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Effective Selecting & Locating In Digital Performer

Digital Performer Notes & Techniques By Robin Bigwood

The ability to move around your project quickly and easily, making fast and accurate selections for editing, can take much of the pain out of music production. We round up some of the best power‑user shortcuts.

MIDI programming, audio editing, comping, mixing, bouncing to disk: what these and dozens of other routine DP tasks have in common is the need to frequently locate playback position and make accurate and appropriate editing window selections prior to carrying out edits. Location and selection are such a fundamental part of using a DAW like DP that it pays to get quick at them, so you can potentially work much faster, focusing on your production more and wrestling with the application less.

Location, Location, Location

DP puts only one true location command 'up front', and that's Rewind, otherwise known as Return To Zero. Click this, or use the keypad '1' key command, and normally the playback wiper jumps to the start of the sequence. If you have Memory Cycle turned on, though, and the wiper is somewhere within or to the right of the cycle region, Rewind locates the wiper to the Memory Start location: click Rewind or hit the keypad 1 button again to get back to the sequence start.

What if you want to jump somewhere else in your sequence? For this, a single powerful location feature stands out: the dot trick, which I've mentioned before in DP workshops:

  • Assuming your main time format is bars and beats, hit the dot key on your keypad, then type in the bar number you want to locate to.
  • Hit the dot again and type in the beat number. For real precision, hit it again and type the tick number.
  • Press the Enter key to get DP to locate to the point you just specified.

You don't have to define bar, beat and tick: hit the enter key after the bar number if you want. It works just as well with hours, minutes and seconds, if your time format is SMPTE or Real Time. If you have a laptop or similar keyboard without a keypad, you can either use its 'embedded' keypad (if there is one) and the return key, or hit Command‑T, then start typing in your location, using the tab key to move to the next time subdivision, then hit Return. The dot trick works whether DP is in playback or stopped.The keypad 'dot trick' or Command‑T keystroke allows you to quickly locate to any point in your sequence, expressed in the main time format.The keypad 'dot trick' or Command‑T keystroke allows you to quickly locate to any point in your sequence, expressed in the main time format.

Now for some other location tips. There's a Marker menu near the top left of the Tracks Window, and at bottom right of the Control Panel time display in DP 6.02 or later. These give you single‑click access to various points in your sequence — always the beginning and end, plus the Memory and Auto‑Record start points, when these features are enabled, and any markers. This last fact is handy: take 10 seconds to drop markers for verses, choruses and other sections in a song and you have single‑click access to them from then on. If keystrokes are more your bag, you can jump one marker left or right at a time using the Control‑Shift‑[period] and Control‑Shift‑[comma] commands.Recent versions of DP6 reinstate this very useful location tool, the Marker menu.Recent versions of DP6 reinstate this very useful location tool, the Marker menu.

Selection Process

Selecting something in your sequence is the precursor for many possible operations. You can select individual data events (such as MIDI notes) or a time range, which could be a fraction of a second or literally hours long, you can have a selection on one track or on several simultaneously, and there are many ways of making these selections.

All Or Nothing: Select All and Deselect All are amongst the most basic selection commands. Select All (Command‑A) is useful prior to a Bounce To Disk operation, for example, and I use Deselect All (Command‑D) constantly when editing. For example, if you use the scissors tool on a selected soundbite, all the slices will become selected. Need to drag just one slice? Hit Command‑D to clear the multiple selection, and then drag.

Cherry Picking: Particularly when you're editing MIDI, soundbites, automation data and so on in the Sequencer or MIDI editors, you'll need to make a lot of 'data' selections. You'll know this because when you click the note or soundbite to select it, you'll get an arrow‑style mouse pointer. (Make 'non‑contiguous' data selections, such as a few MIDI notes not necessarily next to each other, by clicking the first and then shift‑clicking the others.) It'd still be a data selection, too, if you were to click and drag over a group of notes with the cross‑hair cursor, or select a single MIDI 'phrase' in the Tracks window. So what's the big deal about data selections? You won't notice anything unusual for most familiar editing actions but they do make a difference to a few things. For example, you'll find that the Edit menu's Repeat command, and anything related to it, like Paste Repeat or Merge Repeat, is greyed out, and so are Snip and Trim, as they all rely on having a defined region: a time‑range selection. If you want to use one of these greyed‑out commands on a data selection, there's a quick solution. Open the Selection Information panel (Studio menu) and in the 'Set To...' pop‑up menu choose Set To Selection Bounds. This converts the data selection into a time‑range selection and those extra edit actions become available.DP6's Selection Information window lets you make precise selections numerically, or, as here, convert data selections to time‑range selections.DP6's Selection Information window lets you make precise selections numerically, or, as here, convert data selections to time‑range selections.

Home On The Range: Time‑range selections come into play when you're making large‑scale changes to one or several tracks, editing audio, selecting everything within a region, getting ready to bounce to disk, and so on. They can also be trickier to apply, as they often span large regions and dozens of tracks, yet still require great precision. It can feel particularly awkward when you're well zoomed‑in on a track but then need to quickly make a large‑scale selection — so knowing a range of selection techniques is handy.

For quick, shortish selections on audio tracks, move your mouse pointer to the bottom third of the Sequencer editor track lane and drag with the cross‑hair pointer. Alternatively — for any track type — drag a selection in a lane holding down the 'I' key. This temporarily selects the I‑Beam tool, ideal for time‑range selections. With a selection made in one track, Command‑click extra track names to include those tracks in the selection. Drag in the time ruler, with or without I‑Beam, to make a time‑range selection in all tracks (except ones hidden in the Track Selector). Again, Command‑click track names to include them in or exclude them from the selection.

Really long selections, especially when you're zoomed in, need more planning. If you just start to drag out a selection, it quickly extends past the end of the edit window and you sit there like a lemon as it leisurely scrolls its way along. So what are better ways of making long selections? It sounds obvious, but one way is to simply zoom out first. Use Command and the arrow keys to control horizontal and vertical zoom level. Go out as far as you need to, make the selection and, if you like, jump back to your previous zoom level by hitting Command‑[left square bracket] once or twice. This steps back through the zoom 'history'. Another way, good for single tracks, is to locate to where you want the selection to begin and click (not drag) with the cross‑hair cursor or I‑Beam tool in the track lane to place the insertion point. Then locate to where you want your selection to end, and shift‑click. This selects everything in between.The I‑Beam tool is the key to a range of powerful selection techniques.The I‑Beam tool is the key to a range of powerful selection techniques.

In the Selection Information window, you can set selection start and end points (or duration) numerically. Just click in the fields and type a value, using the dot or tab keys to switch fields before hitting Return or Enter. The arrows to the right of the time fields are actually clickable buttons: click them to 'load' a start or end time, even during playback.

Time Travel: There are times when it's handy to keep coming back to a particular selection. Maybe you want to make three bounces to disk of a song, each the same length but requiring different audio and MIDI edits. Editing between bounces blitzes the selection you've made for the bounce, but there's a way around that. With the selection in place, hit Control‑R. This saves it, and to recall it after your edits you just choose Set to Remembered Times from the Selection Information window's pop‑up menu. The same remembered time can be used to set Memory Cycle or Auto Record boundaries, using commands from their pop‑up menus in the Control Panel.

Miracle Grow: With a selection already made, or the insertion point placed, try these commands, otherwise known as 'select everything to the left or right'. For some kinds of editing, they'll become your best friends:

Shift‑Return: Grow selection to start

Option‑Shift‑Return: Grow selection to end.

The Small Print

Various DP settings have a bearing on making selections.

• Snap To Grid status determines whether selections can be made completely freely or, um, snap to grid. Turn it on or off by clicking the tick box in the Snap Information window or the Edit Grid info bar, or by holding down the Command key as you click or drag.

• To exclude tracks from large‑scale selections (such as Select All) made in the Sequence editor, hide them first in the Track Selector list.

• Check the 'Edit Tracks In Closed Folders' item in the Tracks window's mini‑menu to control whether tracks in closed folders can still be selected by 'large scale' techniques like Select All, a time‑ruler selection drag or a marker/Memory Cycle click. You might never need this, but now you'll know what to do when you do!

DP News In Brief

• BPM: MOTU's newest software instrument, BPM, was announced at the NAMM show, but by now is widely available and has already received an important update. In case you're wondering, BPM stands for 'Beat Production Machine', and MOTU dub it an "advanced urban rhythm production instrument”. That, no doubt, relates to its Akai MPC‑inspired look and feel.

Just like an MPC, BPM allows samples to be loaded into its 16 virtual pads, and has pattern sequencing and song‑construction features, as well as built‑in sampling and re‑sampling. But, as you'd expect from software, its capabilities go well beyond what could realistically be offered in hardware. The pads can have unlimited layers of samples and/or synthesized drum sounds, complicated velocity splits can be set up, and a wide range of effects can be applied at any level in the sound production architecture. There are also two Racks to host an unlimited number of REX and other beat‑sliced loops, phrases, single hits, and even multisampled instruments from MOTU's or UVI's other sound libraries. Consequently, BPM is far more than just a drum machine: it could conceivably look after entire backing‑track production duties.

Aside from all those features and a bundled 15Gb library, what interests me about BPM is its polished, functional and friendly graphical interface. Also intriguing is how the BPM plug‑in uses a small additional application and plug‑in to assist with sourcing signals for the sampling feature. This is, I think, the first time I've seen these kinds of audio 'senders' used for inter‑application and inter‑channel routing, and they seem to provide an elegant solution to what has sometimes depended on third‑party utilities like Cycling 74's Soundflower. Effective Selecting & Locating In Digital Performer

• Interface Evolution: A large part of MOTU's Firewire audio interface range — specifically the 828, Traveler and Ultralite — is now in Mk3 guise. If you've got one of these you can already take advantage of their near‑zero‑latency effects processing, but there's even more on offer now, courtesy of an updated CueMix FX application. The EQ can now have an FFT frequency‑content display superimposed on the 'curve', just like in the MasterWorks EQ MAS plug‑in, and there's a new Spectrogram — a rolling waterfall display showing frequency content across the spectrum as differing colour intensity and brightness. There's even an oscilloscope, perfect for synth nerds trying to track down that perfect Moog sawtooth. The updated CueMix FX is a free download at www.motu.com.

• Volta: Maybe even more 'out there' is Volta, the MOTU Audio Unit plug‑in that runs in DP and other DAWs and utilises certain electrical characteristics of many MOTU audio interfaces. The idea is that you patch your MIDI‑less synth (or any other gear that talks CV/Gate) into your interface, then Volta does the MIDI‑to‑CV conversion required to communicate with it. So you can sequence your modular monster from a MIDI track, with the same timing accuracy as a virtual instrument, and bring its audio output back into the DAW mixer if you wish. Volta's calibration features can cope with less common synth electrical standards as well as more mainstream ones, and can build accurate pitch‑tracking maps to keep synths in tune even if their CV response isn't quite linear. It should be available very soon, so warm up your oscillators, ladies and gentlemen.

Published June 2009