Dr. Keith Hamel’s office is dotted with computer screens. In the corner stands a piano, black and reflective. As the creator of the NoteAbility Pro music notation software, a program for Macintosh computers that allows users to create scores as well as interactive computer music, the UBC professor represents the bridge between music and technology.
Interactive computer music synchronizes and mixes live performances with electronic effects. As an example, Hamel turns to one of his cluttered screens and clicks a button. Out come the fluttering sounds of a simulated piano, overlaid with electronic echoes. He explains that during a live performance, the player’s sound is picked up by a microphone and coordinated with the score; essentially, the score follows the live performance. Orchestrated, computer-generated effects are then triggered in turn. “At different times, different kinds of processing and electronic effects will happen,” says Hamel.
Hamel has been working on this software for nearly 30 years, since the first Macintosh computers came out. He wanted to create an easier, electronic alternative to writing music notation by hand that would still allow for the creation of diverse and complex scores. All the while, he has been updating the software to newer operating systems and adding new facilities based on user requests. “The program grows as it goes through a collective consciousness, really,” says Hamel. “As people need new things, I just add them.” In recent years, he has included Chinese music and dulcimer notation components.
Hamel is now working on turning the software into an iPad application. According to Hamel, the iPad version would be useful, as iPads are portable, high-resolution and easy to fit onto a music stand. However, the program is complex, which makes it difficult to turn into a user-friendly app.
“There’s a lot of issues with the whole positioning of the piece of software that we have to figure out. iPad applications are generally simple, pared-down applications.… People don’t really want to get an iPad app and then spend a day reading a manual on how to run it.”
Hamel hopes to work through these problems and have the app ready by December 2012.