Celemony’s Melodyne audio editing application blew a lot of minds when it was first introduced back in 2001. Rather than merely displaying waveforms or even frequency information, Melodyne teased out actual notes, and represented them as individual “blobs” within a user interface that functioned much like a standard “piano-roll” MIDI editor. You could then adjust their pitch and duration, and even modify the phrasing, dynamics, and other primary characteristics of complete performances—as long as you were dealing with a monophonic event such as a melody line or a drum part. Then, in 2009, Celemony stunned the audio community again with the implementation of its Direct Note Access (DNA) technology, which enabled Melodyne to function polyphonically. Suddenly, entire chords and even lines played simultaneously by more than one instrument could be extracted from audio files and manipulated in myriad ways.
Since then, Celemony has continued to both refine and expand Melodyne’s capabilities, and now offers the application in four flavors, to address the needs—and fit the budgets—of users from home recording enthusiasts to recording industry professionals. There’s the fully featured polyphonic Melodyne Editor ($349 street) reviewed here, the monophonic Melodyne Assistant ($199 street), the stripped-down Melodyne Essential ($69 street), and the multi-track Melodyne Studio Bundle ($559 street), which is likely more Melodyne than most non-pro users will ever need. (See the Celemony website for full details and a comparative chart.)
Melodyne is compatible with both OS X and Windows operating systems, and functions as either a stand-alone application (linked to your DAW via Rewire), or as a VST, AU, RTAS, or AAX plug-in, within both 32- and 64-bit environments. The plug-in versions play particularly well with Presonus Studio One and Cakewalk Sonar, via Celemony’s proprietary Audio Random Access (ARA) extension, which integrates them more thoroughly by streamlining communication and expanding functionality.
The principles upon which Melodyne is based have their origins in the works of mathematicians such as Pythagorias, Ptolemy, and Kepler (particularly the latter’s Harmony of the World, which, among other things, specifically addresses the mathematics of vibration and harmony). German software engineer Peter Neubäcker—who is also a musician and a luthier, as well as something of a mystic—reportedly stumbled upon the concept for Melodyne while pondering the question, “What does a stone sound like?” Given the application’s seemingly magical music-manipulating capabilities, it might be more pertinent to ask, “What can a stone sound like?”
Melodyne Editor is so robust that it isn’t possible to even list all of its features and capabilities in a quick overview such as this, much less provide details about them—so I’ll just highlight a few of the most important ones, particularly as they apply to guitar. I tested Melodyne both as a stand-alone application, and as a 32-bit RTAS plug-in within Pro Tools 10 (there’s also a 64-bit AAX version for Pro Tools 11). The interfaces for the two versions are very similar, and the results in all cases were essentially identical.
Melodyne operates in three modes: Melodic, Percussive, and Polyphonic. When working with, say, single-note guitar lines and riffs, you’ll likely want to go with Melodic mode, whereas Polyphonic mode is required for chords. Melodyne does a good job of identifying notes and other musical events, though there are lots of ways to fine-tune the analysis process, and to correct any errors. Then, once you have an accurate representation of the performance, you can use the Pitch, Timing, Amplitude, Formant, and many other tools to either correct problems, or get creative. For example, you could add, subtract, or alter notes within chords to create new harmonies, change keys, or even construct voicings that it would be impossible to actually play on a guitar. You can also accent particular notes, change their attack envelope or duration, or even substitute notes played with one tone for those played with another. And most of these things are done by simply dragging and dropping or via simple key commands. Don’t like the sound of that Db? Just drag its blob to, say, the Bb line and presto!
Another truly amazing capability is translating audio/note information into MIDI information. Once you have a performance loaded into Melodyne, and converted to MIDI, you can have any MIDI synth, sampler, or other device play the part—and the MIDI information may be used to generate musical notation for creating sheet music (heads up sound designers, remixers, and film composers).
You’ll find an abundance of information about Melodyne on the Celemony website, including some excellent instructional videos—and you can download a free 30-day trial version, along with demo files for several major DAWs, to see for yourself what all the fuss is about. But beware: this thing is totally addictive, and it has the potential to change the way you make music forever.