Category Archives: Other Technology

Other Technology

mi.1 Wireless MIDI Interface

When is the last time you bought something on a whim, and you were happy that you did so?

Several months ago, one of the projects I was backing on a crowdfunding site (I can't remember if it was a Kickstarter or Indiegogo project) sent out an e-mail recommending another project, the mi.1.

The mi.1, if you look at its Indiegogo page or company website (Quicco Sound), is a small device that plugs into existing keyboards, creating a wireless MIDI interface between the keyboard and an iPad. The “cost” of backing was $35 at the time, and I figured that I couldn't go wrong backing the device.

That device shipped out in October, but some issues with the required app for the device kept the company from releasing the app until this week. Now the mi.1 connect app is available on the App Store, and I can finally use my mi.1.

The mi.1 uses Bluetooth LE to connect your keyboard and your iPad (or iPhone). This was the first time I have used Bluetooth LE, and I'm a bit surpised by it. You don't turn anything on in your Settings…the devices simply talk to each other. I'm a little concerned that some harmful things could be transmitted in such a way (not from the mi.1, but from other Bluetooth LE “senders” out in public), but all the old frustrations of Bluetooth pairing are gone.

The first time you connect the mi.1, you are asked to open the mi.1 app, connect to the device, turn Bluetooth off and then back on, and then update the firmware of the mi.1. This is a twenty second process, and you're good to go.

My initial attempts to use the mi.1 with notation software on my iPad failed, but later attempts were successful (I have been using Notion for most of this testing). The video I created shows me entering notes through my keyboard via the mi.1 to Notion. Latency seems to be good…and it seems slightly faster (i.e. “normal” to send data to the iPad than it does to send data from the iPad to keyboard. I haven't figured out how to make Notion (on the iPad) play back via the mi.1/keyboard.

In 2009, we built a new high school with an embedded seventeen seat MIDI Lab. Every computer had a M-Audio Keystation plus a microphone for each keyboard. These computers (and the furniture in the room) were eventually removed to put computers in every practice room as well as the rehearsal rooms, and the keyboards were distributed throughout the district to teachers who needed them. The keyboards were not Core-MIDI compliant and would not work with iPads. (Interestingly, with the termination of Windows XP support, the computers themselves are no longer useable, and the iPads we purchased while I was at that school are now the only way for students to use SmartMusic in the practice rooms. I would have not expected that sequence of events).

The mi.1 changes the usefulness of those keyboards–and all other non-Core MIDI compliant keyboards, plus it gives you a way to connect a keyboard to your iPad without any MIDI cables. I am not sure what the street price of the mi.1 will be, but if the device is priced less than $50, it will be a cheaper solution than the purchase of a dedicated Lightning to USB Camera Kit adapter and a Lightning cable, and it already is cheaper than most MIDI box solutions (iPad or otherwise). At the moment, the mi.1 cannot work with a Mac, but I see no reason why it could not do so eventually.

There is one other item of great promise…Apple included MIDI over Bluetooth LE as a core component of iOS 8 (and I would be willing to bet that it is hiding in Yosemite as well). The mi.1, in a future update, will be able to connect directly to your iPad without the need for the mi.1 app, directly through MIDI via Bluetooth LE.

Are there any problems with the device? Not really. Some thoughts:

  • The company is from Japan, so communication from the company, both on the website and in materials provided by the company, is a little awkward in English. You can tell that the translators are not fluent English speakers, and Google Translate may even be in play. The company would be well-suited to hire some English experts (or even a British, Australian, Canadian, or American team) to re-work all communications intended for English settings.
  • Although the company missed its deadlines and had some issues with their app before releasing the app, they were much closer to reaching their Indiegogo deadline than other items I have backed.
  • Documentation with the device was limited; some people need much more detailed instructions–even for a product that is simple.
  • I don't have the equipment to test latency…which I imagine will improve as the device can accept input from the mi.1 without the middle-man app.
  • There is a coming update that will allow you to attach to multiple mi.1 units!
  • I, of course, focus on music notation apps as a music educator. I would imagine that this device would be very exciting for iOS musicians. For example, it works with GarageBand.

The device isn't available yet for purchase…but when it is, it is worth a purchase if you plan to use your iPad with a keyboard that has traditional MIDI connections. Those connections are 30 years old…and this device makes them relevant again. I didn't think this $35 crowdfunded device would have much of an impact on my life…I think I was wrong. It may be the best $35 I have spent for a while.

 

Some More Changes At MakeMusic

Last year was a huge year of change at MakeMusic. The company was acquired and went private (off the stock market). This was followed by some changes in the leadership team (two VPs were let go, one VP, Michael Good, was brought on the team) and other levels of management were also impacted (both program managers of Finale and SmartMusic were let go). In addition to the changes, SmartMusic (in particular) had a rough first half of the 2013-2014 school year with a number of technical issues.

As with all things in life, a lot of good things happened, too. Finale 2014 was released with a number of new features, a lot of new code, and backwards compatible file formats; SmartMusic continuted to grow in functionality on the iPad, and now SmartMusic also shares backwards compatible files. Michael Good discussed many of these improvements on a recent blog post (link).

Today brought news about another big change at MakeMusic. MakeMusic is coming under the umbrella of Peaksware, Inc. Peaksware was behind the acquisition last year, and MakeMusic will continue to exist as a brand of Peaksware. I had the chance to chat with Gear Fisher, the CEO of Peaskware, for a few moments and to ask some questions about the immediate future of MakeMusic.

Ultimately, this change won’t likely impact the typical Finale or SmartMusic user very much. The biggest change is that the company will be moving from Minnesota to Colorado (plans are to do this in Quarter 1), and the company is assessing personnel right now. A number of employees will be asked to join the company in Colorado, and those employees will have to make a personal decision to move or not. After this past winter in Minnesota, I don’t know why anyone, given the chance to move, would stay here.

I find myself to be sad that MakeMusic will be moving–it has always been wonderful to have MakeMusic (or its predecessor, Coda Music Technology) as a “local company.” At some level, it is a personal sadness, because I would have enjoyed working at MakeMusic as a local company (As part of a blended family and all that entails, we cannot move out of the area). It isn’t often that you find companies filled with good people that are passonate about the meeting point of technology and music education.

Beyond that, Finale will continue to improve, SmartMusic will continue to improve, and the company should be better positioned to exist and compete in the future. This was the ideal time for such an announcement, as all of the turmoil from the acquisition last year has finally settled down and the products are stable. Jobs will be moving (or created) in another state (not outsourced to another country), and I hope that a majority of the development teams–including some leadership–will stay in place, albeit in another location. The end result of today’s announcment is that there won’t be much of a change for the end user, but there will be big changes ahead for all of the 130+ staff employed by MakeMusic.

I wish all of the MakeMusic team the very best. For those that will be moving to Colorado, best wishes for the process of relocation and as you continue to develop and refine MakeMusic products. And to those who choose to stay in Minnesota, best wishes as you search for new positions. To all of you: your work (including those that have worked in the company in the past) has made a significant impact on music and music education. Thank you for your work! And best wishes to Mr. Fisher, as he takes on the role as CEO over MakeMusic through this position as CEO of Peaksware.

One additional note that might be of interest to music educators: I had opportunity to ask Mr. Fisher about his own musical background, and he had been a saxophone player in his school days. He did, however, state that his current experience with SmartMusic comes from his own home, where his 11 year old daughter is learning the clarinet. She is using SmartMusic as part of that process. It is encouraging to know that the CEO of the company–if not using the software himself–is seeing the software used as it was meant to be used. That experience will offer him fantastic insight into the product for years to come.

MyScript Online Handwritten Notation Converter

Can you remember back to early 2013, when a company announced a revolutionary app that would covert handwritten notation into digital notation? The app was actually a concept–and was a promotional video that went viral in the world of music education technology. Ultimately, it turned out that the commercial was using existing technologies to show a “proof of concept,” with the hopes of generating a crowd-funded app.

The app never reached its required level of funding, and the company changed courses, selling copies of the app in advance as they worked on handwriting analysis, audio sounds, and so on. Sadly, the company announced this past March that their developer had quit and that they were going to attempt to keep working on the product–but would be returning reservations and so on. For all intents and purposes, it was a “the end” letter (see note below).

Meanwhile, another company–Neuratron–introduced a music handwriting recongition app (NotateMe — Now $39.99, and it also scans music for an additional $29.99 in-app purchase–a free one-staff trial version of the app is also available) in January of 2014.

At the time that ThinkMusicTechnology was attemping to fund their app, they had two partners–MyScript, the makers of several handwriting based apps, including MyScript Calculator (it's cool…try it) and Adonit (makers of a good line of precision styluses). I thought that the ThinkMusicTechnology app had a strong chance to make it, particularly because of their relationship with MyScript.

Today, MuseScore (of all organizations) retweeted an announcement about the MyScript music notation HTML 5 web app. It works on all devices, and although audio doesn't play back on the iPad–it works. Go try it out. I wish you could resize the handwriting area–and MusicXML export is a bit odd, as it pulls up a separate page with the actual MusicXML coding (not a downloadable or “open in” file). My guess is that this is the engine that was supposed to be behind the ThinkMusicTechnology app, and since that app is not around, MyScript still wanted to do something with all that work.

So…try it out. Make a bookmark to the page. And to those of you in 1:1 schools, this might be another option for notation (obviously, it will be easier to draw on a touch based machine, which could mean Windows 8.1 devices, Android, or even the rare Chromebook touchscreen computers.

Is this going to replace NotateMe for my workflow? Not a chance, particularly with NotateMe Now available for free (for use with students)–plus NotateMe also has PhotoScore (which is a game changer). However, the HTML 5 approach is a positive development–and perhaps it is something MyScript can license to other programs (Noteflight, perhaps?). And it might be a good time for some of the exisiting notation products (Finale, Sibelius, Notion, even the coming Steinberg program) to consider an acquistion of a platform that works for the “next generation” of notation entry.

These are exciting times—there is always something new out there to try!

 

Note: I have said this before, about Symphony Pro…which was resurrected and is available again. That said, take my analysis with a grain of salt.

 

 

Ear Teacher released for Mac (and soon Windows)

I received notice that a new program, called Ear Teacher (www.earteacher.com) is available for purchase on the Mac platform. I declined a chance to review the program because my educational situation will not be able to take advantage of the program because of cost of the program (we have a $0 budget) and platform (we are a 1:1 iPad school with a limited number of Windows desktops and laptop carts in the school).

Ear Teacher may, however, fit into your model, and if so, check it out! There is a free trial available.

 

Airport Express to the Rescue!

This is the AirPort Express, initially a small wireless router, but it can be configured to extend a wireless network, act as a printer hub, or become a dedicated AirPlay audio receiver.

This is the AirPort Express, initially a small wireless router, but it can be configured to extend a wireless network, act as a printer hub, or become a dedicated AirPlay audio receiver.

At the end of the school year, I was asked to fix the problems with our auditorium’s sound setup.  I won’t get into all the details, but one of the goals was to provide a way to stream audio to the sound system without wires.

My first inclination was to see if anyone makes a pure “AirPlay” receiver (we are a 1:1 iPad school, after all), and although there are such systems in a “traditional” sound system receiver (not what you use for professional audio), there was nothing that was an actual stand-alone AirPlay receiver.  We were looking for ease of operation, so outfitting a Raspberry Pi computer for AirPlay (yes, you can do this) did not make sense.  The device has to be able to be powered on (the rack is not powered all the time) and just work.  When you need things to “just work,” Apple is usually the place to go.

The answer, instead of an Apple TV (which CAN stream audio–not needed in this application) was to purchase an Apple AirPort Express.  The Express can be set to run off your existing network (yes, it IS a fully functional wireless router), and has an audio port (normal 1/8″ stereo mini jack) that can be patched into a system.   I used a stereo 1/8″ to dual XLR cable to connect the device to our Mackie 16 channel sound board. The Airport Extreme basically set itself up–using my iPhone.  I was able to add a password to the AirPort Extreme, and a password to the AirPlay functionality.

There are some Bluetooth modules that can stream audio, and are device agnostic–but I have had mixed experience with Bluetooth receivers (dropping connections, primarily).  We need our streaming audio to be reliable, as it will likely be used for our student musicals (middle school “junior” productions that are performed with a background recording) and talent shows.  We were looking at a new Bluetooth receiver as an option…but that cost $200.  That is twice the price of the AirPort Express.

At the same time that I installed new hardware, I removed the existing DVD/Cassette combo that was in the rack…no one used that anyway!  The AirPort Express is tucked away in the rack itself (it cannot be seen).  And if someone attempts to connect to the AirPort Express, they will not be able to do so without the password.

So…at this point, the auditorium has a fully-working sound system, with a hassle-free audio-only AirPlay connection for iOS devices and MacBooks (and there are some apps that enable Android to send audio via AirPlay as well).  So…the little (same size as an Apple TV) AirPort Express came to the rescue, at a price of less than $99.  That may seem like a lot of money for one function–but it is actually far less expensive than other AirPlay options, small, and reliable.

This is the completed sound rack...two Shure distribution units, six Shure SLX receivers, a power center, a sound processor, a Mackie 16 channel sound board...and a hidden AirPort Express.  The AirPort Express is the cheapest component of the system.

This is the completed sound rack…two Shure distribution units, six Shure SLX receivers, a power center, a sound processor, a Mackie 16 channel sound board…and a hidden AirPort Express. The AirPort Express is the cheapest component of the system.

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