Software Review



The late 20th century witnessed a cultural shift as professional media editing tools found their way into every home. The advent of the personal computer in the 1980s made each home a potential studio. An almost egalitarian society has developed where anyone with a little technical ability can churn out "professional-quality" music and video. The maverick attitude of early independent filmmakers flows through each discipline indiscriminately, and a significant number of artists can attribute their early success to their own mastering of available techniques.

In the visual arts, handheld cameras and high-end video editing programs enabled budget-strapped artists to record and cut their own moving picture creations. The handheld camcorder of the 1980s, with its bulky VHS tape, eliminated the extra step required of film processing. Inexpensive and easily available, camcorders opened the closed door to filmmaking. While not all videotape enthusiasts wished to make that next Hollywood hit, corporations pushed the product as a way to accomplish such dreams, while catering to consumers who simply wished to preserve personal memories. Artists viewed video "as a powerful new form of representation - a time/space medium capable of broadcast and transmission of images and sound over long distances." As such, they sought to stretch the limitations of the analog medium. In some ways, video artists mirrored the Constructivists and Futurists, who had "extolled the aesthetics of photographic reproduction, seeing the hope in the machine age for a new kind of culture."

Anolog video lacked the high definition of its digital counterpart. Another downside was the inability to edit the tape efficiently, if at all. When digital video appeared on the market, with markedly better quality and nonlinear editing capabilities, the artistic possibilities expanded. Not only could an artist cut and paste the footage, but the artist could add a broad array of effects, titles, and transitions.

Digital video editing came of age in the late 1990s, launching multimedia composition into the next millennium of advanced software. Adobe imaging products, Final Cut Pro, and Avid all offer differing levels of nonlinear editing capabilities. The cost of an Avid system keeps it only within the means of professional studios and television stations. Currently, Apple and PC computers come with built-in multimedia programs that produce satisfactory results. Apple's i-Life suite, in particular, shares files between i-Music, i-Movie, i-DVD, and Garage Band.

Adobe, the company that created Photoshop, offers Aftereffects and Premier. A good program for the beginner, Adobe Premier imports digital video into the standard editing interface. Resembling the mix window of audio programs, the video is laid out on horizontal tracks. The user drops effects on each track and then tweaks the details. Common effects and transitions, such as Gaussian Blur and Cross Dissolve are included in Premier, but for advanced processing, Aftereffects is needed. Luma-keying, referred in the vernacular as "blue-screening", isolates images based on color, useful for special effects and compositing. Three-dimensional lighting techniques are also among the features available in Aftereffects. In addition to image editing programs, Adobe has developed Adobe Audition, a multitrack audio editing program complete with loops and effects.

Produced by different companies, Final Cut Pro and the Avid system offer all of these features in a single program and include an extremely detailed logging system. The complete Avid system costs tens of thousands of dollars, to date, and has the power to edit and synchronize video and audio in realtime. Final Cut Pro, an affordable alternative, does not have this capability. Both programs cut down on rendering time. Rendering, essentially how long it takes for the computer to process information, can take days or weeks, depending on the project. High-end systems need less time to render, though in the end, it depends on the processing power of each individual computer.

When the artist completes her video piece, she can then construct a DVD through DVD Studio Pro. This program works in congruence with Adobe Photoshop, although the user can work with other image files. DVD Studio Pro provides an impressive array of templates that the user customizes by dragging and dropping files into the appropriate fields. Complex designing options limit the viewer's use of the video controller, add cut scenes between menus, and provide security safeguards. Additionally, the designer can add captions and subtitles.

Apple courts consumers with software suites that link together the multimedia editors in the computer. The i-Life package allows file-sharing between i-Movie, i-DVD, and Garage Band, an audio editor and sequencer. Beginners find i-Life manageable. For experts, these programs provide a method of churning out projects quickly and simply. PC companies compete with similar packages. The high demand for such products demonstrates how multimedia has captivated the average person. In a sense, anyone, regardless of training, has the ability to create art of relatively high quality, provided that they can navigate a computer properly.

Audio editing and sequencing programs allow musicians to mix down their own albums in the home studio. Samplers, synthesizers, and sequencers from different companies interact cohesively thanks to MIDI. MIDI, Musical Instrument Digital Interface, developed in 1982, allows the different components of a studio to communicate with each other using a similar language. Before MIDI, a musician could not link up devices from differing manufacturers effectively. Although freedom exists in instrument selection, often companies sell products that have an interdependent relationship between the hardware and software. Digidesign's Pro Tools, for instance, requires an upgrade of the entire system. Nevertheless, with enough resources, a musician can build a home studio that achieves adequate results. With a skilled sound engineer, even amateurs can produce impressive mixes.

Standard audio editing programs, such as Cakewalk, Pro Tools, Digital Pro, and many others share a similar computer interface. The same basic terminology refers to fade in and outs, equalization, phasors, and hundreds of other effects. Simpler programs share many of the same characteristics, as well. Internet websites offer Freeware programs like FruitY Loops and Acid. These programs, and others, provide prerecorded samples that are then looped and then processed by the user. In addition, the majority of audio editing programs allow for audio recorded via microphone, MIDI device, or any other number of possible sound producers.

Music notation software enables composers and arrangers to publish their own compositions. Finale and Sibelius are the current programs most commonly in use. Other programs, such as Score and Encore, have their own followers. Notation software differs greatly from one program to the next, unlike sequencing or video programs that share common commands and terms. Eliminating the copyist, or “middle man,” expedites the time frame from sketches to performance. Revisions, unlike handwritten scores, do not require the same amount of time for changes, additions, deletions, etc. Some programs allow the musician to input notes directly through a musical keyboard. The computer then attempts to notate the result. Success proves minimal in many cases. The user can extract parts from the score without any added work, but even with the most sophisticated programs, meticulous proofreading often reveals errors.

As technology advances, consumers find it easier to control every aspect of their compositions from inception to marketing. Searching for original music on the internet yields thousands of sites advertising original albums mixed at home. Garage bands have sparked garage record labels. The musician has the capability of composing and mixing a work in a home studio, notate the score in Finale, and sell it on her own website. Graphic designers and video artists can import images through Final Cut Pro or Adobe Photoshop, edit them to their liking, and design a professional DVD portfolio, all from the comfort of their living room.

The Internet gives web artists an interactive stage on which to present their material. Older web software required the designer to master the Hypertext Mark-up Language, commonly referred to as “HTML.” The designer could not see the end result while entering the code. Macromedia's Dreamweaver, only one of many web design products, simplifies site creation by providing several window options, including one which shows the final product in an editable window. Dreamweaver does not require the user to know HTML. The program’s presets make it possible for code-deficient users to design acceptable sites. Web artists use the Internet's interactive element to produce online art galleries and virtual environments for the user. From the business aspect, an attractive site provides a valuable advertising venue and increases the possibilities of exposure.

Macromedia's Director program advances the possibilities of CD-ROM interactivity. Earlier programs limited the choices available for interaction. Director has a limitless number of possible interactive options. In addition, cartoonist use the in-betweening capabilities of the software, cutting down on time needed for handwritten frame-by-frame animation. Director uses “lingo” for advanced scripting. With lingo, the designer had more control and options over his project. The script window alerted the designer if there were any errors in the coding, while the dictionary and useful Help menu aided the designer as she developed a user-friendly CD-ROM. Some composers and artists, such as Laurie Anderson and Barbara Golden, used CD-ROM technology to create works that existed in an interactive environment outside of the Internet or live performance.

In addition to design tools, programs existed that relied on extensive coding to accomplish an impressive list of tasks. Supercollider, Max/MaxMSP, and Jitter were among the programs used at this time; Jitter actually served as an add-on to MaxMSP. Supercollider required heavy computer coding abilities. An electronic reference sheet provided a concise list of each term and its corresponding function. In addition, a Help section, accessed through keyboard shortcuts, gave more detailed information about the terms, as well as providing examples. Supercollider could synthesize sounds, even in realtime, as well as control MIDI devices. The Graphic User Interface (GUI) in Supercollider could not compare to that of Max. In Max, clicking and dragging buttons and virtually stringing them together created patches that could accomplish a wide variety of functions. Max could process the sounds of an instrument, for example, and manipulate it with a variety of filters and delays. The final sound could then be played back, resulting in a duet using only one performer. Jitter functioned similarly, but instead of audio, Jitter processed and changed visual data.

Countless other software programs and electronic invention impacted multimedia and musical composition in the final decade of the 20th century. A number of composers collaborated with scientists, incorporating genetics and botany in their pieces. Robotics played a part in emerging sonic experiments, and the Cyber community provided a breeding ground for virtual performance and artistic interaction. As technology increased, possibilities reached to the farthest realms of the imagination.


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