Friday, August 6, 2010

Electronic Music Stands

We are in full swing of electronic books, bubbles that are likely to explode into a new phase of the war between the old and new generations of publishers, content providers and consumers. It is likely that sheet music enter the battlefield.

Before proceeding I must warn you about two facts. One: despite the name of the blog, I am a Trekkie. Two: I am not a neutral observer. In my opinion traditional books publishing, as well as media labels, are going to lose. Those not able to adapt to changing times will disappear. Resistance is futile.

The musicians are going to adopt electronic lecterns sooner rather than later. The electronic scores begin to replace the editions printed on dead trees, as is already happening with books. There are some solutions on the market, more or less primitive.

MusicPad: Hardware and software.
How could you describe it? It is like a Kindle with legs. There is a "Master" version with twice the surface. Among its outstanding features: it is completely silent. Great virtue, because silence is also music.

MusicReader: Software only.
"The facto MusicPad Killer", they say. It is a program with Windows and Mac versions, which has more than just a page viewer. There is an optional accessory for turning pages with the foot. It can display half pages enlarged, as an aid to accessibility. Integrated additional functions: recorder, player, metronome and tuner.

eStand: Software for Windows, page viewer.

All of them are readers for electronic formats such as PDF or similar, showing pages, sections or page sets. MusicReader seems the most complete, yet is far from perfect. Some desirable features for an electronic music stand:
  • Pages no, thanks. The pages have no musical function and are mainly a nuisance. No pedal to turn pages, automatic scrolling is much better. Bookmarks, notes, sections, movements, labels, individually numbered bars. Everything indexed and easily searchable.
  • Size does matter. The musicians are supposed to have good ear, but nothing is said about sight. So it is better if the size of the staves is adjustable. For this reason, PDF is not very well suited for scores, it may be necessary to adjust the layout depending on the available area of representation. In this sense, the graphical representation of music resembles the visual organization of the widgets in graphical user interfaces.
  • Content indexing, cross referenced, not only metadata but all the data resulting from semantic content analysis. For example: tessitura of the parts (lowest and highest notes used by each voice and instrument in the composition) for each one of the scores in the library. With this data available, it may be possible to filter the appropriate pieces for different levels of students. Publishers must provide rich metadata, MIDI sequences, critical texts, and musicological analysis. It is not just changing the medium of the product, it is about changing the cellulose based mindset, into another way of thinking based on information.
  • Metronome. Probably many of the users will be students, so it will be convenient to have a metronome at the same place, taking the rhythm meter and the speed automatically from the values in the score. And of course, in addition to the optional audio reference, each bar should be highlighted while playing, keeping the current bar clearly visible in a central position, taking control of the scroll function, even when the metronome is quiet. Something like this.
  • Pitch tuner, recorder, playback. Computer: add an accompaniment. Computer: change the clarinet by an oboe. Computer: pause recording ...

Star Trek TNG 6/8: "A Fistful of Datas"
  • High connectivity: USB, Bluetooth, WiFi, Ethernet ...
  • If there is a small or large group of musicians, they may want to synchronize the electronic stands, loading and unloading documents and synchronizing the timers/metronomes.
We already have almost all the required technology as free software:
  • Music Typesetting, engraving PDF or PostScript scores: Lilypond.
  • Programs, libraries and components to display these documents: Okular.
  • Sequencers, synthesizers and MIDI players: KMid.
  • Free content:

We have the opportunity to occupy a niche in musical education, and from here future musicians shall develop the habit of using free software. Perhaps with time, even to generate free content.

Star Trek Voyager 5/22: "Someone to Watch Over Me"