Posted Monday, April 11, 2005

The Monday Mix: GarageBand Piano Rolls, New Verve Remix, Heid Radio Interview, and a New Feed for

To greet the week: a mix of tips, tunes, links, and more.

Player piano rolls meet GarageBand. Within the last week, a couple of sites have pointed to the amazing work of Terry Smythe, who has designed and built a scanner that converts antique player piano rolls into digital form—specifically, into MIDI data. Smythe has posted an incredible archive of 2,650 MIDI files converted from piano rolls. Madness! I love when people explore the intersection of old and new.

But what no site has discussed is how to work with these old gems in GarageBand. It's easy, thanks to GarageBand 2's ability to import standard MIDI files.

First, head over to Terry Smythe's archive and grab some MIDI files. To try one of them out, drag it into an empty area of the GarageBand window. When your mouse pointer turns into a plus sign, release the mouse button.

Now here, dear readers, is where something odd happens, and if you have any insights as to why, I'm all ears. GarageBand imports the MIDI file into a new track, but it assigns it the Pop Flute instrument—not exactly a player piano experience. It's a cinch to fix this: double-click on the track header and choose a new software instrument in the Track Info window. But why does GarageBand assign the Pop Flute instrument? 'Tis a mystery to me.

Once you import a MIDI file (and fix its instrument assignment), the fun begins. Play it back. Adjust the tempo. Display the track editor and switch to notation view to watch the notes fly by. Or use the track editor's graphic view to see the data in piano-roll form: old meets new again.

Copy and paste a portion of a tune and use it in a remix. Transpose it. Play it back with a distorted guitar software instrument.

Or just listen. And as you do, imagine how the creator of a circa-1920s piano roll would feel if he could see and hear his work playing back in GarageBand. On a PowerBook. At 35,000 feet.

Speaking of old meets new... Given what you just read, it should come as no surprise that I'm a big fan of music remixes. That's why I'm jazzed about the latest in the Verve Remixed series, which takes legendary jazz vocals and, shall we say, updates them. Verve Remixed 3 has just become available at the iTunes Music Store, and it's a treat. Volume 3 seems a bit more dance oriented than Volume 1 and Volume 2, and some of the tracks are a bit too boom-chaka-boom for me and my downtempo sensibilities. But hey, that's the beauty of the iTunes Music Store: just buy the tracks you like.

Heid radio interview. Last Thursday, I was a guest on Gene Steinberg's Mac Night Owl Live radio show. The archive of the show is available for your listening pleasure; my segment, at which I talk ceaselessly about the new features in iLife '05, begins a few minutes into the show.

A new feedbag. Finally, a note to newsreader users: I've switched to Feedburner as a way of streamlining and enhancing this site's RSS news feed. If you've subscribed to's news feed, you might want to resubscribe using the FEED button located in the sidebar on the right side of this page.

And just one more thing... On Friday afternoon, I got the first, hot-off-the-presses copy of The Macintosh iLife '05. I'm biased, but wow—it's gorgeous. I'd pass out cigars if I had some.

The bad news: Amazon is still saying the book isn't shipping yet. The good news: Amazon is still offering a 34 percent discount off the $34.99 cover price. So pre-order your copy now, and get almost 400 beautifully designed full-color pages and a nearly three-hour instructional DVD—for $23.09.