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Dated: Aug. 13, 2004
Few months ago our content dept. techies happen to come across http://www.swarsystems.com and as always curios bunch downloaded the demo of SwarShala 3.0 (SS3) to see what it was about. Lo, and behold, SS3 turned out to be an Indian Classical Music Library, Practice Room, and Studio all combined in one.
SS3 is a very amazing piece of software because it is created for a very unconventional purpose and in a very unconventional way. After installing the program and getting past the heavy duty security barriers, we open the program. It start with a screen divided into three panes. First is the 'Learn', second is 'Practice', and the third is 'Compose' from left to right.
Learn - This pane is for a total beginner to the Indian Music such as ourselves. It briefs the reader on what the Indian Music system consists and goes into details with Raga (Music Scales) and Tala (Percussion System). It is quite remarkable even aside from the technical IT field of view.
Practice - This pane was mostly for guys and girls here because it was just too much fun. In the practice arena, we were able to easily dabble with the kind of instruments we would like played and what beats we like to hear. Absolutely and ideal tool for any vocalist or an instrumentalist.
Composition - This was the area that needed a lot of attention since it wasn't a very intuitive tool to use to say the least. But all in all, it seems that if one had any grasp of this composition tool, there would be no stopping a musician.
By the Maker:
As we got in contact with Mariano, the creator of SwarShala 3.0, we were briefed on what was involved. Following is what was relayed to us:
"SwarShala 3 is indeed a very interesting combination of technologies. The core system is in Visual C++, the user interface is Java Swing. The links between both parts have been made using JNI calls on both directions. The Learn pane, hosts a Flash 5 animation, while sound in other panes is processed using DirectMusic (DirectX) components with custom instruments bundled as DLS (Down-Loadable Sounds) collections.
Export to Wave file has been implemented using a DMO (DirectMedia Object) that captures the audio flow generated by the Microsoft Software Synthesizer and stores it in a .wav file. And we have also used JavaHelp to display our help files (generated with AuthorIT).
Historically, SwarShala 2 was a plain MFC/C++ app, using DirectSound technology. Rewriting the user interface as Java Swing had various advantages:
a) We could make a significant move to porting the application to the Mac, which is required by many people. In fact, we could easily reuse this interface for a new product called Swar Librarian, which now perfectly runs on Mac OS X. Full SwarShala on Mac is the next step.
b) We could easily split development. Some people worked on the user interface, some on the core system, and then we joined both things together with JNI.
The original idea was also to integrate the Flash animation directly in the GUI. Unfortunately Macromedia have only released Java classes for their Flash 2 version, which was clearly not sufficient for the presentation we wanted to have. We are therefore calling it as an external program, until these classes are released.
On the sound side, DirectMusic proved to be an ideal technology for playing our sequences (processed as MIDI events) with our custom sampled instruments. We could not only implement the playback within Practice and Compose pane (with feedback on the cell being played), but also the export to wave file (as mentioned above) and a separate sampler (Swar Sampler) that reads the MIDI flow from a MIDI port."
This is a brief explanation of the technologies we have used and the reasons we chose them."
When we first contacted the company and explained that we were interested in doing a product review for SwarShala 3.0, we were helped and welcomed like none other would. Mariano was the person handling TW's requests and it turns out that this same person is also the creator of this wonderful tool. Mariano was very supportive in all our requests and needs.
Purpose of this Tool:
In our view, there are very few people that understand Indian Classical Music. Even in the Indian community itself. But as many know that Tabla and Sitar are both making their way into the Hip-Hop, Rock, Reggea, and other genres of music in today's MTV based music industry. There is certainly a need to implement Indian Style Music into western based music system. And here is the tool that can make it happen.
At TW we believe that if a tool does what it is made for, it is made correctly. But at the same time, it is a basic expectation that a tool not only do its job but that it should be a long lasting tool. Here is where SwarShala boyz and girliez goofed up a bit. We noted a medium sized discrepancy that SwarShala 3.0 kept coming up with when run in Windows XP environment. It seems that the program is habituated to freezing and slowing system down if SwarShala 3.0 kept running for a substantial amount of time, say 50 minutes or so.
On the upside, we haven't seen a better copy protection anywhere else than with SwarShala 3.0. The system only works when you email the company with a certain number that the program pops up. They in return will email back the key to run the program in a normal full version mode. Now the reason this software will do well in it's copy right protection is because the software is in itself so unheard of that no one has come up with a crack program for it. Trust Me, We Know! We Looked Around! :)
The help files are very thorough and explain things very well. This to some may actually be a downside due to enormous amounts of reading. But we would personally read more and get good results then to lack any documentaion.
In our view, SwarShala 3.0's largest audience will no doubt be Techo, Dance, and Fusion composers. And secondary to that would come those groups that are hard core Indian Classical.
What's Left Out:
What we covered in this article is very brief since we tried to keep the subject matter down to SwarShala's technicalities. But if you would like to get to know SwarShala 3.0 from a musician's point of view, feel free to check out: http://www.swarsystems.com
We would like to thank Mariano Etchepareborda and Swar Systems for letting us check out their latest software.
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