[To be published in Computer Music Journal 18:4 (Winter 94)] ZIPI: Origins and Motivations Keith McMillen Zeta Music/Gibson Western

Innovation Zone 2560 9th St. Suite 212 Berkeley, California 94710 USA McMillen@CNMAT.Berkeley.edu The success of alternate controllers has been less than overwhelming in the history of electronic music. The predominant controller for electronic music synthesizers has been the piano or organ keyboard. Beside the widespread availability of pianos and organs and the people who play them, the very nature of the keyboard makes it an ideal choice from an implementor's point of view. Keyboard-style instruments decouple the player from the sound generating element. The strike of a finger on a key starts a chain of events that produces a sound. After a key is struck the greatest creative choice left to the musician is when to release it. This series of key closures and releases is the simplest form of information that can be used to control a synthesizer. The early commercially available synthesizers (Moog's Odyssey, or the EMS Putney VCS-3) were monophonic and technology evolved, instruments became polyphonic and dynamic response (e.g., the Yamaha DX-7). The control synthesis engine grew to include how fast the key was velocity). Joysticks, modulation wheels, after-touch, the continuous element to keyboard control. MiniMoog, the ARP non-dynamic. As the capable of wide information fed to the struck (the MIDI key and foot-pedals added

Historically, this is not unfamiliar to keyboard players. Pipe organs are non-dynamic but volume can be controlled by foot pedal. In many ways the connection of keyboards to synthesizers resulted in very little loss of familiarity of control with a large gain in timbral choice. For musicians trained on other instruments, the option of synthesis has not been attractive. Woodwinds, bowed strings, and brass instruments all place the player in direct physical contact with the vibrating element---reeds, strings, or columns of air. Instead of limited control of dozens of notes these instruments offer subtle and intimate control over one or a few notes. Whether to "trade in" this control for a wider tonal palette is a difficult decision. MIDI and Keyboards ================== MIDI has been serving our interface needs for over a decade. Although many have criticized MIDI (Loy 1985; Moore 1988; Scholz 1991), no one has done much about its obvious problems. Alternate controllers have not been a major factor in the business of electronic music, and therefore have not been well accommodated by the industry. They represent a challenging problem both technically and economically. The persistence of an interface standard that makes the necessary extensions for nuance and control difficult if not impossible has not helped.

The connection of keyboards to sample playback sound modules is well served by MIDI. Even the speed of MIDI (31.25 kBaud) is adequate for transmitting data using the event-based nature of a keyboard. A ten-note chord can be sent in 6.7 msec, a delay which is on the borderline of being imperceptible. The continuous controller information generated from a keyboard usually has no more than three parameters (pitch bend, modulation, and after-touch), keeping the bit count low. Problems occur, however, when trying to connect alternate controllers to synthesizers (Muir and McMillen 1986). Polyphonic instruments such as guitar and violin can easily "flood" a MIDI channel with data. For example, simply updating 7-bit pitch bend and volume 100 times a second for six guitar strings exceeds MIDI's bandwidth: 6 strings * (3 pitch bytes + 3 volume bytes) * 10 bits / 0.01 sec = 36.0 kBaud (MIDI takes 10 bits to transmit a 7 bit value). Independent of bandwidth, MIDI also represents data in a manner that assumes the controller is a keyboard or at least a percussive device. The MIDI "note-on" command is an indivisible integration of timing, pitch, and loudness (velocity) information. This is completely appropriate for a keyboard; every time a key is struck the information for pitch, velocity, and the timing of the "note" is known simultaneously and is sent out over MIDI. Every modification of one of these three values is accompanied by a change, or at least a reassertion, of the other two. For an instrument of continuous nature, such as a violin, these parameters are often decoupled. One hand generally determines timing and loudness and the other decides pitch. They can and do change independently of each other. Furthermore, the timing of a note is not as simple as the pressing of a button. Notes can come into audibility gradually as in a crescendo. MIDI requires that an on/off decision be made at some volume threshold. When this threshold is met, the velocity value sent in a MIDI command will usually be the value of this threshold, making the velocity data useless. MIDI does provide some facility for continuous volume change (controller #7), and for pitch change without articulation. Some synthesizers respond to legato-style commands. Pitch bend can vary pitch up and down up to one octave but with a resolution of only 5.1 divisions per semitone (19.6 cents). The Good Old Days ================= Do you remember the days before MIDI? Most available synthesizers were analog and used analog voltages to represent musical values. Articulation was separate from pitch and all controllable parameters were on equal footing. Bandwidth and resolution were not concerns but good intonation was a perpetual effort---a lot like playing a violin. The integration of the 8-bit microprocessor into synthesizers largely solved the tuning issues. The division of the octave so as to be easily represented with 8 bits produced a strong bias for equal-tempered semitones. Combine this with the irresistible desire of CPUs to communicate and you soon get MIDI. Connecting violins and guitars to digitally controlled analog synthesizers

was still possible. With some cooperation from the manufacturers (Sequential Circuits, Oberheim, and Moog), analog controls extracted from the string and injected into control voltage sum nodes could produce an intimate connection between the controller and the synthesizer. Pitch bends and dynamic changes were smooth and responsive. Pitch stability remained a problem as this method bypassed some of the automatic tuning functions. The emergence of frequency modulation (FM) and other methods of digital synthesis made voltage-controlled oscillators (VCOs) and filters seem quaint, and won great popularity because of the clarity and timbral variety that these techniques offered. Unfortunately, these forms of sound generation closed off many of the control points to synthesis. At this time, alternate controller manufacturers were forced out of the hardware, and the only practical point of entry was through MIDI. While simplifying the connection, the loss of control was disappointing. At best, the style of playing guitar or violin was forced into the language of the keyboard. This did not preclude processing of the audio signal out of the synthesizer. Several synthesizers have individual outputs for each voice. These could be mapped to a specific string from the controller and modulated in the analog domain based on information extracted from the string. One of the most satisfying examples of this was the connection of a Zeta Mirror 6 model fret-scanning guitar controller (Wait 1989) to a Yamaha TX-802 FM synthesizer operating in legato mode. Each of six outputs from the TX-802 was routed back to the Mirror 6 where it passed through a voltage-controlled amplifier (VCA). This VCA was then controlled by an envelope follower tracking the energy of one of the strings. The six VCA outputs were summed and fed to an amplifier. Guitarists marveled at how smoothly responsive the instrument felt and the great intimacy of the control over synthesis. The simple use of continuous dynamic control returned much of the musical nuance to the interface. This did, however, limit the choice of synthesizers for the users of alternate controllers. The emergence of sampling and its eventual monopolization of the synthesizer market created new problems for interfaces. The frequency of FM oscillators and VCOs are continuously variable over the entire range of pitch. Samples, as the name implies, are not, and require swapping of files that cover specific pitch ranges in order to cover a wide range of pitches. Playing a trill across a sample boundary results in discontinuous spectral envelopes for many sampled sounds. Articulation for FM and VCOs come from external envelopes that can be varied based upon input parameters from controllers. With sampling, the attack character of the sampled instrument is inherent in the wave table. Timbral changes are restricted to, at best, simple filtering or cross-fading between fixed sounds. Even something as personal as vibrato is often captured by the sample and is not under the performer's control. The "skin-deep" beauty of sampling has left many musicians longing for a more meaningful conversation with their instruments. Nostalgia has even created a demand for older voltage-controlled synthesizers. Our group recently completed the design of the Oberheim OBMx, an analog twelve-voice subtractive synthesizer. One reviewer said of it, "it has what synthesizers have been missing---a personality" (Aiken 1994). This willingness to give up the accurate reproduction of acoustic instruments for control is understandable but the situation demanding this choice is regrettable.

Breaking the Chain ================== The loudest complaint about alternate controllers that extract information from traditional instruments is the time delay between the performer's gesture and the audible response from the synthesizer. However, the Zeta Mirror 6 guitar, using a combination of switched frets and pitch analysis, restricted latencies to less than 6 msec over most of its range. With the delay issues removed, continuous amplitude control became the next, most obvious, requirement. The technique previously described of controlling the audio in the post-MIDI analog domain met this need. Amplitude control is essential but not sufficient; many instrumentalists can change the timbre of a note as it evolves over time. The mapping of timbral information extracted from the instrument onto the synthetic voice or voices is the next step for returning control to the performer. This too could be handled in the post-MIDI audio path, but the requirement for greater flexibility and more elaborate processing of control information is best solved in the digital domain. The need for a new music description language, and the means to transport this information in a high speed deterministic network, became clear to us. The first concepts for what was to become the ZIPI musical data language started in the fall of 1989, coinciding with the start of intense collaboration of Zeta Music and the Center for New Music and Audio Technology (CNMAT) at the University of California, Berkeley. In order to successfully improve the keyboard-MIDI-sampler path, replacements were needed for all three of the elements in the chain. Since that date, research has focused on the Infinity Box (a gesture-guided pitch and timbre to ZIPI converter), the ZIPI network and its specification, and Frisco (an additive resynthesis engine with a control structure that will respond to ZIPI MPDL commands). The Status of ZIPI and Related Projects ======================================= As of this writing (June 1994) the physical layer of ZIPI has been implemented using a ring of Intel 80386-based personal computers with Zilog 8530 cards with ZIPI PALs and current loop hardware installed. Software for the monitor and nodes has been written for interrupt, polled, and DMA access methods. Data link and basic network services are functioning. The polled approach is the only viable method for an Intel 80386-based machine since the MS-DOS operating system's interrupt latencies are too great to allow even 250 kBaud operation. DMA requires the capture of an entire packet by the monitor before it can be parsed, thus slowing the ring. All code development for ZIPI is written in the C programming language with an emphasis on portability to other processors. By the time this article is published (December 1994), we will post some ZIPI-related software to the Computer Music Journal's ftp site, mitpress.mit.edu, in the directory /pub/Computer-Music-Journal/Code/ZIPI. A stand-alone ZIPI hub is in development. This will use a Motorola MC68302 MPU as the ring monitor with four ZIPI connections, 2 MIDI ports (in and out), and an interface to a computer bus. Additional ZIPI ports can be added with "dumb" hubs up to the 253 device limit.

The "Infinity Box" (described in the "ZIPI Examples" article) will be the first ZIPI controller. Planned release time for this is early 1995. Several prototypes are already in operation, yielding FFT updates for 6 guitar strings every 8 msec. (Infinity can be driven with one to six audio inputs allowing it to work with most instruments, i.e., violin, saxophone, cello, flute, etc.) This spectral data is passed from a signal processor (Motorola DSP56002) to a general-purpose processor (Motorola MC68332) where it generates ZIPI-formatted data for use by its internal sound engine and for transmission out the ZIPI port. Additionally, a subset of the ZIPI data is extracted and sent out a MIDI port. The "Frisco" software is at this point running on Silicon Graphics, Inc. Indigo workstations. Polyphonic "sample quality" sounds are being generated in real time under a ZIPI-like control structure. Since this technique uses hundreds of oscillators to resynthesize analyzed sounds, intelligent high-level control over these oscillators yields a powerful synthesis technique that is capable of great realism as well as subtle, intuitive musical control. Presently a Macintosh computer running the Max software communicates MPDL control information using IP/UDP packets over Ethernet. A planned self-contained rack-mount version should be available in 1995. This device will have ZIPI, MIDI and Ethernet inputs. Just as the RS-232 serial connection standard continues to exist along with Ethernet, we have no illusions that ZIPI will replace MIDI. Likewise, just as MIDI has been pressed into service in areas never intended by its designers (machine control, mixer automation, lighting), we can't fully anticipate other manufacturers' networking needs. ZIPI was presented to the industry at the winter NAMM shows in January 1993 and 1994. Participation and suggestions of many companies have added much to the scope and practicality of what is presented here. We encourage readers to suggest details for additional application layers, such as machine control, studio automation, and sample dump and audio standards. We hope this series of articles provides an understanding of the basics of ZIPI, and, even moreso, a stimulus for comments, additions, and discussion of user concerns. A more detailed specification of the ZIPI network is available upon request. Please direct comments to the following address: ZIPI Group G-WIZ 2560 9th St., Suite 212 Berkeley, California 94710, USA electronic mail: zipi@CNMAT.Berkeley.edu Acknowledgments =============== This work was supported in part by Grant C92-048 from the California State Department of Commerce Competitive Technologies Program to CNMAT and Zeta Music Systems, Inc. We would also like to thank the following individuals for their valued comments, sometimes very critical, regarding the ZIPI and MPDL specification: Jim Aiken, David Anderson, Marie-Dominique Baudot, Richard Bugg, Tim Canning, Chuck Carlson, Lynx Crowe, Rob Currie, Steve Curtin, Peter Desain, Kim Flint, Adrian Freed, Guy Garnett, Mark Goldstein, Henkjan Honing, Dean Jacobs, Henry Juszkiewicz, Michael Land, Carl Malone,

Dana Massie, Bill Mauchly, Peter McConnell, F. Richard Moore, Chris Muir, David Oppenheim, Stephen Travis Pope, Rob Poor, Miller Puckette, John Senior, Warren Sirota, John Snell, Michael Stewart, Tovar, and David Zicarelli. References ========== Aiken, J. 1994. "Oberheim OBMX Keyboard Report." *Keyboard* 20(8). Loy, D. G. 1985. "Musicians Make a Standard: The MIDI Phenomenon." *Computer Music Journal *9(4): 8-26. Moore, F. R. 1988. "The Dysfunctions of MIDI." *Computer Music Journal *12(1): 19-28. Muir, C., and K. McMillen. 1986. "What's Missing in MIDI?" *Guitar Player* June 1986. Scholz, C. 1991. "A proposed extension to the MIDI specification concerning tuning." *Computer Music Journal* 15(1): 49-54. Wait, B. 1989. *Mirror-6 MIDI Guitar Controller Owner's Manual* Oakland, California: Zeta Music Systems, Inc.

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