SAN FRANCISCO (06/02/2000) - When I was a kid, I took piano lessons from Mrs.
Kirkpatrick, a notoriously stern woman who made my 12-year-old life a living, "Chopsticks"-filled hell. Since I never had the patience for lessons or for Mrs. Kirkpatrick, Beatnik Inc.'s Mixman Studio download appealed to me immediately.
Beatnik recently made its $19.95 Mixman Studio available in a downloadable trial version. It takes up a little more than 6MB, so I copied it to my hard drive and gave it the once over. The software lets you draw from a collection of sampled sounds; you can select the ones you want to hear and create a song to your liking.
The interface resembles two turntables. Around each turntable are eight, small round points, which Mixman calls slots. Each slot has a sound, called a track, associated with it. A track might be a looped keyboard part, a drumbeat, or even a spoken word or two. You click a slot to select a track, and the sound repeats at a default tempo, measured in beats per minute (bpm). You can use a selector to increase the bpm to make your song more danceable or slow it for a more relaxed groove.
And groove the Mixman does. You can't go wrong, because the collection of sounds you work with all work well together. Mixman calls these collections a mix template, and you can import more to vary the tune. You can download additional mixes from the Beatnik Web site.
When you've created a song you like, you can export the file as an MP3 or RealAudio file. The paid, full version of the program lets you export .wav and Windows Media files as well.
It would be nice, though, if you could make note of sounds and later play them back in the order you choose, so you could easily edit and recreate music you've already designed. For those features, you'll need the more feature-filled--and more expensive--Mixman Studio Pro, priced at $89.95. As it is, Mixman Studio acts as a tool to create and record what are essentially live performances.
Despite the limitation, Mixman is a fun and simple-to-learn program. And it's a nice introduction for kids to learn how to make music. But I'm afraid it's just more bad news for piano teachers.