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electronic MUSICIAN

FOCAL PRESS

By Brian Smithers | October 1, 2001

Subtitled A Practical Guide to MIDI in the Project Studio, David Miles Huber's The MIDI Manual ($29.95) could easily claim to be a guide to virtually every aspect of the personal studio. The second edition of this worthwhile book expands and updates its coverage of music production at the turn of the millennium, covering everything from sequencing to synchronization to digital-audio editing.

Huber covers a lot of technical ground and avoids sounding like a technical writer. With few exceptions, he explains concepts in everyday terms without watering things down. The guide is a good read for anyone seeking a thorough and accessible introduction to modern music-making technology.

Things Change

Eight years, an eternity in music technology, have passed between the first and second editions of The MIDI Manual. However, the MIDI language itself has remained pretty stable. That allows Huber to leave the MIDI-intensive chapters largely unchanged, updating for the most part just the illustrations and gear-specific examples. Because the chapters were quite good to begin with, leaving them alone is a fine idea.

Huber demystifies the MIDI language in a clear and organized way, starting with a bit of history and maintaining a practical perspective. From Note On to System Exclusive messages, his explanations offer sufficient detail for the serious MIDI student without overwhelming the more casual practitioner. Subsequent material deals with MIDI hardware and connections, keyboards, sound modules, alternate controllers, and sequencing. Short but informative chapters cover editor/librarians and music-notation programs with enough detail to make readers aware of the technologies' usefulness but without straying from the book's main purpose.

Note On

Most updates appear in the chapter about digital audio and the addition of a multimedia chapter. The digital-audio chapter gets off to a good start, addressing hard-disk recording, editing, and plug-ins. Unfortunately, the chapter goes astray with an unnecessarily technical segment about digital tape. Considering the book's MIDI focus, do readers really care about the helical scan tape path and that an ADAT supports ELCO connections? Huber's arcane definitions of the AES/EBU and S/PDIF digital-transfer protocols sound more appropriate for a standards committee white paper than for this otherwise accessible book.

The new multimedia chapter is undernourished and unfocused, bouncing off topic from device drivers to digital video before skimming streaming audio in the last page and a half. The chapter devotes little attention to MIDI as it applies to multimedia, with only a brief recap of Standard MIDI Files and a short section about General MIDI (GM) with patch tables and a GM drum map.

The synchronization chapter is a bit more technical than the rest of the book, but Huber pulls it off nicely. However, I would gladly trade the chart “Optimum Time Code Recording Levels” for some information about the role of word clock in a project-studio environment, but most of the information presented is quite useful.

The second edition is marred, though far from ruined, by a handful of errors and oversights held over from the first edition. The definition of Channel Pressure messages in chapter 2 mistakenly includes a data byte identifying note number, and later in the same chapter, the byte structure of Local Control On/Off is also misrepresented.

Bank Select is missing from the chart of continuous controllers, even though controllers 0 and 32 were well established for that purpose by the printing of the second edition. MIDI Clock is introduced in chapter 2 as having variable resolution, though the first edition and chapter 10 of the second edition list it correctly at 24 ppqn.

Note Off

None of those minor flaws is enough to detract from the fact that The MIDI Manual is a great source of information about MIDI and the personal studio. Huber's straightforward writing style and broad view of music production give the book plenty of appeal to readers at all sophistication levels. The second edition isn't a must-buy for owners of the first, but it first-time readers will find it well worth their money.


Overall EM Rating (1 through 5): 3.5
Focal Press (Butterworth Heinemann); tel. (781) 904-2500; e-mail marketing@focalpress.com; Web www.focalpress.com

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