Create an editable click track with audio cues using Sibelius and Max/MSP

Tutorials

This blog post is written by Alexander Plötz, a music engraver, editor, proof reader and more based in Dresden, Germany. Read on for his detailed but highly informative take on creating a click track with audio cues, complete with accurate indication of cues within parts, using Sibelius and Max/MSP, a visual programming language for music and multimedia.

Introduction

Overview

The method described here will allow you to edit and notate a complex click track (including the exactly timed playback of audio files to cue in players) right in the Sibelius score and parts of a piece, and to then have the actual sound file for the click track created automatically.

In order to being able to do that, the score will have to be set up first; this is described in the first part of the tutorial. The second part deals with how clicks and audio cues can then be edited right in the Sibelius score, and how to get optimal results, regarding engraving standards. The third part covers how to automatically create a sound file of the click track by means of a MIDI file extracted from Sibelius. Also, some general thoughts about how to get the best results when preparing the audio files are addressed there.

Anyone interested in adapting the process to a multi-channel constellation will find a few thoughts about that at the end of the tutorial.

To replicate the method, you will need (apart from Sibelius): commonplace audio equipment (a microphone for recording your audio cues and also a basic audio editor capable to exporting to either WAV or AIF format) and the runtime version of the visual programming environment Max/MSP. The Max/MSP part of the method is restricted to installing the runtime version of that software and then running on it a file (provided for download later in the tutorial) that will create the click track automatically from the extracted MIDI file. There is no programming involved.

Most click tracks today are probably created with DAWs (at least that’s my experience from previous projects as well as from what I have found searching online; if readers know about some other approaches I would very much like to read about it in the comments). For a recent production of a piece of music theatre by young composer Maximilan Maintz I was facing the (not so uncommon) situation that there was hardly any time or personnel available for creating the click track this way. Not only was a just basic click track inadequate as there was no conductor and the players were depending on getting their cues as they would from a conductor; additionally there was the problem that significant portions of the music were not even written when rehearsals began and that the already existing music too was to be revised and changed during the rehearsal process.

For all these reasons I tried a different and much more flexible method to create the click track, using the Playback Dictionary and Export MIDI features of Sibelius in combination with a simple Max/MSP patch, thus being able to plan, edit and – most importantly – quickly re-edit all clicks and cues by entering them directly into the Sibelius score and then automatically create the whole actual click track with only a few steps.

Originally the method presented here was developed for the most undesirable constellation of all, where numerous individual players have to share the one and only available audio channel. As long as only a basic click track is involved, this is no problem at all. But as soon as there are actual audio cues, meant for single players, this becomes a problem as every player gets to hear not only the cues concerning him or her, but also all cues for all other players. This is not only annoying but also quite risky as it may throw players off track instead of ensuring them to play at the right time. That is why I opted for indicating all cues in all parts – that way the fact that everyone hears every cue can actually become helpful, as there is a steady stream of information that is referenced in full in the individual parts. Though you might suspect that this approach heavily complicates the workflow of preparing score and parts, I hope to show that Sibelius is very much suited to take care of most issues arising almost without any additional tampering after a general setup.

I would like to point out that the system is adaptable for other constellations (e.g. independent audio channels for single players) and I will address some general aspects of that at the end.

Before I begin: this tutorial is aimed at the more experienced user and therefore discusses some advanced features without explaining them in detail. Also, all aspects concerning layout that are affected by the described procedures are only hinted at, to not further elongate this already lengthy tutorial.

However I hope that the casual user too can gain some interesting insights into the inner workings and the unknown possibilities of Sibelius.

Comments

  1. PAOLO

    Very interesting and educating article! Thanks!

    Do you have an example of an actual click track finished, so that I could hear what the final product actually should be like? That would be very useful.

    :)

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