Making music is great because you get to DJ massive nightclubs in Las Vegas for millions of dollars a year and have an aggressive, European-style haircut based on the metric system. Okay, that’s one vision of it… but how do you get there without, you know, learning how to play music?
Plenty of tools exist for making music with the help of artificial intelligence — the humble arpeggiator is found even in otherwise handmade songs. That technology can skip up, down, and around arpreggios even if the person playing them has never had a lick of musical theory, but some new software we’ve been playing around with today goes a step further. It’s called Liquid Notes, from Re-Compose, and it can reconfigure the harmony to any song you’ve composed in MIDI.
I don’t record much music anymore, and I don’t do it with MIDI, but MIDI is a great language for creating electronic music. If you want to switch from, say, a grand piano sound to trumpets, without re-recording the melody, you can. And if all you’re trying to do is key in some basic riffs for a house music song, you can do that in MIDI by simply choosing the notes — no instruments required. In that sense, MIDI is the descendent of the piano roll.
Since I don’t have any MIDI of my own lying around, I downloaded a .MID file of Europe’s “The Final Countdown” and imported it into Liquid Notes. Sure enough, by dragging around sliders and twisting knobs, I managed to reconfigure the chords in the song to make it sound completely different, in minutes. It’s a lot of work to go through a full-length song and reconfigure every chord, but that’s not what this software is designed for.
Nope, it’s designed to let people who don’t know anything about harmony deftly toggle between all sorts of advanced chords and unpredictable changes in their riffs, and for that, it works great. Liquid Notes even includes a sort of “weirdness threshhold,” so you can have it generate music that’s more or less expected by the human ear. Don’t like the chord? Double-click it, and Liquid Notes generates a new one that also goes with your song.
For now, Liquid Notes runs on Mac and PC, where it can be used standalone or in conjunction with Cubase and other programs. The latest version offers several enhancements designed to help new users get up to speed quickly. To make the program even easier, its creators, Re-Compose, are looking at an iPad version, which could be fun. Says Re-Compose co-founder Roland Trimmel, who calls his creation “Daft Punk in a box”:
“We want to build Liquid Notes into a platform that allows full customization, just as you are used to from modern web applications. Also, we want to open our technology to developers to create custom plug-ins, apps, etc. By this, we expect to cater better to the needs of music makers on different levels of expertise and people that use different devices. Having said that, it is the iPad that we have laid our eyes on, because it is causing a revolution at the lower end of the music creation market. Due to its multi-touch interface, it enables a large number of people to make first steps in playing instruments. As a first step, we intend to make Liquid Notes more accessible for beginners on the desktop.”
This latest, more user-friendly version of Liquid Notes costs $175, which is a lot of money, but you can use it for free for a month before making your decision.
Traditionalists might have a hard time with Liquid Notes and similar software, but look on the bright side: At least when you listen to hastily-written club bangers, their likelihood of including complex chords and chord changes will have increased.