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REVIEW: From Wave to MIDI
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This review on intelliScore Wave to MIDI Converter
(translated from Dutch) was originally published at

From Wave to MIDI

WAVE files contain raster-sound, MIDI files contain vector sound: commands to create (raster-)sound.

If you let this fact act in upon you, you can yourself realize how at least to go from MIDI to WAVE: feed the commands from the MIDI file to a synthesizer, and record the sound that resounds with the settings chosen. For example, see the documentation with a Sound Blaster.

You then also see that it will be difficult to deduce from the raster-sound, what commands are needed to create it. (Have you ever tried to vectorize a photograph with e.g. Corel Trace?) That problem does not date from the computer age. There is enough sheet music in circulation that has been obtained through transcription: somebody has carefully written down in musical notation what he heard played. The computer aggravates the question to the extent, that the "note-taker" must indicate how this recognition occurs - and that presupposes becoming aware of a "well, just!" process. On the other hand, you need to write a program to recognize notes only once. Transcription is not unequivocal: even when listening to a perfectly transparent recording, you can doubt about when a tone begins, and especially when it stops. That depends on the characteristics of the instrument (bowing is much less definite than fingering) and on the acoustics (reverb). This implies for MIDI: when must the Note On command be sent, when Note Off? And then there are keyboard-instruments with a sustain pedal… But moreover there are questions like: are these eighth notes with eighth rests in between, or are they crotchets played staccato? It doesn't matter for MIDI-files that will only be played, but it does for MIDI files that will be used for printing sheet music.

There is definitely a need for transcription programs, e.g. to be able to review "what I actually did". Or as a drastic way to denoise historic recordings. Or to add the play of non-MIDI instruments to a MIDI file yet. Therefore, such software is being programmed everywhere. I got the impression that predominantly Russians (rich on mathematics, poor on money) had thrown themselves on the issue. Yet I have an American program now. As for now, one should judge these programs on what they do correctly already, not to what mistakes they still make. Or yourself prove that it can be better, e.g. by making drums scores recognized as well, for these are now filtered out.

From intelliScore there exist a monophonic and a polyphonic version. According to me, the monophonic one is more of a marketing product. It is worked upon hard: from version 1 to version 3 within a year. The program sets itself apart (from the two Russian ones that I have tried, that is) by the extent of involving the user in the process and by the strive to serve both sequencers and notation programs.

For intelliScore you need a reasonable system (a CPU with MMC-instructions, and Windows 95 or higher). Despite this also patience, for the recognition of a piece lasts the normal playing time at least, many times that if you are unfortunate. And tenacity, for you must be prepared to repeat that recognition several times. Musical insight too, to adjust the settings meaningfully and to complete the job in a sequencer or notation program afterwards.

IntelliScore acts like a funnel. You start a project using ample assumptions, e.g. as to the tonal range. After each recognition you can "tighten the bolts" for the next round. (Herein lies the craftsmanship. Have you ever tightened the spokes of a bicycle wheel?) If you consider yourself advanced, you have access to more settings than as a novice. If the raw material has one sound (a piano, a set of recorders), then you can choose a filter that takes the characteristics of such an instrument into account. This shortens the recognition time and improves the accuracy. As to me the very improvement over version 2.

At last you have a product you consider "I'll do the rest myself". (Tip: use serial numbers to be able to compare the MIDI files of the recognition rounds.) That product is a Type 0 MIDI file, or: all notes will be played back on the same channel using the same sound. If you want to separate the voices, you'll have to divide the commands over different tracks and MIDI channels. (Try to distinguish the first violins from the second in an old wax roll recording…) Finally save your work as a Type 1 MIDI file or in the custom format of that program.

Finally a word about the method to analyze sound (book-learning, I don't know anything myself). The standard approach was described in 1822 by Frenchman Joseph Fourier: find frequencies that are characteristic of certain events. Compare it to the reception by FM-radio. Finding sine-shaped waves is a crude approach, however, if the very waves are not sine-shaped. In the 1980s the wavelet-approach was developed by Jean Morlet (France) and later Ingrid Daubechies (Belgium). Here one starts from wave patterns rather than from frequencies and overtones. In 1995, Ronald Coifman (USA) has polished a classical recording from 1889(!) this way. According to the FAQ on, intelliScore uses a new way (or a smart mix), for which patent has been applied for.

Chris Laarman, May 10, 2000
(translation: May 14, 2000)


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