Videomaker's 2009 Best Innovative Software: Abaltat Muse 2.0 Music Composition Software Review

View all of the best consumer video production products of 2009, selected by the editors of Videomaker

A World-Class Composer for the Rest of Us

There are a myriad software solutions that can mix and loop multi-layered audio for your video presentation. But Abaltat Muse 2.0 starts where most editors fail: the composition. Most editors don’t hold an advanced music theory degree and have two weeks to make a dynamic musical composition that analyzes each frame of video. Abaltat Muse 2.0 gives the editor a jumpstart on the most difficult process, so that you spend the majority of your time refining the smaller details that sweeten the music bed.

One, Two, Three, Compose!

Launching Abaltat Muse 2.0 reveals nothing more than a menu bar. That’s not the best first impression, but we’re being picky. From here, you have to open a QuickTime video file into the application. Abaltat Muse will import only QuickTime files. Seeing as Abaltat Muse 2.0 is Mac-compatible only, this will not be an issue for most editors. Once you open a video file, Abaltat Muse 2.0 immediately analyzes the video clip. It didn’t take more than 30 seconds for it to process a 30-second spot we loaded. This is where it all gets interesting. Abaltat analyzes the video color properties and creates a color timeline that follows the behavior of a variety of color channels. Later, we’ll get into more depth with the color timeline in the composing process. After this is complete, the project window will load.

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The project window is quite simple. It looks like a pretty standard video playback graphical user interface with Play, Pause, Forward/Backward buttons and more. If you look more closely, you’ll see keyframe markers, timecode and frame numbers. All editors, no matter what their muse (pun intended), will feel right at home in this simple user interface. The real magic of Abaltat Muse 2.0 lies behind the oversized Compose button. Click the button and sit back. Abaltat Muse is now going through a second set of analysis.

Smart Choices

After activating the Compose button, the user has the option to select a band. At first glance, the options seem a little bit limited. There are seven bands to choose from. Within each band, however, is a wide variety of preset options. The presets are very well planned out for the editor. They tend to match the various needs most editors have when co mposing a musical score. For example, the Minimalist (Orchestral) band option features Expressive, Pensive, Harpeggiator, Reflections, Relaxation and the Default preset options. These are great choices for developing a mood for your video. But don’t ask us about the Harpeggiator option. Say what? It’s like someone telling you their new wall color is called Happy Spring.

Keep It Simple

The trick with the bands is to develop just the foundation for the instrumentation, then to use the presets to make a composition that fits the appropriate mood. The presets also configure each layer into several settings. For example, in the Hip Hop band, you can choose the Chase Da Base preset, and the composition will emphasize the Bass and Drum channels while muting the FX channel. It’s a rather clever and simple solution. What’s more important is that you don’t dwell on a thousand different instrumentation options at this point in the process. We can export our composition via MIDI files into another application (e.g., GarageBand, which is free and pre-installed on Macs) and swap out the instruments for others with literally just two clicks of a button. That’s the beauty of this application.


In Living Color

OK. You got your band ready to rock. Click the OK button and Abaltat Muse 2.0 does its thing. More accurately, it matches the color timeline with a dynamic composition by importing the instrumentation and separating it into several layers (i.e., Melody 1, Melody 2, Bass, Drums and FX). The overall composition reacts differently according to the color timeline and the presets you’ve chosen. As color is one of the more common visual aesthetics for communicating mood, this is a rather intelligent way to compose a score. With just these few selections, Abaltat Muse 2.0 has just composed our sound bed for our video. It took a few seconds to compose a 30-second spot. How nice. But we’re not done.

Picky Playback

The basic composition option gets us in the ballpark. If we’re picky (and we are because we’re editors), we will want to make some changes to the arrangement. First, let’s go back to the Composition task. When we hit the Composition button again, we get the same options to do a basic composition. But this time we’ll click on the Advanced button to reveal a whole set of controls. Now we can choose a variety of Compose Methods. These variances allow us to either compose a score strictly related to the color timeline or define a more loosely-related association. We can also select which color channel (a total of nine unique color combinations) to follow in the composition. In our tests, we found it was optimal to be more selective with the color channels. We often found best results when choosing one or two colors.

The advanced settings will also allow you to change the Tempo, Complexity (i.e., the number of notes played), Jingle (i.e., the variety of notes played), Drum Pattern and Time Signature, and it will retain any markers or attributes you may have edited in a previous round of composing. This means your keyframes won’t be lost if you decide to re-compose several times. That’s a terrific feature, because the composition process may take a few tries before you feel you’ve found the best match with your color timeline.

Keyframe Precision

Once you’ve found the composition that sounds right, you can hone in on the arrangement, using keyframes to edit a variety of properties. Using keyframes, you can edit the instrumentation in each layer of audio. If you don’t like the drum kit used in your composition, you can swap it out with a simple keyframe. You can also use keyframes to edit the Volume, Pan, Transposition (pitch) and Scale. Using the Color Tracker, you can also manipulate each color channel over time, in case you want make your own impression in the composition.

Final Score

While Abaltat Muse 2.0 simplifies the process of composing a musical score, it won’t make a masterpiece all on its own. You still need to do a little bit of tweaking to get the best results. Still, it beats trying to do a whole composition from scratch. This can be extremely useful for editors who don’t have a music bed in the can. For example, you don’t have the rights and you don’t have the cash to pay for them. Abaltat Muse can save the day in that scenario. Furthermore, for the music geeks out there, Abaltat Muse is a great gateway to expanding into original scores. The simple user interface and powerful manual controls make it easy to get comfortable with Abaltat Muse in very little time. It won’t be as “insta-matic” as dragging and dropping a canned music score from a CD, but it will be custom-composed, not copyrighted, perfectly-timed and just the right mood. Now that sounds good. You can try it out yourself by visiting www.abaltat.com and downloading the free trial version.

TECH SPECS

Minimum Requirements – Mac

Operating System: OS 10.4.7 (PowerPC processor),OS 10.4.8 (Intel processor)

RAM: 512MB (2GB recommended)

Download File Size: 1.9GB

Strengths

  • Intelligent compositions
  • Easy to use
  • Exports MIDI for compatibility with other
    audio applications

Weaknesses

  • Mac only

SUMMARY

Abaltat Muse 2.0 gives visual editors a leg up on creating custom music scores in a simple, no-fuss interface.

Contributing editor Mark Montgomery is an independent video producer.

Abaltat

Baile an tSagairt

Spiddal, Co. Galway

Ireland

www.abaltat.com

$99

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.