Doug Wyatt: Architect of Synchronicity
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Alberts: During your 12 years with Opcode you were literally inventing the wheels that still revolve today. What was that like for you?

Wyatt: When I’m in the middle of creating something, whether it’s software or music, I don’t seem to have much of an idea of its long-term implications. That was definitely true during the Opcode years, especially at the beginning. We just tried to make the best musical tools we could. There was a great work environment at Opcode. Everybody loved their jobs, worked insanely hard, and probably would have worked for free. Most everyone had a musical background, so at times it felt not only like a family, but almost like a band.

Alberts: Was your invention of OMS based on a personal need to better integrate MIDI and computer, or to address an overall need of musicians and the musical instrument industry?

Wyatt: OMS solved some immediate problems for Opcode. Apple’s MIDI Manager pointed to the type of solution we needed—something to mediate between MIDI applications and hardware—but it didn’t scale well to the larger MIDI studios appearing at the time. So I originally conceived of OMS as a little piece of software that could be shared between all of Opcode’s applications, Studio 5 [Opcode’s monster 15-port MIDI interface] and other MIDI hardware. It was a bit forward-looking at the time, I thought, but only a little—I remember being surprised many times by how this thing we’d built to solve an Opcode problem became something much bigger.

Alberts: What’s a typical development cycle for creating music software?

Wyatt: Writing music software isn’t that different from writing any other piece of software. It really helps if the programmer is a musician with some insight into how the software is to be used. If they don’t have that, it can lead to bugs that are time-consuming and expensive to fix. The whole process begins with a creative idea—“Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if…”—and from there descends into a lot of mundane engineering tasks like designing internal structures, typing code, refining the internal structure, compiling, and debugging. As an early proof of concept, I try to work very quickly to translate that initial idea into a working prototype so it can quickly serve as a feedback mechanism.

Alberts: Which came first for you: programming or making music?

Wyatt: Music came first. I started banging on a piano as soon as I could reach the keys, and then programming computer games when I was 13. At 19 I was playing in bands and still dabbling in computers, but I really wanted more to be a musician. Todd Rundgren was asked in a 1981 TV interview to give advice to aspiring musicians, and he suggested they become computer programmers. That clicked.

Alberts: How does each endeavor mesh with the other for you creatively?

Wyatt: These days, the two worlds don’t intersect quite as closely as they used to. But I’d also say that creating music and programming software aren’t quite as different as nonprogrammers might think. We’re told that programming is supposed to be an intensely logical, left-brained process, but in reality software systems are so complex now that it takes a certain amount of creativity and intuition to understand and work on them. There are also times working out odd meters and varying themes in composition when I find that an analytical, even mathematical, approach helps.

Alberts: Many audio engineers these days declare, “MIDI is dead,” and one artist has said, “I’m so over MIDI” enough times to make it his mantra. What’s your view of the state of MIDI today?

Wyatt: I’ve heard comments like that from a few people, but never with enough context to really understand what they mean when they say MIDI is dead. The perfect recall and accurate timing of soft synths certainly make old MIDI synths look a lot less appealing, but those soft synths are still being controlled with MIDI, just no longer through five-pin DIN cables. I’d say there is probably more MIDI being used today than ever before, especially with the advent of USB and FireWire MIDI devices. As a composer who works with notes and phrases, MIDI has always been central to how I put music together. I can’t imagine working without it.

String Quartet Real strings replace the demo synth sounds.

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