LeafResources: "HeavenSecent"
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LeafAbout HeavenScent
Notes on the files
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LeafAbout "HeavenScent"

There has been a bit of a "buzz-on" about the distinctive sound of the Circon as heard on Tales of Heaven and Hell. Most people when hearing it immediately smile and shout out: "Theremin!" Not quite. Yes, it DOES sound rather like an idealized Theremin, that was the general idea. But don't you find the subtle changes of timbre interesting, and more than Lev Theremin's early device could do? (Next time I'll go even further away, as the range of possible sounds with a Circon setup is quite broad, but not as wide as keyboard-triggered sounds.) Also, isn't the playing rather more "in tune" than usual and the vibrato rather more under control than you'd expect from a Theremin?
Again, it's all because this is NOT a Theremin. The Circon, short for "Circular Controller" has an interesting tale posted here on our site, that you may wish to read if you haven't already. It has one distinctive feature that stands out from all the rest for me, though: it's a LOT easier to play than a Theremin! I still can get only the most embarrassing warbles and sour melodic performances from any "hands waving in the air" Theremin (how ever did Clara do it...?!) Practice would help, I grant you. But there are limits when your main cues come only from the sound you hear while performing. Even a violin has some tactile and physical feedback, some subtle things you feel for in terms of hand and finger position, to assist your quest for in-tune pitches.
Back when I first began, I found that playing an audio oscillator, the kind with a pointer mounted to the pitch knob, one that stuck out a ways against a semicircular frequency dial, was nearly playable. That module inspired the Circon. Bob Moog's Big Briar company has expressed an interest in building all-MIDI versions for sale of the Circon, eliminating the gross-kludge it takes to get the signal into Digital Performer in my studio. That would require enough interest from all of you who want to produce this kind of warm, human gesture in your music. You'll have to write him to prove enough of you care to make the venture economically worthwhile. It might not be, after all, in these days of minimal art, minimal passion. We shall see...

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LeafNotes on creating the MIDI files

What you will find in the files below is the complete MIDI versions used to generate the master track for HeavenScent on TH&H, just as I composed and played them into my Mac. For the purposes of download, I found the final version, and went in and removed all the unused tracks (usually I leave the blank deadwood in place, in case I want to make changes later), leaving just the active 18 that went into the complete orchestration. The tracks overview will show you:

(click the image for a full-size version)

You can see what each track produces on the left. Most of them can be substituted with similar programs on other synth equipment. After all, even in the symphonic world no two orchestras sound exactly alike! The percussion tracks are another matter. They are rather complex special Kurzweil 2000/2500 programs that would take a lot of bulk to detail here. Best to listen to the final recording for clues as to what sounds are triggered. None of them is crucial to the piece, as this is primarily a melody-driven work, anyhow.
The only impossible programs/voices will be the Circon patches. These are really not all that fabulous sounding by themselves: a bare sawtooth or square wave, with some low-pass filtering, and the pitch bend for the program set to move plus or minus one octave. Mod data moves the filter up and down in attenuation and frequency by a modest amount. Volume data is critical, and is set to allow full cutoff up to maximum level, about the usual. The spirit or "life" comes from the way the sound gets played, as I performed it in real time (you can't record such vibrato intensive human expressions at slower than real time, or you fool yourself.)
Later I did do some tweaks and edits. When you open an individual Circon track (tks: 15 = main Circon, 16 = aux Circon) you will see that the pitch bend data is chuggerblock filled, while volume and occasional modulation values are less densely, which is clear in this medium close-up view:

(click the image for a full-size version)

The vibrato is pretty plain. Looks rather peculiar at first glance (if you're used to MIDI graphic editing), doesn't it? See that thin horizontal axis? That's the zero pitch bend line, which is a somewhat arbitrary value when you're going to move pitch up and down so widely as you perform the melody. This you can make out is the start of the main theme of "HeavenScent". The first lowish note has a quick fade in on volume (the little "xxx" data mostly near the top) and but a few embellishment "haystacks" of modulation, which remains mostly constant in thus particular spot (other places use more on TH&H.) The volume tends to "duck" down between notes, just as a singer might do, in a long tessitura, and fades slowly at the end of final phrases, again "for a breath", as this arises out of live performance gestures.
Now let's go in for a closer look. This is the start of the above, showing only the lower middle portion enlarged in height and even moreso in time:

(click the image for a full-size version)

Now it's pretty plain that the vibrato and all the other pitch embellishments are actually quantized, but at a fairly high rate. Obeying the Nyquest "at least twice a sampling rate as the desired upper frequency", you can count many more than two values for each cycle of vibrato. I usually set the data rate to be fast enough to get four or five values stored for each vibrato cycle. You try a value of MIDI data speed first, and record it, then examine it exactly as you can see above. It becomes clear at once if you are set to a speed too slow (vibrato is not shown or gets "aliased", or too high (a real waste of MIDI bandwidth.)
In my case the MIDI data speed is what I'm setting on my old but wonderful Fairlight Voice Tracker, alas a unit not supported nor made since about 1986-87. The Circon is an analog synth controller for the old Moog synth, and doesn't provide any MIDI out (Bob's semi-planned Circon units would handle this, though, as his top of the line wonderful new EtherVox Theremin units now already provide.) Let me recap what's somewhere on that Circon page: from the Moog I adjust to get a very stable high flute-like sound. The audio of that goes into the Voice Tracker. That changes it into a MIDI stream that matches closely, at a rate set as I describe above. The MIDI out of that goes once more across the studio into my old JamBox, which is a fine 4 to 1 MIDI merging unit. It merges with my MidiBoard, and other devices, and goes into the MotU MidiTimePieces, and hence into (Digital) Performer, where it gets recorded, as I mentioned, in actual time.
Once I have recorded a decent performance that has a lot of feel to it, I examine it as you can herein. If I find that the only flaw is a few notes that may be a bit sharp or flat, but the overall take is an expressive, good one, it becomes a "keeper". Then I can lasso the region of such a slightly mistuned pitch, and add or subtract about 100 pitch bend values. If that's not quite enough, you may go for even a bit more (or less.) The idea is just to tweak subtly what you never could tweak in a live audio recording of a Circon (or Theremin -- you can certainly use one of Bob's new MIDIfied units to record your own), without destroying the performance in any way. Better to keep an early good performance and do the refinements, than to insist on what the old days of synth recordings required: play things over and over until they are mostly note-perfect. (But then the feeling was usually very stale indeed...)
Another important note: the Circon is easier to play accurately than the Theremin. But it's a LOT more difficult than a keyboard. Violin or other string experience might be an asset. Not to scare you off, as this sort of comment is true about ever decent musical instrument ever made. Only recently has the illusion arisen that one dosen't need to be musically adept to be a musician(!). (Maybe we can join the Teamsters soon...) There is simply no way around it I know of: you must practice enough to be able to play the parts needed, freely and with panache. It's not a big deal, just do it.

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LeafThe Downloads

Time to check things out for yourself. You may wish first to download clear full-sized GIF versions of the three images above, to help you work out what you're looking at in the MIDI files below. That's especially important if you need use the generic MIDI format, which will lose all the names and comments of the Performer files. With the first image below, you'll be able to figure out what's missing, and take it from there. Here they are, in hqx format as on the other Resource page image files:

LeafTracks Overview
Close view of Circon track
Very CU view of that track

Now you're ready to download a MIDI format file for your study and own personal use (sorry, the composition and arrangement are copyrighted, of course.) If you've read the above, you'll have a pretty good idea of what these files are about, and how they were produced. In my liner notes for the TH&H album, I had only a brief commentary you have probably already seen -- I'll copy here just to be complete:


Once launched into a new musical space (with Afterlife), we encounter HeavenScent, which I wrote as an accessible melody driven piece. The underlying harmony has a European jazz quality, with atypical progressions and non-root bass tones.
HeavenScent is also an etude for the Circon, which provides the main solo voice, once the opening theme has been stated more conventionally by a piano. I thought the upward sevenths would be idiomatic with the constant portamento. The somewhat romantic themes required a full use of human performed vibrato, so natural on the Circon. It's certainly a contrast to the other MIDI performed parts of the orchestration.

Now go on and grab the version that best suits your needs. There are three versions here I generated for you. The first is the Performer 5.5+ one, than contains everything in the original. If you don't have a recent Performer or equivalent application to open that, try the file formatted according to the earlier Performer 2.1+. Only a few things, like MIDI assignments and patches will be lost. Not important for most of you. And if you simple have no friend(s) who can help you(!), nor have any way yourself to open that version either, go for the general MIDI file format example, just be particularly careful to follow the info in the first GIF above. Go for it!

LeafHeavenScent, Performer 5+ format, .hqx encoded
HeavenScent, Performer 2+ format, .hqx encoded
HeavenScent, generic MIDI format, .hqx encoded
HeavenScent, generic MIDI format, .ZIP encoded

--Wendy Carlos

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