Test Drive: The MadPlayer from MadWaves

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HOW THINGS WORK

In a nutshell, you tell the MadPlayer device which style of music you’d like to create, and it will start playing a tune using that style. MadPlayer’s tune library generally falls into the hip-hop/dance/techno genres, although it’s possible to create other styles as well. The styles you can choose from include Hip Hop, Rap, R&B, Downbeat, Ragga, Manga, Drum ‘n’ Bass, Jungle, House, Garage, Techno, Trance, Ambient, New Age, Ballad and Bossa. The fact that early-70s jazz fusion and progressive rock aren’t included thus far isn’t really a drawback, although it does make me feel my age. The product is clearly aimed at a younger demographic than mine.

You enter the Generactive Music Mode by pressing the e-DJ button (the one with the music notes on it). The display shows a stack of “folder tabs”, each of which has one of the styles that you can use to generate music. You scroll through these styles using the joystick until you find what you want, then press Play to hear a song. The MadPlayer then begins generating a completely new MadSong in that style, using the instrument sounds and sample loops stored on the memory card. Pressing the FF button starts a new, completely different song.

This part of the MadPlayer clearly has the highest “wow” factor, since the music is being generated by the computer algorithms. It certainly helps that the available styles of music tend to be simple and repetitive, but it’s still pretty slick.

For example, I selected the UK Garage category and hit Play. The “song” started with an electronic-drum machine intro at about 120 beats per minute. This track was soon joined by an organ-bass riff, which repeated for four bars then changed keys up by a major third for two bars, then back down to the original key. While it did that, a synth-flute kind of line joined in, repeating once every two measures, and then it disappeared. Several other musical figures popped in, repeated a few times, then popped out, and then everything except the drums and bass stopped and the bass played up a fifth. Then one by one the other instruments came back in. It was your basic electronic dance/club mix song arrangement, complete with key modulations, build-ups and breakdowns.

This arrangement continued for about three minutes, after which the song faded out and another song began. Pressing the FF button immediately advanced to the next song and began to play it, while pressing the Play button paused the current song. Pressing the REW button at any time would go back to the top of the song and play it, but only in that current song... once that first song had finished and the next began, I couldn’t get the first one back — it was gone. Not that it mattered much, as MadPlayer’s songs are simple and seemingly endless. However, if you’re into something that you want to keep, pressing the Save/Edit button will store it for you permanently on the memory card.

Mind you, I hadn’t changed anything yet — I was still just playing tunes in the Generactive Music Mode. Or perhaps I should say that MadPlayer was writing tunes in that category, one after the other.

MUCKING ABOUT WITH IT

Once a song starts to play, the LCD display shows an animated “highway” graphic, and you can use the joystick to navigate left and right along the “highway” which has bass, drum, lead, riff, sample and microphone “lanes”. Once you’re over a lane, you can then “dive” into it and change that particular portion of the music until it is to your liking. The bass, drum, lead and riff lanes are fairly obvious, and when you’re down in the lane pressing the joystick to the left or right causes the MadPlayer to replace that part of the tune with a new melody and sound.

This is where you get to be creative with the MadPlayer. First, pressing the Stop button from the Highway Overview will mute just the “lane” you’re positioned over. Press “down” on the joystick and you’re dropped down into the Tunnel Mode, where you can muck about with that specific part of the song.

Going back to the UK Garage experiment, I dropped into “the tunnel” of the Bass lane. The graphics are cool, and show the waveform “passing by” on the left and right of the tunnel. Pressing the FF or REW button cycled through about six available bass sounds. However, pressing the right joystick not only selected a different sound, but also changed the bass line itself. To get back to the previous bass line, you hit left on the joystick. The rest of the song continues to play the entire time.

Two of the lanes give you even more control. The sample lane lets you incorporate your own audio samples into the music, and the microphone lane lets you include audio from the microphone in real time. From that lane, pressing the Record button samples the entire playing track along with any silly business you care to add by speaking into the mic. Your sample will be automatically saved on the memory card.

Mind you, the Pitch and Tempo buttons are always active, so you can make those changes as well at any point. They affect the entire song globally, not just in a particular lane.

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