Monday, June 27, 2011

High-level realtime MIDI IO with Ruby

Update (9/8/2011): I've created another library that wraps all of the concepts of this post in a Ruby DSL and adds shorthand notation and some other fun things. Read about MicroMIDI here

Understandably, a few people have asked me for advice on how to input and output MIDI in a human friendly way with unimidi so I've decided to put together a quick tutorial. I'll be focusing on two gem libraries that I wrote: midi-message, which deals soley with MIDI message objects, and midi-eye, a library for reacting to MIDI input. Of course, it should be mentioned that there's no one way to do this with unimidi.  You can use whatever MIDI objects you like or create your own classes-- unimidi just deals in raw low-level bytes.  There are other libraries such as midilib that provide an intriguing alternative and could work pretty easily with unimidi.  Or one could get creative and go off with a totally unconventional approach as well. For the examples that follow, I'm using a MIDI input and output that I specify with unimidi.
require 'unimidi'

@input = UniMIDI::Input.use(:first)
@output = UniMIDI::Output.use(:first)

If you copy and paste these, they will just open the first MIDI devices available on your computer. You should determine which MIDI devices you want to use and edit these statements to suit your setup. (here's a blog post that goes into more detail on this)

Dealing with MIDI input using midi-eye

My preferred way of dealing with MIDI input is to react to arriving messages with an event listener.  Midi-eye makes this easy and its constructor accepts a unimidi input to attach to.  Here is an example that will react to all incoming messages in the same way by printing them to the screen

require 'midi-eye'

listener =
listener.on_message do |event|
  puts event[:timestamp]
  puts event[:message]

Chances are if you're working with MIDI input that you will want to cherry-pick certain messages, or at least react in a different way depending on what type of message you've received eg. a note message, control change, etc.  To accomplish this, arguments can be passed to the Listener#listen_for method which will match against properties of the incoming messages
listener.listen_for(:class => [MIDIMessage::NoteOn, MIDIMessage::NoteOff]) do |event|

  # raise the note value by an octave
  event[:message].note += 12

  # send the altered note message to the output you chose earlier


In this example, I take all note messages (identified by their class), transpose them up one octave and send them to my MIDI output. You can add as many of these callbacks as you like, just keep calling Listener#listen_for. While that type of matching will be useful in a lot of cases, it is limited by the fact that it only matches positively against the properties and values you pass in. If you need more complex matching, I recommend putting a conditional statement within the callback.
listener.listen do |event|

  # is this a note above C3?
  if event[:message].respond_to?(:note) && event[:message].note > 48

    # if so, lower the note value by a fifth
    event[:message].note -= 7


  # and send the message to the unimidi output



(listen and listen_for are actually the same method, I just think it looks cleaner to call listen when there is no matching happening)


Pass :background => true to listener.start to have the listener work only in a background thread. This will allow you to run other listeners or foreground threads while that particular listener is running in the background.

Output MIDI using midi-message

In those examples, I sent messages to an output-- but I didn't create those messages myself. The midi-message library allows you to create messages like that yourself in a flexible way.

require 'midi-message'
include MIDIMessage
Here are three different MIDI note-on messages created using three different methods.
messages = []

messages <<, 48, 64) # C3

messages << NoteOn["E3"].new(0, 100)

with(:channel => 0, :velocity => 100) do
  messages << note_on("G3")
With those message objects in hand, I pass each to UniMIDI::Output#puts the same way you saw earlier.
messages.each { |message| @output.puts(message) }
That's it... and it works the same for all types of MIDI messages including sysex. You can find some info on creating sysex messages here.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

OSX: Unimidi, IAC and MIDI Patch Bay

Some quick instructions for routing MIDI between unimidi and other programs in OSX...

OSX (10.3 and above) has the ability built in to route MIDI between programs using something called Inter-Application Communication (IAC). IAC allows you to create a pair of virtual MIDI devices (an input and an output) that applications will see as though they are usual MIDI hardware devices. When you send MIDI instructions to the output, they show up at the input. Therefore, you can send MIDI to the output using one program and use the input in another program to receive the data.

You can control the IAC settings using the built-in Audio MIDI Setup applications in the utilities folder. That program allows you to create, edit and delete these virtual device pairs.

When Audio MIDI Setup is loaded you should see the window shown above. If you don't, select Show MIDI Window from the Window menu.

Double-click the IAC Driver icon. Click More Information if the Ports menu is not showing. Make sure that there is at least one port listed -- this represents a single pair of virtual devices.

When working with Ruby, select the IAC Driver from the list of unimidi inputs or outputs that corresponds to the port that you've created. For example, the first IAC Driver output in unimidi will correspond to the output for the first set of ports in Audio MIDI Setup.

You can list your unimidi devices by using unimidi list at the command line or using UniMIDI::Device.all in Ruby.

Once you have these concepts down, you also have the option of using MIDI Patch Bay for more complex routing and filtering.

Joe Le Brech made a video of using MIDI Patch Bay and IAC to send notes to GarageBand

He wrapped all of his Ruby code in a script called output.rb so you really can't see exactly what's going on the Ruby end of things...but it should give you a general idea of how this works

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Unimidi: Platform independent realtime MIDI IO in Ruby

Unimidi is a universal Ruby library for realtime MIDI IO.

It currently works with MRI 1.9.2 on Linux, OSX, Windows/cygwin and under JRuby in 1.9 mode on any platform.

gem install unimidi

No compilation is required, install the gem and start playing.

Unimidi deals in raw bytes rather than high level message objects with the intention of allowing people to use whichever message objects or helpers they choose. There's a few libraries out there for that, including one by me.

Under the hood, unimidi is essentially linkage to a set of platform specific C bindings (that use ruby-ffi).  Or in the case of JRuby, some code that wraps javax.sound.   These platform specific libraries are broken out in to their own gems and the appropriate one should install automatically when the unimidi gem is installed. In unusual cases where your platform isn't recognized, all of those gems will be installed.  You can see which library goes with which platform on the unimidi github page. It is possible to use those gems on their own, but currently none of them contain any features that aren't also made available through unimidi.

Here's a couple of quick examples to get started

Sending notes to a MIDI output

First, load unimidi and then define a set of note values and a duration value for how long the notes will be held out.

require 'unimidi'

notes = [36, 40, 43, 48, 52, 55, 60, 64, 67] # C E G arpeggios
duration = 0.1

Next, select an output.  To list all available outputs, you can do unimidi list from the command line or UniMIDI::Device.list in irb.  In this case, the first output is selected and enabled. (here is another post with more information about selecting a device)

output =

Now open that output.  Passing a block to open is optional but it ensures that the device is closed when the program is finished.  This can alleviate some headaches when multitasking MIDI/audio programs.  Note that it's also possible to select, open and use multiple inputs and outputs concurrently. do |output|

  notes.each do |note|
    output.puts(0x90, note, 100) # note on message
    sleep(duration)  # wait
    output.puts(0x80, note, 100) # note off message


Output#puts can also be used for sysex messages in the same manner as note messages, a la:
output.puts(0xF0, 0x41, 0x10, 0x42, 0x12, 0x40, 0x00, 0x7F, 0x00, 0x41, 0xF7)
Note that some OS's will silently reject invalid sysex or short messages.

You can also Output#puts a string of hex bytes if you prefer to work that way

Working with input

Input can be collected two ways. First, unimidi has a method Input#gets which waits for input before returning. It works exactly the way Ruby's $stdin.gets works when waiting for keyboard input.

Here is a demonstration of Input#gets

Select an input and open it...

input = UniMIDI::Input.first do |input|

  $stdout.puts "send some MIDI to your input now..."

  loop do
    m = input.gets


When MIDI input is received, you'll see inspected Hash objects like this:

{ :data => [144, 60, 100], :timestamp => 1024 }

In this case [144, 60, 100] is a note-on message for channel 0, note C4 (aka 60), with velocity 100.  The timestamp is the number of milliseconds since the input was opened.

The other more advanced way to receive input is by polling Input#buffer manually.  As new messages are received, they are added to that buffer array.  I normally use this with a pointer to keep track of the index of the last message seen.  Polling this way would for example, allow you to create your own background thread to collect input while your program does other things.  The library Topaz, which I wrote about in my last post, collects clock messages from unimidi that way.

Your computer should be able to receive data with 1-2 millisecond accuracy