About pj

Now (mostly) retired, I'm pursing electronics and computing just for the fun of it! I'm a computer scientist and engineer who has worked for AMD, Hewlett Packard and Siemens. I also taught hardware and software development at Case Western Reserve University, Tufts University and Princeton. Hopefully, you will find the information on this site to be helpful. Educators and students are particularly welcome!

Winter NAMM 2018: Melo Audio MIDI Commander

OK, OK, I know about the Arturia MiniBrute 2 and Moog Drummer From Another Mother — and so do you. 🙂

You may not have heard about the Melo Audio MIDI Commander, which was teased last year. Melo Audio’s teaser targets guitar players, but this ten button foot controller might appeal to keyboard players who need to make fast patch changes and so forth.

In addition to ten foot switches, the MIDI Commander has two expression pedal inputs. “Fusion mode” combines program change (PC) and control change (CC) MIDI messages. (We’ll have to wait for the documentation to find out what’s really going on here.) The MIDI Commander is compact (286mm x 110mm x 60mm, 11.3″ x 4.3″ x 2.4″), can run on two AAA batteries and has an OLED display.

The “Coming soon” page for the MIDI Commander shows a preproduction mock-up. I’d love to know if good ole 5-pin MIDI is included. Could be an alternative to the Yamaha MFC-10.

Speaking of teasers, Hammond are teasing a new model in the SK series of clones, the SKX.

Also, Dexibell are teasing a new organ: tone wheel (including pedal), Farfisa, Vox and pipe organ (upper, lower, pedal). An extension to the COMBO J line?

Another new product on the way is the Dexibell Vivo S7 Module which incorporates the sounds of the Dexibell Vivo S7 Digital Piano.

Copyright © 2018 Paul J. Drongowski

Right on the heels of Genos

Yamaha are announcing two new models in the arranger workstation line: The PSR-S975 and the PSR-S775

The PSR-S975 is an update to the current PSR-S970. New features include:

  • Half bar fill-in
  • Mono legato operation
  • Store and recall of Live Control settings in registration memory
  • More preset styles (523, up from 450)
  • More Super Articulation voices (140, up from 131)
  • More Live voices (99, up from 89)
  • Larger expansion memory (768MB, up from 512MB)
  • Expansion audio styles (128MB maximum)

Expansion packs like Euro Dance and Salsa are pre-installed. [Click image below to enlarge.]

Quoting the Yamaha Web site:

  • 1625 Voices, including Super Articulation Voices, Organ Flutes! Voices. 55 Drum/SFX kits, and 480 XG voices
  • 523 Styles, including 40 Audio Styles, 34 Session Styles, 15 DJ Styles and 3 Free Play
  • Half bar fill-in and Mono legato function
  • 768 MB on-board memory for expansion data
  • Mic/Guitar input for use when singing or collaborating with other performers
  • Vocal Harmony 2 and Synth Vocoder functions
  • Real Distortion and Real Reverb, with an intuitive effects interface
  • USB audio playback with time stretch, pitch shift, vocal cancel and MP3 lyrics display functions
  • External display capability

The PSR-S775 also received a modest refresh versus the PSR-S770.

Observations

I honestly didn’t expect to see a mid-range refresh this January (2018). Genos™ is barely launched in North America with Winter NAMM 2018 just two weeks away. Yamaha normally announces new arranger workstation products in the Fall. From the marketing point of view, it would have been shear madness to refresh the mid-range while launching Genos during Fall 2017.

I suspect that the refresh is in response to the new Korg Pa700 and Pa1000 mid-range arranger keyboards. Korg and Yamaha are really duking it out in these lucrative segments. The S975 and Pa1000 attract “pro-sumer” musicians and the very affordable S775 and Pa700 are near the magic $1000 USD sweet spot.

Fans expecting a “mini-Genos” will just have to wait. Genos is way too hot to spoil by releasing a mid-range model with Genos-like features. Having played and experienced Genos for nearly one month, the enormous difference in street price between S975 and Genos is (and must be!) justified by a wide gap in functionality and sound quality. Value proposition, folks, value proposition.

One must wonder if a similar product strategy will play out in Yamaha’s synthesizer product line. The MOXF is due for at least a refresh. Does Yamaha have a compelling reason to issue a “Half Monty” two years after the Montage launch? A MOXF refresh might be enough to keep customers interested and sales up given the workstation features (sequencing, sampling, …) left out of the Montage. Some change is due simply because Yamaha’s inventory of the old tone generator IC (SWP51L) must be getting low.

The S975 is probably a simple re-spin of the S970 hardware. Yamaha can ride the ONFI NAND flash memory curve for years to come without breaking a sweat. The switch to ONFI compatible memory makes it easy to drop a larger capacity device into the existing printed circuit board footprint.

I’m still trying to discern where Yamaha are going with audio styles. They do have their patent portfolio covering full audio styles. The S975 allocates 128MBytes for Audio Style Expansion. (The S775 does not.) The Genos has a comparable Audio Style Expansion capability which draws from its Internal Memory. My intuition says that something is afoot, but it’s easy to extend one’s expectations beyond the current hardware/software platform.

There are rumors of another Genos update in the works. As with all things Yamaha, we must wait and see. Fortunately, we have excellent instruments to keep us busy and entertained!

Copyright © 2018 Paul J. Drongowski

Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion

As a few industry news sites have noted, the SPECTRE patch developed and pushed by Microsoft causes some older AMD processors to hang during boot up (or worse).

I live in what could charitably be called a “computer museum.” Yes, one of my machines — a 1.6GHz AMD Athlon 64 processor 2600+ — was bitten by the patch. Boot-up freezes at the “Starting Windows” splash screen. Fortunately, I was able to roll back to a restore point and I promptly hid KB4056894, KB4056897, and its ilk. From there, I returned to normal operation. Other users have not been as fortunate (e.g., no restore point).

Today, I received a response from Microsoft containing a link to a page, “Windows operating system security update block for some AMD based devices”, stating, “To prevent AMD customers from getting into an unbootable state, Microsoft has temporarily paused sending the following Windows operating system updates to devices that have impacted AMD processors …”

The lawyers who wrote this page try to push blame onto “documentation previously provided to Microsoft to develop the Windows operating system mitigations to protect against the chipset vulnerabilities known as Spectre and Meltdown.”

Excuse me? You don’t test your patches? Get real. I smell a class action lawsuit on the way.

Update: 10 January 2018. Tom’s Hardware has taken note of the Microsoft patch issue on older AMD processors, including Microsoft’s cheap shot at AMD.

CES 2018

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) always trickles out a few products of interest to musicians. (Not just stereo systems!)

Roland R-07

The Roland R-07 handheld recorder might knock my trusty Micro BR from its perch. The R-07 supports mono and stereo WAV recording at rates up to 24-bit / 96 kHz and MP3 recording at rates up to 320 kbps. The Micro BR tops out at 192 kbps when recording MP3 — way behind the times.

The R-07 also offers Bluetooth control and Bluetooth streaming. Its display is a 128 x 64 graphic LCD. Like the Micro BR, the R-07 runs on two AA batteries. This thing is tiny: 61mm x 103mm x 26mm, 150g. A serving of Cheetos is 28g.

Expect a street price of $229.99 USD. More than six bags of Cheetos.

Advanced Micro Devices

I’ve got to give a shout out to my pals at AMD. The Ryzen™ Threadripper™ 1950X processor is the CES 2018 Best of Innovation Award winner in the Computer Hardware and Components category. The AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X processor supports 16 Zen cores and 32 threads. Awaiting your VSTi’s now.

Two other products that raise my eyebrows are the Ryzen 5 2400G and the Ryzen 3 2200G. These are APUs that combine CPU and GPU compute in a single package. Intel are also getting wise and have integrated AMD’s Radeon RX Vega M GH graphics with Core i7 processors. Look for smaller, more powerful “2-in-1” platforms later in 2018. I love small and fast. Apple, Mac Mini?

Stay tuned for Zen+, Zen 2, and Zen 3. BTW, I admire how Dr. Lisa Su has gotten AMD back on track. The business press needs to start singing her praises. Kudos!

Kingston Nucleum

Laptop and desktop computer manufacturers have been getting stingy with interface ports. (That’s you, Apple.) The Kingston Nucleum is an inexpensive add-on hub for your USB-C computer ($80 USD street). The ports include:

  • USB-C (power input)
  • USB-C (data)
  • HDMI
  • USB-A (x2)
  • SD
  • microSD

This 7-in-1 Type C USB hub might be the ticket for producers on-the-go. I’d love to see an expanded version with stereo audio IN/OUT.

Izotope Spire Studio

Izotope have gotten into the hardware biz and are showing their new Spire Studio all-in-one recording device. It looks like one of the ubiquitous voice-directed assistants. Wonder how many people will ask it for the weather or a sports update?

It has two XLR/TS combo inputs with +48V phantom power. Sample rate and depth are 48kHz and 24-bits, respectively. The Spire Studio has built-in 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and runs on a rechargable lithium battery. Price is $349 USD.

Izotope is a Boston start-up to watch. Izotope hosted last year’s Music Expo Boston 2017 and I had a chance to visit their office. Good coffee as well as good products.

100 percent Genos

Now that I’ve gotten past the busy Christmas season, it’s time for a quick Genos demo. And I do mean quick!

I was anxious to try the new Yamaha Genos™ FunkAltoSax and FunkBaritoneSax voices as well as the JazzFlute. All three are Super Articulation 2 voices designed for solo lines.

For alto sax, what could be a better test than Junior Walker’s “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)” although Junior knocked this one out on tenor. It’s a fun tune to play although I still have difficulty with them triplets. That’s why he’s Junior Walker and I’m me.

So, about the backing track. It started life as a MIDI file purchased from Yamaha Musicsoft. Previously, working in SONAR, I selected new voices, etc. for the PSR-S950 and produced a mix without the (usually) awful melody part. The melody part is for me. Music minus one, great for practice.

Now, instead of SONAR, I copied the S950 MIDI file to the Genos and revoiced/remixed it on the Genos alone. Overall, mixing on the Genos went well. The only two hang ups were:

  1. Figuring out where the S950 “Song Creator” went, and
  2. Getting the Genos to apply and save the new voices, effects, levels, etc.

Song Creator is subsumed into MIDI Multi Recording (Reference Manual, Chapter 5). Even if you have the MIDI song in the Genos Song Player, you must explicitly import the MIDI song into MIDI Multi Recording. Maybe I did something wrong, but MIDI Multi Recording clears the song data when you first enter MIDI Multi Recording, as Genos assumes you’re creating a new song.

The other usage snafu is remembering to tap the multi recording Setup icon and to “execute” the set-up (Chapter 5, page 73). If you don’t execute, Genos does not change the existing Mixer settings (including new voices) when you save. I totally forgot about this aspect of the Yamaha UI because I usually prepare MIDI files in SONAR and do not mix on the arranger itself.

Yamaha, why-oh-why did you keep this skunky workflow? So many people get frustrated by this unnecessary execute step. Just commit the set-up as it is when you tap Save.

I found it very easy to fly around the Mixer making changes. Here is a table summarizing the S950 setup and the Genos setup:

    S950 voice/effect    Genos voice/effect
    -------------------  --------------------
    Strings              SeattleWarm
    Brass p              PopHornsSwell JS
    FretlessBass         ActiveFingerBass
    RockPiano            C7 WarmGrand
    AcousticKit          VintageOpenKit (Revo)
    Room reverb          Real Room (REAL REVERB)

I tried not to over-think the remix, choosing voices fast without a lot of A/B comparison. PopHornsSwell is OK; maybe I could have done better. The active finger bass, C7 and vintage open drum kit are all new to Genos.

The VintageOpenKit is a Revo drum kit with wave cycling. I didn’t need to remap any of the low MIDI notes due to a sound compatibility issue. (See Genos hi-hat happiness for more info about differences and potential issues.) This demo shows what Revo can do for a plain vanilla MIDI drum track. Like the rest of the mix, I didn’t do any tweaking and tweezing with the drum kit.

The Real Room reverb sounds better than the legacy Room reverb algorithm. I A/B tested the mix with the compressor ON and OFF. I left the master compressor ON (Natural preset) since it gave the mix more body. Overall, the track sounds more finished (studio-like) with the master compressor ON. The master EQ is flat. Maybe the mix would sound better with a mid-range scoop and a slight high/low boost?

Recording-wise, I jumped into Audio Quick Record, enabled recording, set a level, and tapped the play button. After a few false starts, I played the tune through — for better or for worse.

Here’s the finished Genos demo: “What Does It Take” (MP4/AAC). Enjoy!

Production talk aside, what’s it like to play? I can’t express the absolute joy it is to play the FunkAltoSax voice. Frankly, I don’t really care whether I sound like Junior (doubtful) or not, so much as engaging with the music and having fun within the moment. I’ve only had a few practice sessions with the ART1, ART2 and ART3 buttons; it helps to know a priori the instrument-specific articulation associated with each button. But, nothing — nothing — replaces the visceral thrill of scooping those sax wails and blasting the growl.

Man, it’s a good time. 🙂

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Java note mapper (v0.1)

Here’s a little bit of Java code to brighten your day.

Two weeks ago, I described the additional hi-hat notes in the Yamaha Genos™ Revo drum kits. The hi-hat sounds replace noises like sequence click, etc. in the lowest numbered notes of the MIDI scale. Thus, a Genos factory style wheezes, zings and clicks when it is played on a legacy PSR or Tyros arranger workstation.

Quite a few people would like to try the new Genos styles, but the hi-hat notes pose a major barrier to conversion (i.e., porting a Genos style to legacy PSR/Tyros). Jørgen Sørensen’s Revo Drum Cleaner suppresses these sounds, but does not remap the Genos hi-hat notes to General MIDI (GM) standard notes.

That’s where note remapper comes in. Note remapper is an experimenter’s kit, not a finished tool. Jørgen (and Michael Bedesem) have written many rather nice tools for the PSR/Tyros arranger workstations. Note remapper gets the job done from the command line, so don’t expect a graphical user interface (GUI) or even a nice installer! It’s an experimenter’s kit.

However, what you do get is source code. Here is the ZIP file containing source, precompiled Java classses (executables), map files and examples.

What else can you do with note mapper? Well, note mapper operates on any Standard MIDI File (SMF). Thus, it’s not just a PSR/Tyros utility. Maybe you want to write a Java program of your own. The source code will give you a good starting point. Copy and modify to your heart’s content.

If you are into converting PSR/Tyros styles, take notice (pun) that note mapper changes both the MIDI note number and velocity according to maps in the files keymap.txt and velmap.txt, respectively. Therefore, you can also map to and from Mega Voices.

Interested? Then please read on. The following text is taken from the README files.

Description

This Java program maps the notes in a standard MIDI file according to a key (note number) map and a velocity map. Use it to map the Yamaha Revo hi-hat/drum sounds. Or, use it to map to and from Mega Voice. It’s all up to you and how you design your key and velocity maps.

The note mapper is launched from the command line (no GUI). There are two command line options:

   -v  Verbose flag
   -w  Write default keymap.txt, velmap.txt and hhmap.txt files

The -w option gives the user a quick start by writing a few default map files. Both -v and -w are optional.

The rest of the command line consists of an (optional) MIDI channel number and the name of the MIDI file to be mapped. The channel number must be an integer in the range [1:16]. Only notes in the specified channel are mapped. The default channel is 10 (the GM/XG drum channel).

The note mapper writes a new file named mapped.mid. It’s up to the user to rename or save this file. If the file in not renamed or saved, it will be overwritten when note mapper is run again.

The note mapper assumes there are two files, keymap.txt and velmap.txt, in the working directory where the note mapper is launched. The note mapper reports an error if it cannot read these two files. The default key and velocity maps preserve the input; the input notes are sent to the output without change.

A map file consists of 128 positive integers in the range [0:127]. Each integer defines how its corresponding note or velocity value is mapped to a new value. Essentially, each integer in the file is loaded into a 128 byte map array indexed by either the incoming MIDI note number or the incoming MIDI velocity value.

The hhmap.txt maps the Revo hi-hat note numbers to General MIDI hi-hat note numbers.

    Revo notes        GM notes
    -------------     ----------------
    13 14 15 16   --> 42 Hi-Hat Closed
    21            --> 44 Hi-Hat Pedal
    17 18 19 20   --> 46 Hi-Hat Open
    22            --> 55 Splash Cymbal

The Examples directory contains two example Genos styles. Be sure to read the READ_THIS.TXT file in that directory, too!

Example command lines

Map the notes for channel 10 in the MIDI file named “Mr.Soul_factory.T552.mid”.

    java MapNotes 10 Mr.Soul_factory.T552.mid

Write the default keymap.txt, velmap.txt and hhmap.txt files before mapping:

    java MapNotes -w 10 Mr.Soul_factory.T552.mid

The default keymap.txt and velmap.txt files do not change/map notes, i.e.,
they are the “identity mapping.”

How to use note mapper to change a style

To use the note mapper on a style, you must split the style into its MIDI and non-MIDI parts using Jørgen Sørensen’s Split/Splice tool. Note mapper, like most commercial MIDI tools, does not recognize or retain non-MIDI data. Thus, you need to run the style through Split/Splice to save the non-MIDI information.

After splitting the style, run the style through the note mapper. The note mapper writes a file named “mapped.txt”. Splice mapped.txt with the non-MIDI data produced in the preceding step. Splicing the mapped MIDI data with the non-MIDI data produces a complete style file (MIDI+CASM+OTS).

Transfer the style file to your PSR/Tyros and revoice the style parts, test the style, edit the OTS, and so forth.

If you don’t like how the mapped file sounds, then you can reuse the non-MIDI data and do another map/splice, assuming that you didn’t modify the OTS.

Compiling

The distribution comes with source code (*.java files) and precompiled class files (*.class files).

You can, of course, modify the source code and recompile. You need the Java development kit which includes the Java compiler, package definitions, and so forth. To recompile, just enter:

    javac MapNotes.java
    javac NoteMapper.java

I have included source for a quick and dirty MIDI file dumper:

    javac QuickDumper.java
    javac QuickDump.java

You may prefer to dump MIDI files using one of the much better tools written by Jørgen Sørensen or Michael Bedesem. See:

The Examples directory

The Examples directory contains two example styles: Mr.Soul and SoulSupreme. Each style has several files, so here’s a little guide.

    Mr.Soul_factory.T552.prs    Original Genos factory style
    Mr.Soul_factory.T552.mid    Original Genos MIDI part
    Mr.Soul_factory.T552.nmi    Original Genos non-MIDI part
    Mr.Soul_mapped.T552.mid     MIDI with mapped hi-hats
    Mr.Soul_mapped.T552.sty     New style file with mapped hi-hats

The *.class files are the Java executable files. Example command line:

    java MapNotes 10 Mr.Soul_factory.T552.mid

The note mapper produces a file named “mapped.mid” which you may rename to something else, e.g., Mr.Soul_mapped.T552.mid.

keymap.txt and velmap.txt are the key (note number) and velocity map files needed by note mapper. hhmap.txt is my initial hi-hat note map.

Workflow

The overall workflow is:

               Mr.Soul_factory.T552.prs
                          |
                          |
                          V
              Jørgen's Split/Slice (split)
              |                          |
              |                          |
              V                          V
  Mr.Soul_factory.T552.mid   Mr.Soul_factory.T552.nmi
              |                          |
              |                          |
              V                          |
         Note mapper                     |
              |                          |
              V                          |
      Rename mapped.mid                  |
              |                          |
              V                          |
  Mr.Soul_mapped.T552.mid                |
              |                          |
              |                          |
              V                          V
             Jørgen's Split/Slice  (splice)
                          |
                          |
                          V
               Mr.Soul_mapped.T552.sty

Copyright (c) 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

NAMM 2018: Half Monty, Full Monty

Winter NAMM 2018 is January 25 to 28 in Anaheim, California. Get your ear protectors ready!

Even though I’ve been concentrating on the Yamaha Genos™, two Yamaha promotions have not escaped my attention.

Back in October, Yamaha began offering a MOXF promotion: Buy a MOXF and get an FL512M flash memory expansion board and the MOXF Premium Content Pack. Not bad. The MOX6 is my gig workhorse and I still enjoy playing it even though I have often pined for flash expansion memory. If you like the Motif XF sound or miss built-in sequencing, then now is a good time to find a good deal on the MOXF and buy one.

This is one of those rare times when a promotion is a harbinger of a future product release. The MOXF uses the previous generation AWM2 tone generation chip, SWP51L. The SWP51L has been superceded by the SWP70 family now deployed in the Montage, PSR-S770/S970 and Genos. The MOXF is the only current product in the synth and arranger product lines based on the SWP51L. Once Yamaha uses up its internal supply of SWP51Ls, that’s it.

So, the MOXF is due to be refreshed (like the MX line) or updated. If you’re OK with the MOXF as it is — and it is a fine machine — then make your move now or wait a little longer for close-out.

Be sure to take advantage of the free flash offer or get you dealer to kick in an expansion board. Yamaha have moved to built-in flash expansion memory and this is definitely the end of the line for the Yamaha flash expansion boards. The boards do not “speak” with the new tone generator and you won’t need them for future Yamaha products.

What would the MOXF replacement look and sound like? Would the MOXF be a “half-Monty?” Tough question.

I’ve spent a lot of time researching both the Montage and Genos as my next instrument for the long-term. Due to the widespread availability of Montage, I’ve had more seat time with Montage (several hours over several days) than the Genos (a two hour go at Audioworks CT). I play an MOX6 and/or PSR-S950 on a daily basis.

Given this experience, Yamaha’s top-of-the-line (TOTL) instruments are more than an incremental cut above middle-of-the-line instruments. In terms of control (knobs, sliders and such) and sound, the TOTL is way above the mid-range.

Hope springs eternal. People are hoping that the next mid-range arranger workstation will be a “mini-Genos.” Similarly, synth people may be hoping for a “half-Monty.”

I think these people will be disappointed. Montage and Genos command a premium price and they both need the feature set and sound to justify the TOTL value proposition. I think the big gap between TOTL and mid-range will persist. In the case of the MOXF replacement, Yamaha aren’t under much pressure to make and sell a half-Monty (e.g., a synth with the Montage’s AWM2 sound set, no FM). The recently refreshed MX, at the low end, has the Motif XS sound set, now ten years old. The MOXF has the very respectable seven year old Motif XF sound set and the sequencing capability that so many people miss in Montage. Thus, Yamaha could give the MOXF a minor spiff and still have a very marketable product in the mid-range.

The same reasoning applies to the next mid-range arranger workstations.

Hey, so I mentioned two promotions. The second promotion is “Buy a Montage and get a pair of HS5 studio monitors for free.” Until the Yamaha promotion came along, Sweetwater was giving away a free Yamaha Reface CS with the purchase of a Montage. The Montage (AKA “the full Monty”) is just turning two years old. I’m a little surprised that the Montage needs a promotion at this point to spur sales.

Might we expect a Montage 2.0 at NAMM? Yamaha have issued a series of successful, substantive updates for the Montage and a major software update might give the full Monty a bit of a shove and a boost.

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Pocket Miku (Thanks, David!)

I usually unwind with a book or Keyboard Magazine before turning out the light for a good night’s rest. Some of you know Keyboard Magazine as Electronic Musician. 🙂

Imagine my surprise when I read David Battino’s “Adventures in DIY” and it’s about Gakken’s Procket Miku. And further, David gives a shout out to your’s truly and this blog (sandsoftwaresound.net).

Thank you, David! “Adventures in DIY” is one of the main reasons that I keep subscribing to Keyboard Magazine. David has a playfulness in his projects and approach that I really like. Plus, anyone who likes Japanese monsters and toys would fit right into our family.

David continues a long tradition of DIY writing that goes back to Polyphony Magazine, where I really got the bug to create. (There’s still a few treasured issues of Polyphony in our basement.)

So, if you came looking for Gakken Pocket Miku, NSX-39 or Yamaha’s NSX-1 integrated circuit, here’s a quick list of pages related to those topics:

While you’re here, please browse around. This site is my mental storage unit and you’ll never know what you might find. Lately, I’ve been diving into the new Yamaha Genos™. Maybe you need some content like scat vocal samples, converted DJXII patterns, or Motif performances converted to PSR/Tyros styles? Maybe you’re interested in taking a tour inside Montage, PSR/Tyros, or Kronos? Use soft synths on Linux and use Raspberry Pi to bridge 5-pin MIDI and USB.

And then there are reviews of products that I’ve tried or eventually purchased: Yamaha Montage, Genos, Reface CP, Reface YC, Korg Triton Taktile, Roland GO:KEYS, Nord Stage 2ex, etc.

There are several Arduino-based projects to browse (with downloadable code). Heck, there are even notes about data structures, computer architecture and VLSI design from back in the day.

Have fun!

Book-wise, I’m currently reading David Weigel’s “The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock.” Fun stuff.

Genos: Hi-hat happiness

If you’re following all of the Genos™ hoopla, you know that Revo! drums are one of the major features extensively advertised by Yamaha. You probably know that Revo (I’m dropping that darned exclamation point 🙂 ) drums use wave-cycling to to help remove the mechanical, robotic sound of MIDI drum and percussion parts.

All true.

Revo drums also offer one additional major feature which, in skilled hands, can fend off the MIDI robots: hi-hat drum instruments that help you mimic all of the crazy stuff that drummers do.

Some of us first noticed the new hi-hat sounds while converting Genos styles to other Yamaha arranger keyboards like the Tyros 5, PSR-S970, PSR-S950, etc. Yamaha styles are actually Type 0 Standard MIDI Files (SMF), consisting of a normal MIDI part (regular old SMF MIDI data) and non-MIDI parts (CASM to handle note transposition and OTS to select RIGHT1, RIGHT2, … voice sets on the fly). Whenever a new Yamaha arranger keyboard like the Genos comes along, there is a cottage industry backporting new styles to old axes.

If one installs and plays a Genos style on, say, the PSR-S950, and the style uses a Revo drum kit, you’re entertained by a percussion track that sounds like a Spike Jones novelty tune or a Benny Hill episode. Bells, scratches and other mayhem. What’s up?

For answers, check out the Genos Data List file, a downloadable PDF published and distributed by Yamaha. The Data List file contains the drum kit layout (i.e., how the MIDI note numbers are assigned to individual drum instruments/samples) for all of the drum kits. Many Yamaha drum kits to date approximately follow the note-to-drum instrument layout of the so-called “Standard Kit.” The lowest notes (C#-1 to E0, MIDI note numbers 13 to 28) are sounds like scratch, sequence click, click noise, etc. The highest notes (C#5 to G6, MIDI note numbers 85 to 91) are silent, i.e., no instrument is assigned.

Jump to the new modern age and the Revo “Rock Drum Kit,” for example, assigns ten hi-hat instruments to the notes C#-1 to A#-1. The Rock Drum Kit also assigns four snare drum variations to notes C#0 to E0. The rest of the Revo Rock Drum Kit follows (roughly) the Standard Kit layout.

The Genos styles make use of the new hi-hat and snare instruments assigned to the lowest MIDI note numbers. When a Genos style is played on an old non-Revo keyboard like the S950, the notes bark, ring and wheeze.

Before moving on, I should mention that assigning drum instruments to the highest note numbers is not a new practice for Yamaha or any other vendor, for that matter. Contemporary electronic and dance styles are percussion-rich and the corresponding Yamaha kits often have instrument variations and other fun sounds in the “north country.” Revo drums continue this practice for electronic- and dance-oriented kits.

Back in the day

Even keyboard players are remotely familiar with the real-world hi-hat instrument. The hi-hat is that pedal thing with two opposing cymbals, one platter above the other platter. The pedal controls the top platter, closing the gap between the platters or leaving them apart in the open position.

To appreciate the new Revo world, let’s look back to the MIDI Standard Kit. Drum kits which follow the Standard Kit form have conventionally offered three hi-hat (HH) sounds:

  • Hi-Hat closed
  • Hi-Hat pedal
  • Hi-Hat open

That’s just enough to cover basic hi-hat territory. HH closed is a bright chick or tick. HH open is shimmering and sustained like a ride cymbal. HH pedal is the sound of the pedal closing after being struck.

What drummers do

The top cymbal area is divided (roughly) into three parts: the bell near the center, the edge, and the region between the bell and the edge.

Regular hi-hat sounds are played using the tip of the drum stick hitting the top cymbal somewhere between the bell and the edge. The area closer to the bell has a brighter sound (high frequency tone). Drummers strike the cymbal edge for accents, striking with the thick part of the stick shank (the “shoulder”). Hard rock and metal tend to whack the edge no matter what in order to get an open slushy sound.

Open hi-hat is usually played with the tip on the top of the upper cymbal. For most genres, drummers want a crisp, clean sound. A drummer might hit the edge of an open hi-hat when they want the hi-hat part to stand out in the mix or they want an accent.

As I mentioned, the pedal closes the hi-hat cymbals. Drummers snap the cymbals together as part of their timekeeping (maybe to emphasize quarter notes, for example). It’s not just a binary choice (open/closed), however. Drummers apply more or less foot pressure in order to change the sound, even when the hi-hat cymbals are closed!

Then there are special techniques like choking the hi-hat. The drummer holds the cymbals tight with the pedal, opens the cymbals just before striking the top cymbal, and then quickly clamping the cymbals closed again.

Drummers sometimes look for extra sizzle in the open position and hang a light chain (or other random object) on the top cymbal. Want a completely different tone? Play the hi-hat with brushes or mallets.

Well, combine all of these techniques and the hi-hat is one expressive instrument! The three MIDI Standard Kit sounds don’t even begin to capture the full range of the hi-hat. With all of these playing techniques, the hi-hat has a dynamic sound; it’s no mystery why MIDI hi-hats sound robotic.

This is where Revo comes in.

If you want to learn more about hi-hat playing technique, search the Web. There’s a lot of free info out there. Knowing about real-world instruments is essential knowledge for arranging and orchestration.

What Revo offers

Wave cycling is important, but it only takes you half-way to hi-hat Nirvana.

Here is a table of the new hi-hat instrument sounds in the Genos Revo Rock Drum Kit:

                                     Alternate
Note# Note  RockDrumKit                Group
----- ----  -----------------------  ---------
   13 C#-1  Hi-Hat Tip 00 RD            64
   14 D-1   Hi-Hat Edge 00 RD           64
   15 D#-1  Hi-Hat Tip 10 RD            64
   16 E-1   Hi-Hat Edge 10 RD           64
   17 F-1   Hi-Hat Edge 25 RD           96
   18 F#-1  Hi-Hat Edge 50 RD           96
   19 G-1   Hi-Hat Edge 75 RD           96
   20 G#-1  Hi-Hat Edge 99 RD           96
   21 A-1   Hi-Hat Pedal Closed RD      64
   22 A#-1  Hi-Hat Pedal Splash         96

Even better, the hi-hat instruments (except the splash) use wave-cycling, i.e., there are multiple samples per instrument. The old school hi-hat MIDI note numbers are assigned to Revo sounds in the following way:

                                                Alternate
Note# Note  StdKit     RockDrumKit                Group
----- ----  ---------  -----------------------  ---------
   42 F#1   HH Closed  Hi-Hat Edge 00 RD            1
   44 G#1   HH Pedal   Hi-Hat Pedal Closed RD       1
   46 A#1   HH Open    Hi-Hat Edge 75 RD            1

Given the new-to-old school assignment, I interpret the number in the instrument (sample) name to mean “how open the cymbals are.” This value is the distance between the cymbals where “00” is closed and “99” is open. Warning! I may be totally wrong as Yamaha have not explicitly defined the meaning of the number in the Data List.

Here’s a few more new-to-old school hi-hat MIDI note assignments:

 # Note StdKit PopDrumKit             VintageOpenKit         JazzStickKit
-- ---- ------ ---------------------- ---------------------- ---------------
42 F#1  Closed Hi-Hat Edge 00 PD      Hi-Hat Tip 00 VO       Hi-Hat Edge 00 JS
44 G#1  Pedal  Hi-Hat Pedal Closed PD Hi-Hat Pedal Closed VO Hi-Hat Pedal Closed JS
46 A#1  Open   Hi-Hat Edge 75 PD      Hi-Hat Edge 75 VO      Hi-Hat Edge 99 JS

The closed position is “00” whether the hi-hat is played on the edge or tip. The open position is either “75” or “99”.

These assignment tables suggest a starting point when converting Revo drum parts in Genos styles or songs to legacy, non-Revo kits, e.g., PSR-S950 kits. (More below.)

The Alternate Group controls how an incoming hi-hat note affects an on-going hi-hat sound. Here’s the description from the Yamaha Genos Data List:

  • 1 to 95: Playing any instrument within a numbered group will immediately stop the sound of any other instrument in the same group of the same number.
  • 96 to 127: For these numbers, playing within a specific numbered group will NOT stop other instrument sounds in the same group number. However, the sound of instruments within these numbers are stopped when playing any instrument of a group whose number is that minus “32.” For example, the sound of an instrument numbered “96” will be stopped by playing any instrument numbered “64.”

Revo in action

The image below is a snapshot of the MAIN B section in the Genos “Mr. Soul” style (MP3). [Click image to enlarge.] The DAW is SONAR, which names notes from zero instead of Yamaha’s -2. Subtract 2 from the SONAR note name to get the Yamaha note name.

Section MAIN B plays the following notes and hi-hat instruments in the Revo Rock Drum Kit:

Note# Note  RockDrumKit                 Standard Kit
----- ----  -----------------------     ------------
   13 C#-1  Hi-Hat Tip 00 RD        --> HH Closed
   14 D-1   Hi-Hat Edge 00 RD       --> HH Closed
   15 D#-1  Hi-Hat Tip 10 RD        --> HH Closed
   16 E-1   Hi-Hat Edge 10 RD       --> HH Closed
   17 F-1   Hi-Hat Edge 25 RD       --> HH Open

Section MAIN C starts off with F#-1 Hi-Hat Edge 50 RD. The other drums instruments are:

Note# Note  RockDrumKit                 Standard Kit
----- ----  -----------------------     ------------
   35 B0    Kick 2 RD               --> Kick Tight
   38 D1    Snare 1 RD              --> Snare
   39 D#1   Clap Power              --> Hand clap

These notes carry the kick, snare and clap pattern.

When converting this style to a legacy kit, the kick, snare and clap pattern map to corresponding instruments in the Standard Kit. For the hi-hat, I would first try the mapping shown above for the Revo hi-hat notes. Conversion, though, pretty much sucks the Anton Fig right out of the pattern.

I hope you enjoyed this mini-tour through the Revo drum hi-hats and I encourage you to explore the other extensions in the new Genos drum kits. Yamaha have added variations for snare, brushes, and other drumming techniques. Like the SArt2 acoustic instruments, Genos is a ready-to-play, sample library. The Revo additions greatly enhance the realism of Genos styles. Revo — it’s more than wave-cycling.

Once I get a Genos, or even access to a Genos, I will add audio examples of the individual Genos hi-hat sounds. Meanwhile, give the “Mr. Soul” MP3 a listen

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski