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Mikail Graham of Emagic

Interview | Company Profile By Paul White
Published September 1995

Mikail Graham: Emagic

As well heading up the USA arm of Emagic, Mikail Graham is a part of the Emagic development team, and the company's most evangelical demonstrator.Paul White caught up with his rolling roadshow at Birmingham's Musical Exchange.

If you've ever been to a major international music trade show, the chances are that you've witnessed Mikail Graham demonstrating C‑Lab's (or these days, Emagic's) music software, with the panache normally associated with a sideshow magician. He leaves you feeling that you've seen something spectacular, but you're never quite sure how he did it!

"People ask me why I still do the roadshows, but the reality is that they're a great way of getting user feedback. Every time we've done one, it's been very helpful in letting us know what people want, but at the same time, it also lets people know that we are human and that they can talk to us. Everyone at Emagic is also a musician, so we think about what we do in musical terms, and we also understand what it is the end‑users are really asking for."

The Logic Approach

Obviously Emagic's Logic is such an important part of what you do, that it must be very difficult for you to remain objective, but what do you feel are the main advantages of Logic over the other market leaders?

"I think the main point about Logic and Logic Audio is the user‑definability. The stuff coming from Steinberg, MOTU, Opcode, Passport, Twelve Tone Systems and so on is really very strong, but where I feel we are unique is that users can customise Logic to work the way they want it to. Creator and Notator really had only two windows, Arrange and Edit, and that's the way some people want it, because it's so simple to work with. Other people want to see different things as they work, so we thought about this, and came up with the idea of making Logic user‑definable. In the early days, this scared people a bit, because it wasn't quite so obvious what to do — there was no defined way of working. Over the past couple of years, we've changed that, by including things like templates to get you going quickly.

"I think that the concept of Screensets is very important — the fact that you can have 90 definable window combination layouts for instant recall, and if you have two monitors connected, you can use Screensets to define what you see on both of them at any one time. Unlike the basic Mac system, where only one window can be active at a time, we've made it so all the open windows stay active, and these windows can also be linked. If you make a change in one linked window, that change is immediately reflected in all the other linked windows. For example, if you select a bunch of notes in a score window, the same notes will be selected in the event list or the matrix edit window.

"The way we handle quantisation is very friendly — you can adjust any value of quantisation and hear it in real time — and it's all non‑destructive. While you can do most of the same things in Opcode's Vision or MOTU's Performer, first of all you can't hear all the changes in real time, and secondly, if you make that edit, then go onto the next bit, that's a hard edit — you can't come back six months later and change it back to your original performance. Similarly, our tempo resolution is down to one ten thousandth of a beat; that might sound excessive, but when you're working with digital audio or samplers, precision is important.

"We're very fast at getting stuff out that people want — we did a big ad campaign in America under the line 'The Freshest Code On The Block' — and we're also very fast at taking action if there is a problem. Should a problem occur, new versions of the program are put up on CompuServe, Internet and America On Line, so people can download them free. The software is designed to be hardware‑ and platform‑independent, which means that the framework we created Logic within can be transported between different machines quite easily. That's why we'll be one of the first companies to come out with a 100% native version of the program for the Apple Power Mac. It's up and running now, it's blindingly fast, and if all goes well, it'll be shipping around September. As soon as IBM ships Windows 95, it will only be a short time before we have a version available — most of the time is taken up in beta testing."

Audio With MIDI

For the benefit of those people considering the move from MIDI sequencing to integrated MIDI and audio, what benefits does Logic Audio offer?

"We offer the ability to record and edit digital audio. A lot of other programs do this, but we differ in how much can be done on‑board from within the one application. With many of the other programs, you need to use something like Sound Designer, or Alchemy, or some other kind of sample editor, but we have one within Logic Audio. We're currently the only people offering sequencing, desk‑top score publishing, and digital audio, with an integrated stereo sample editor.

"Logic Audio allows you to work with digital audio in very much the same way as you do with MIDI; the audio and MIDI tracks reside right alongside each other in the Arrange window. You can edit their volumes and pans with Hyper Edit, or with the new Hyper Draw, and you can change things in real time without stopping playback."

For those unfamiliar with digital audio, would it be accurate to say that each section of digital audio can be thought of in the same way as firing a long sample from a conventional sampler?

"That's effectively how it is, the main difference being that once a sample has been triggered, there's no further sync. With Logic Audio, we look at the signal all the time to keep it in sync. If you're doing a film soundtrack an hour long, the audio will stay in sync, whereas with a sampler, if something changes a bit, the sample will drift out of sync. With the tempo resolution we have, even working alongside samples from a sampler becomes more accurate."

You mentioned that Logic Audio has a lot of built‑in capability, whereas with other programs, you might have to buy these features in as extra software packages. Can you tell us some of the things you can do to your audio once you've recorded it?

"Besides the usual things you'd expect to find in the Sample Editor, such as reversing, normalising, gain change, fade in and out, silencing and so on, we offer something called the Digital Factory. The Digital Factory is a collection of powerful utilities, one of which is the Time and Pitch Machine. This allows you to do time expansion and compression and pitch‑shifting, and unlike other programs, you can do them both at the same time, rather than as two separate processes. A German magazine recently did a blindfold test of the various time/pitch systems, and Time Machine from Logic Audio and Steinberg's Time Bandit came out top in the listening tests. I feel that we score highest with our process; it is faster than Time Bandit's — though I have no argument about the quality of Time Bandit's processing — and furthermore, we include this process at no extra charge.

"We also have the Groove Machine [only available in Logic Audio ‑‑ Ed]. This enables you to impose 8th or 16th note swing quantise values onto digital audio. You can feed in a techno groove with straight 16ths and make it sound like hip hop, or you can take a rock beat and turn it into a house beat. You also have the ability to pull out the downbeats or the offbeats, and it doesn't just work on percussive material. What you can get away with does depend on the material you're working with, but you can often successfully process a complete instrumental mix. It doesn't make as much sense when you try to process a vocal track, as you get some unnatural amplitude changes.

"Working the other way around, you can take any rhythmic audio and use it to create a groove template to use on your MIDI recordings, or load DNA grooves. From Logic Audio version 2.5, you can re‑apply any of those grooves back on to digital audio. Obviously, you have to work within reasonable parameters, but you can do things like make your rhythm guitar lock‑in with your hi‑hats.

"Then we get onto still newer things, like the Audio Energizer, which is new in version 2.5. This will allow you to increase the energy of your audio file without changing the peak level, using a kind of intelligent compression/limiting algorithm. There are plug‑ins for Sound Designer that do this already, but some of them cost nearly as much as Logic Audio itself. Other new features include The Silencer, a single‑ended noise reduction system using spectral analysis, and comb filters to reduce the subjective background noise level without taking the top off the sound being processed. A spike remover is also included, which helps get rid of clicks from records or DAT glitches. The glitches are filled with material taken from either side of the area being processed, and an interesting trick is to abuse the parameters, so that whole chunks of audio get replaced — it gives you a kind of Max Headroom effect. The designers don't like me doing this, but I quite like the effect! The noise reduction isn't intended to replace something like Digidesign's DINR, but it can still be very effective in cleaning up sounds.

"The other feature some people will find useful is the Audio to Score Streamer, which can take any clean, monophonic information, extract the pitch, velocity and note length, and create a MIDI sequence from that data. For example, you could play in a monophonic melody on a guitar and extract the MIDI information — it's pretty exciting, but it's just the beginning of what can be done."

Audio Without Cards

For me, the other really exciting news is that from version 2.5, Logic Audio Mac runs without any external hardware or soundcards. How exactly does that work?

"This year we are introducing what we call the Logic Extension series of applications. Using these extensions, we can bring out new features as the demand arises, but if you don't need what a particular extension offers, then you don't need to buy it.

"For example, on the audio side, we have an AV extension actually included with version 2.5, and what this allows you to do is to use any Macintosh with Sound Manager 3.0 or greater to record and play back digital audio. If you're using an older Mac, then obviously this will only give you 8‑bit sound, but if you have a Power Macintosh or an AV Mac [840 or 660 AV—Ed], or even a 520 or 540 PowerBook, you can get full 16‑bit, CD‑quality sound. Furthermore, if you have a Digidesign card, you can run your Digidesign audio tracks alongside your Mac audio tracks using the AV extension. If you want to add Digidesign tracks using Digidesign's Digital Audio Engine [DAE], this will take up some of the CPU power and reduce the number of tracks you can get from the Mac. I can't tell you yet exactly how many tracks you'll be able to use, because that will depend on which Mac you buy, and which other systems are running simultaneously. It also depends on volume and panning, as these take up processing power, but I think it's safe to say that on a high‑end machine like a Power Mac 8100, you'll be able to get around eight tracks of Mac digital audio, and perhaps from four to eight more using an AudioMedia II card or Session 8 hardware. On the lower‑power machines, you should be able to get at least four tracks of digital audio.

"Even with the machines that only handle 8‑bit sounds, if you have a way of getting the digital audio into your machine at 16‑bit, you can work while monitoring at 8‑bit, then when you come to finish a project, you can rent a studio with a 16‑bit system to get the sound out at full resolution. The only shortcoming of the Mac at the moment is the audio input/output structure, which is where the AudioMedia II card has the advantage. Its analogue to digital converters are good, and it also has a digital input.

"We also have an extension for the Yamaha CBX D5, and the cheaper D3; the CBX D5 has on‑board effects like parametric EQ, reverb, pan volume and so on, all fully automatable, while the D3 gives you four tracks but without the effects. Using our extensions, you could put together a system that includes Mac tracks, Digidesign tracks, and Yamaha CBX tracks."

I would imagine that for someone already using Digidesign hardware, the ability to record even further 8‑bit tracks on a cheaper Mac would be useful, as there's a great deal of creative potential in gritty, 8‑bit sounds.

"Definitely — and I've already noticed that by doing that you can get some very interesting sound colours."


"The last of the extensions allows you to make use of Digidesign's TDM system, and the various TDM software plug‑ins that are available from the likes of Waves, Jupiter Systems and Crystal River, as well as from Digidesign themselves. Using Pro Tools III, you can get up to 48 tracks of audio (16 per basic system), maybe another eight tracks directly from your Mac, and eight more from a couple of Yamaha CBX D5s or CBX D3s.

"Due to the way we've set it up, you can configure your system with as many plug‑ins and Digidesign DSP farm cards as you can afford to have. Digidesign currently has a limit of five plug‑ins used at the same time — but we don't have any limit. We also allow you to insert a plug‑in effect over the overall stereo mix, which is useful for plug‑ins like Apogee' s UV‑22, or the Waves L1, C1 or S1.

"Probably the most powerful part of the TDM extension is that it allows you to automate the plug‑ins. Digidesign has plans to do that too, but they don't have it out yet. For me, having plug‑ins that you can't automate is pretty limiting — after all, that's the whole point of using a computer.

"In the final version of Logic Audio 2.5, we've actually redesigned the Audio Object (the sequencer's audio equivalent of a MIDI instrument), which can be resized to show your fader, monitor, meter level, sends, insert points and so on, all in a single Environment Object. This looks much the way it does in Pro Tools, so if you're moving over from Pro Tools, it will look very familiar."

Technical Advances

Are there any up‑and‑coming advances in storage technology that you might make use of? For example, the new 270Mb SyQuest cartridges look pretty cost‑effective.

"There are a lot of new things coming in the future, including drives and storage techniques that I really shouldn't talk about now, but we're really a software company, and for us to jump into hardware, we'd have to be able to offer something really powerful. The SyQuest drives are actually pretty good, and we've been able to get eight tracks of audio out of them with no problem."

Hard disk audio requires a tidy, defragmented drive. Have you thought of building a defragmentation routine into Logic Audio?

"For disk optimisation, we recommend programs like Norton Utilities, but if you're copying your Logic Audio files from your main drive onto a separate drive like a SyQuest 270, they are automatically copied in contiguous blocks, and any unused space is recovered. When you've copied the data, Logic Audio also asks if you'd like to change the reference for these files to the new location, so that program will know where to look for them."

As a Logic user, as well as member of the company, what would be your wish list for new features and facilities?

"I'd like to see a more integrated way of working between all aspects of multimedia, as well as more intuitive interfaces. CD‑ROMs are a great idea, but they are far too slow — I'd like all these things to move closer towards real time. TDM is a fine system, but it's a bit expensive, so I'd like to see a way of offering users these kinds of facilities at a lower price point. What I'd like most of all is more time to use all these tools that we're creating — hopefully, one day we can retire and make use of them all!"

Manual Switching

I'd like to ask you about the release of the new manual. My major criticism of Logic is that the first manual was pretty confusing, and this was followed up by several addendum manuals, which makes it hard to find what you're looking for.

"Absolutely. To be honest, the first manual was more like an in‑depth brochure, and we've finally got around to rewriting the whole thing and putting it in a three‑ring binder, so that any further update pages can easily be inserted. It is rewritten in very good English by Americans — if that makes sense — so it should be an excellent manual. The new manual is available with version 2.5."

'International Product Coordinator' — Or 'Neu Media Explorer'?

Mikail's background is primarily as a musician, and he has worked with a number of top names, including Roger Hodgson from Supertramp, Michael Pinder from the Moody Blues, and minimalist composer Terry Riley. Mikail has also worked on musical scores for a number of films and plays, but when MIDI appeared on the scene, he was one of the first to realise the potential power to be had from putting MIDI and computers together. Right from the early days of MIDI, he acted as a consultant to several major companies, but eventually ended up working with Steinberg, C‑Lab's — and now Emagic's — neighbour and main rival. At that time, Steinberg were producing Pro‑24, but when C‑Lab's Creator came on the scene, Mikail's curiosity was aroused.

"At the Chicago NAMM show in '85 or '86, I was standing on the Steinberg booth talking to Werner Kracht, one of the programmers behind Pro‑24; we'd just created this thing called Logical Edit, to which I'd contributed some ideas. I asked him if he knew anything about this new C‑Lab company, and he pointed out that Gerhard Lengeling, C‑Lab's founder, was actually looking around our booth at that very moment. I went over to talk to Gerhard, and he looked me over and said, 'You must be a thief, you are an American!'. Despite that less than ideal initial encounter, I became one of the first people in America to see Creator, and within two minutes, I knew this was the company I really wanted to work with. It amazed me how fast their program worked, so I pleaded with Gerhard's manager to get me a copy of the software to try out. They were dragging their feet a bit, so I called a shop in London and bought a copy, worked like crazy with it, and by the time C‑Lab got around to sending me a copy, I'd already had it for a month. Within four days, I sent them about 20 pages of comments and suggestions — they thought I'd only had the program for four days, so they started to ask 'Who is this crazy guy'?

"C‑Lab were keen to enter the American market, and I considered opening up the US distribution office myself, but at that time, I wasn't prepared to take on that much — I was still playing and performing, as well as doing consultancy for companies like Eventide and ART. I did, however, already own a distribution company in Australia, so I arranged for C‑Lab's software to be issued from there, and in the meantime, negotiations were made with Digidesign to bring C‑Lab over to the States.

"After about a year of working as a consultant, it became obvious that I should devote myself to the company, and I've been working with Gerhard and Chris Adam now since 1986. My official position is 'Coordinator of International Product Management' for Emagic GmbH. That titles one of my business cards, but on the other, I'm down as the company's 'Neu Media Explorer' — we've tried to get away from the heavy corporate thing, so Gerhard is known as the 'Code Father' and Chris, who does the score stuff, is known as the 'Code Meister' — it's all about making it more fun. My job is really to act as a diplomat when talking to other companies, and to provide input which will help us decide which way the software should develop."

PCs In Music

How do you see the PC side of the market coming along in MIDI sequencing and MIDI/Audio?

"If you look at a 486 PC, it's a very fast machine, but the biggest problem has been the DOS/Windows overlay, which hopefully Windows 95 will put right. I think the PC has been problematic in the past because of the way the architecture is set up, but you get a lot of machine for your money. I think it is a viable alternative for those who find the price of the PC more attractive, but personally, I find the Mac a much more elegant and easy‑to‑use system. It's so much easier to install hardware and system extensions on the Mac — perhaps Windows 95 will resolve that too, but we'll have to wait and see."

Will you be able to offer audio on the PC as well?

"That's the total game plan. When we designed Logic, we wanted it to be independent of platform, and Logic Audio follows that philosophy too. The Digital Factory will be available for PC users, the CBX extension will be available, and when Digidesign's DAE for the PC is finished, we'll support that too, which means you'll be able to use Session 8 PC hardware and the AudioMedia III PC audio card. With the PC, you will need to have a soundcard of some kind, because the basic PC doesn't have any provision for a DSP chip, but maybe the Pentiums and Power PCs will change that too. What we're looking at initially would be using the MME (the multimedia extension) for addressing the available soundcards, and that way everything should be virtually the same as on the Mac. Currently, the system is still in development, but the plan is to showcase it at the Winter NAMM show in January '96."