PERFORMER NOTES

Creative Uses Of MAS Plug-ins

Published in SOS August 2002
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Technique : Digital Performer Notes

Three tracks are being shown simultaneously on this Graphic Editor's piano-roll note grid. Note the mouse pointer, which is in 'pull' mode, and the Event Info bar above the time ruler.

We continue looking at creative uses of the MAS plug-ins supplied with Digital Performer — this month, it's the turn of Trim. We kick off with more data-selection and editing tips.


Robin Bigwood

If the Tracks window is the best place in DP for making structural changes to your sequences (as I explained in last month's column — see www.soundonsound.com/sos/jul02/ articles/performnotes0702.asp), the MIDI Graphic Editor is where you need to be when working with individual notes. As well as being able to display multiple MIDI tracks on the same 'piano-roll' grid (track colour settings really come into their own here), the Graphic Editor has a dedicated velocity and MIDI controller-editing pane (see above).

The Graphic Editor is opened by clicking its button in the control bar, holding down Shift and hitting the 'G' key, or double-clicking on a MIDI phrase in the Tracks window. This last technique, however, assumes you've made the right settings in the Preferences dialogue box (accessed via the File menu). Radio buttons there determine which type of editor opens when a phrase is double-clicked. If you do end up with the wrong editing window, you can quickly switch to another one by going to its mini-menu and choosing an alternative from those on offer about halfway down the menu list.

Selecting

Selecting notes is easy in DP, but it's amazing how many people can be users of a program without knowing all the shortcuts that can help to make using a program faster and more efficient. Here are a few of the most important.

The tiny but very useful 'Set Nudge Amount' dialogue box, accessed by holding down Command/Apple and Alt/Option and hitting the 'N' key.

To select notes, simply click on them in the middle. You can also drag from an empty part of the note grid to select multiple events, and click or drag the mouse while holding down the Shift key to add additional notes to a selection. The keys of the keyboard diagram on the left of the piano-roll grid can be double-clicked to select all MIDI events of that pitch, and double-clicking on the keyboard while holding down Shift adds a pitch to a selection. As with the Tracks window, you can make selections by dragging in the time ruler, and you can transfer a time-ruler selection to a single track by clicking on the track's name back in the Tracks window.

In all cases, remember that the Graphic Editor can display the note data of several tracks at once, so always use the window's Track Selector List to show or hide tracks as necessary — only those that are visible can be selected or edited.

Editing

Pitches of selected notes can be changed simply by dragging them up or down with the mouse. The mouse can also be used to move the position of notes in time, and in both cases holding down the Alt/Option key (which turns the mouse pointer into the 'two-finger' hand) causes notes to be copied to the new location, leaving originals intact. Hold down the Shift key before dragging notes and you'll find movement is constrained to the vertical or horizontal only, depending on which direction you moved in first. If you hold down the Command/Apple key you temporarily toggle the position of the Edit Resolution grid, so you can easily decide if an individual copy or move action snaps to the edit grid or not. In all cases, the Pointer Coordinates display (at the top left of the window) makes it easy to place moved or copied notes accurately, and coordinates can be displayed in any time format, as selected via the Graphic Editor's mini-menu.

A stereo instance of the Trim MAS plug-in. Note the peak and average level indicators in the meters.

If you're editing individual notes, there are some more options. First, and slickest, is 'MIDI Edit' which must be selected from the mini-menu. This allows the pitches of selected notes to be changed just by hitting a key on your master keyboard. In fact, MIDI Edit will quite happily change the pitch of several selected notes at once. Even more flexible though, is the Graphic Editor's Event Info bar, above the time ruler. All data associated with a selected note is displayed here, including its start time, duration, pitch and velocity, and you can edit it by clicking a value and dragging vertically, or simply entering a new value directly from the keyboard. Durations can also be changed, or course, by dragging the right-hand end of a note — the mouse pointer becomes a 'pull' hand, and holding down the Apple key whilst you pull (or 'push') toggles the Edit Resolution grid once more. In DP v3.1, you should also be able to grab the left end of a note to change its duration.

Nudge & Pencil Tools

The Nudge tool is a great one for moving notes in time. Nudging notes forward or backwards is as easy as hitting the left or right arrow keys on your keypad (the Nudge amount, which can be set to the same value as the current

Edit Resolution, or to any value in any time measurement unit, is configured in a dialogue box called up by holding down Command/Apple and Alt/Option and hitting the 'N' key). The great thing about Nudge is the speed and accuracy which you can make changes, and it's as good at moving a note one tick as it is moving an entire phrase or section 100 bars.

Similarly useful is the Pencil tool, as it's an easy way to enter notes without record-enabling a track. Just hold down the 'P' key (don't bother going to the Tools window) and the mouse pointer turns into a pencil. Then you click (and drag) to enter a note — if Edit Resolution is on, it sets the minimum duration for the note, but holding Command/Apple as you drag toggles Edit Resolution as normal.

Graphic Editor Options

In versions of DP prior to v3, separate Graphic Editors were opened for each track. If you still prefer this behaviour, you can select it in the Preferences dialogue box, found under the File menu. It's also worth investigating other mini-menu options, such as setting time and SMPTE aux rulers, which can be useful when working with video. For information about editing velocity and controller data in the Graphic Editor, see the October 2001 edition of Performer Notes (or surf to www.soundonsound.com/sos/ oct01/articles/performnotes.asp).

  News — Pluggo v3  
 

Analogue Percussion, one of the best of the new crop of software instruments in Cycling 74's Pluggo v3.

The big news, as I write this instalment of Performer Notes in early June, is the release of Pluggo v3. This adds more off-the-wall audio processing plug-ins to the complement that were on offer in Pluggo v2, and throws in about 20 virtual instruments for good measure. Looking on the bright side, Pluggo now offers a more comprehensive suite of tools than ever, but seasoned users may well wonder if the latest additions were worthy of a whole-number version change. I'd hoped, for example, that v3 would allow Pluggo plug-ins to be organised into folders (like MAS ones), but unfortunately that's not so. And whilst the new instruments are a welcome addition, they're a touch heavy on your processor. Demos and upgrades are available from: www.cycling74.com.
 
Using The Trim Plug-in

You may well consider Trim to be one of the least interesting of all the MAS (MOTU Audio System) plug-ins on offer, jostling for position with DC Offset in terms of sheer dullness. However, there's more to it than meets the eye (see above). Firstly, Trim offers the most accurate and configurable metering in DP (short of esoteric third-party options like Metric Halo's SpectraFoo). Open up Trim on an audio track and its meters might appear like any other, but look more carefully and you'll notice a 'range adjust' bar with two little triangular grab handles. These determine the upper and lower limits of the meters, which can be set anywhere from -144dB to 20dB over digital zero (0dBFS). Amongst other things this allows you to examine in detail the noise floor of a 24-bit recording, or zoom in to the top 3dB of a mix you're trying to make ultra 'hot'. And you can change meter limits in real time — level readouts and meter scale update instantly.

Trim actually displays three level types simultaneously. In addition to the familiar real-time readout, average and peak levels are indicated by single green lines superimposed on the meter. Peak values are also shown numerically in a box above the meter — incredibly useful for finding out how much headroom is left (or by how much you've exceeded it) when you've placed Trim on a master fader during a final mixdown.

As well as metering, Trim offers 40dB of gain or attenuation for signals passing through it. This is great for boosting weedy signals, and handy for attenuating a signal that's running too hot before it passes into another plug-in. Stereo instances of Trim have separate Gain knobs for each channel which, when unlinked (by pressing the button that sits between) are ideal for balancing off-centre stereo recordings. This is often a better solution than just using the audio track's pan knob in the Mixing Board, especially if you want to drive both sides of a reverb plug-in properly in an insert slot.

Stereo Trims also have Pan controls, making stereo tracks almost as flexible as two mono tracks. By default, the pans are set hard left and hard right, keeping the two sides of the stereo signal separate. Moving one of the Pan controls (with the Pan Link switch between the knobs turned on) allows you to adjust stereo width, going smoothly from true stereo, through narrow, then mono, and carrying on until the two sides of a stereo track are reversed.

Trim's other main duty is for phase reversal, so it's standard issue for snares miked from underneath. The phase-invert buttons are also useful for salvaging stereo recordings which have accidentally been made with one channel out of phase, or, indeed, for correcting absolute phase problems (although those with ears not composed of precious metals need not apply).

Finally, Trim excels at one rather less obvious task, making overall level changes to a track whose volume is already extensively automated. Rather than try to drag dozens of automation breakpoints up or down a dB or two, or mess around with a real-time automation Latch pass, why not just stick Trim on the lowest insert slot of the track? This is stupidly easy, and also easily reversible should you decide against your changes.

  Current Version  
  Digital Perfomer: v3.02.  

  Quick Tips  
  When you're working with the Trim plug-in, you can double-click on the Peak box to reset its reading, or hold down the Command/Apple key and hit the '\' (backslash) key to clear all of DP's meters in one go.

In the Graphic Editor, the Pencil tool can remove notes as well as write them — just click on notes whilst holding down the 'P' key and they will disappear.

You can 'scrub' a sequence from the Graphic Editor by dragging the playback wiper when 'audible mode' (the little speaker icon in the title bar) is on. To scrub only those tracks that are visible, use the Scrub tool instead while holding down the 'S' key, and then drag your mouse over some note data.

 

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