Wildseed on making ringtones sing - Upfront

news from Japan

In early 2003, Kyocera is planning to release a new phone for the US market (code-named Delta 2), which is aimed at the "young and fun" segment and optimized for entertainment. The Delta 2 will feature Wildseed's "Smart Skin" intelligent faceplates and "Smart Screen" software. In addition, the phone will be one of the first in the US to feature 16-voice polyphonic ringtones. The new phone is also one of the first in the US to use Yamaha's 16-voice polyphonic MA-2 sound generation chip. The primary characteristic of the MA-2 is that it uses FM sound synthesis, which allows for stronger sounds with more "punch." In contrast, Rohm's competing chips incorporate PCM sound, which is based on digital sampling of actual instruments, giving them more of a real sound.

J@pan Inc recently contacted Steve Ouimette, who handles audio creation for Wildseed, and asked him to tell us a bit about his ringtone production work. Here's what Ouimette had to say about ringtone creation for the new Kyocera/Wildseed phone.

JI: How did you come to be involved in ringtone creation?

Ouimette: It was a long 10-year process! Actually, I've been a musician all of my life and have done scores for PC games as well as audio for corporate branding and instructional videos. I have also run a recording studio for the past nine years in the Seattle area. But it was a friend of mine that I had worked with at Microsoft, now at Wildseed, who mentioned I should come by and take a look at what they were doing. I ended up officially starting with Wildseed last April.

JI: Do you find it difficult to work within the constraints of 16 voices?

Ouimette: Because I worked for Creative Labs in the early 90s, I already had some familiarity with Yamaha's FM synthesizer. In fact, the early Soundblaster cards used a Yamaha chip, which was for all intents and purposes the same as the MA-2, allowing 16 voices of 2-operator FM synth. Those chips also had a single channel of PCM audio. In the early days of PC game development, the single channel of PCM audio was exploited to incorporate speech or other special-effect sounds that the FM synth couldn't produce. It was amazing what could be done with such a limited set of resources. That experience has been helpful in my recent work with the MA-2.

JI: What are your general impressions of the MA-2 chip?

Quimette: All in all, the MA-2 has a lot of flexibility to explore. Though it seems rather simple, it's really quite a deep tone generator capable of making a lot of very interesting sounds. Besides that, working with limits like 13mm speakers and low polyphony tends to make you think outside the box and come up with solutions beyond what you normally would think of in a more expanded studio situation.

JI: How do you use the PCM channel in your ringtones?

Ouimette: I look at the PCM channel as a good place to really expand on the sound of a ringtone. There is only a limited space to work with, but you can still add a lot of character with ADPCM. Also, since the default drums are FM-based, I like to supplement them with drum loops or individual samples to thicken the sound. Our phone also has a stereo earbud set in addition to the ringtone speaker, so the difference is really heard when the user listens through them. It also makes a good case for creating ringtones in stereo.

JI: How do you find FM-based ringtones compared to the other types?

Quimette: FM is a great vehicle for ringtones. There are now a variety of synth engines for mobile devices, but the one type that really cuts through is FM. The software synths are very flexible, but they don't seem to have the ability to cut through a purse or a bag as well as FM does.