Awesome!

november games

I’m aware that all of these games came out in October. I’m playing them now, though! I can’t be bothered with proper reviews, so here are a few quick notes on each:

Costume Quest — this is Double Fine’s latest, and it’s exactly as funny as you’d expect. It’s basically a cross between Zelda-style questing and adventuring and JRPG-style turn-based battles, and while there’s nothing much new to speak of in terms of gameplay, it’s all executed well. The art direection really steals the show, though — the Halloween setting is super-cute, and the use of costumes to gain abilities add an extra layers of charm. I do wish it was voice-acted (I assume that budget constraints prevented that), and I thought the combat dragged a little toward the end, but it’s still a great little game.

Super Meat Boy — I haven’t played a tonne of this yet, but it’s already thrown me over a barrel and beat me senseless, and yet I keep coming back for more. This is simple, old-school, tough-as-nails 2D platforming at its best. It demands precision, and often rote memorisation, but the levels are so short (tens of seconds, usually) that it doesn’t take long to learn them, the penalty for death is light (just restart the leve), and the controls are not just solid, but forgiving. Dying never feels cheap, and finishing a tough level always feels like an accomplishment.

Rock Band 3 — this really deserves its own post, but since I’m too lazy to give it one, here it is! On one level, Rock Band 3 is the Rock Band 2 you always wanted to play, with a far more flexible and intuitive UI that makes it much easier for each player to manage their instruments and preferences. On another level, it’s an entirely new experience, with the addition of a “Pro” mode for drums, guitars, and the game’s new addition: keyboards. I’ve been having a tonne of fun with the keyboard, but the cost of instruments for the other Pro modes may be a bridge too far. RB3 draws a line in the sand for older content, too — older tracks don’t have keyboard parts, or Pro Guitar parts.

linux music tutorial: seq24, part 2

In the first part of my seq24 tutorial series, I looked at creating patterns in the pattern editor, and then triggering those patterns in real-time from the QWERTY keyboard. In part 2, I go in to more detail on both features. This video covers:

  • Advanced pattern triggering techniques: queuing and snapshots
  • Basic note editing: copying/pasting notes and changing velocities
  • MIDI CC automation
  • Background patterns
  • MIDI note entry (step-sequencing) and MIDI recording

It’s a little longer than I’d have liked, but there’s a lot in there! If you’d prefer smaller, shorter tutorials in future, feel free to leave a comment and let me know.

For downloaders, there’s also a 720p WebM version available (107MB).