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MOTU Digital Performer, Composer MOSAIC, Freestyle

Tips & Tricks
Published June 1997

MOTU software specialist and UK distributor Simon Stock passes on some useful info for users of Performer, Digital Performer, Composer's MOSAIC and Freestyle.

Before we get started with some hints and tips for MOTU software users, here's something Mac users can do fairly easily to maximise the performance of any Mac application, including Performer: increase the amount of RAM that's allocated to the program. The default amount of RAM that a program will take is set to be a compromise between what the program is really happy with, and what it might have to put up with in some systems. Unlike with the Atari ST, simply installing more RAM in a Mac does not automatically make it available to the programs you run. If a program crashes by 'freezing', as opposed to giving an error message, it's more than likely that the cause is the application running out of RAM. To check how much RAM you have available for Performer, boot the computer, then, without running any other programs, go to the About this Macintosh option, from the Apple Menu (see Figure 1, below). You will see a figure for Free System Blocks.

This is the RAM you have left to run any programs, including Performer. Make a note of this number, but deduct 300k to allow the System a bit of breathing room. Now, select the Performer application file and choose Get Info from the file menu (or Command‑I). In the window that appears the bottom figure, for Preferred, is the one you can change: put in your new figure here. Increasing the default amount by 2‑3000k should be more than adequate for most people, but I had to allocate 21Mb to Performer v5.5 to open someone else's file on one occasion! To check whether what you have allocated to Performer is adequate for your own needs, when you've loaded one of your own files into Performer you can open up the Memory gauge from the Windows menu. As long as you have at least 1000k free (2000k in Digital Performer) you're well within the safety zone. RAM is much cheaper than it used to be, so if you're struggling with what you have currently, it really is a worthwhile investment to get some more. One final word on the subject: although virtual memory, and particularly RAM Doubler, is an excellent way of increasing available memory for standard office applications, you cannot use this method for programs that depend on real‑time performance, such as Performer.

Edit Window Track Switching

Here's a little feature that snuck in on Performer v5 that many users still do not know about (and I have to keep remembering to use). When you're in an Event List, Graphic or Notation (not QuickScribe) editing window, and you want to switch to looking at another track in the same way, you no longer need to close the window, select the other track, then open again. Instead, simply hold down the Command key whilst click‑holding on the Track name at the upper right of the window: a pop‑up list of all the other tracks will appear, and you can just go straight to the other track you want to edit.

Graphic Editing & Controller Information

There are a few neat tricks you can do in the Graphic Editing window, once you know the function of a couple of items in the window, and one or two ways in which the Option (or Alt) key comes into effect.

The first thing I would recommend you do when you open up the Graphic Editing window for a track is to maximise its size, by clicking on the Maximise button in the title bar. When editing controllers (these techniques also apply to Velocity data and Pitch Bend), you can drag the divider bar between the controller and note display upwards, to give more space for viewing the controllers. You can also select between three different scales, as appropriate (a 0 to 127 scale, good for volume, a ‑80 to +80 scale, good for Pitch Bend, and a combination ‑80 to 127 scale), by clicking in the scale on the left.

Let's say you want to draw in a continuous MIDI volume change over a couple of bars. Firstly, look at the resolution selector towards the top right of the window. This tells you the density of the data that's going to be created when you drag the pointer. The default is quarter‑note (crotchet) resolution, which is too crude for a smooth change, so you should probably change this to 32nd‑note resolution. Next, click on the 'I' Insert Tool in the title bar, and select Volume as the type of data you want to draw in. Move the cursor (which should now be a cross‑hair) down to the controller area, and simply drag horizontally over two bars to create the volume change (see Figure 2, above).

Although virtual memory, and particularly RAM Doubler, is an excellent way of increasing available memory, you cannot use this method for programs that depend on real‑time performance, such as Performer.

The Option (Alt) key allows another way of creating the data. This time, hold the Option key down before you select Volume, and keep holding it while you drag across two bars in the controller area. Now a line appears, with drag handles at each end and in the middle. Once the line is created, you can let go of the Option key and use the drag‑handles to precisely position the line, or even turn it into a curve with the middle drag‑handle. To finally create the data, click anywhere in the controller window.

Velocities and controllers already present can be altered using the Reshape tool — that's the little squiggly sine‑wave icon. To select the data you want to reshape, Option double‑click on one of the controller events of the type you want to edit, and all controllers of that type will be selected. Now click on the Reshape tool, and you can drag across the selected data at the height you want to impose on it. Just as when creating controllers in the previous example, you can bring in a line with drag‑handles to help you edit the data, just by holding down the Option key before you select the Reshape tool, then keeping hold of it while you create the line. The edit is finally made when you click away from the line.

There's another neat trick you can perform in this window: if you have a drum track that contains several different drums, but you want to alter the velocity of only one of them, double‑click on that drum's note in the piano keyboard: all notes of that pitch are now selected, along with their velocities, and you can drag the velocity level up or down in the controller area (no Hyper‑Edit required!).

What Is Patchlist Manager?

This tip refers to Performer, Digital Performer, Composer's MOSAIC, and FreeStyle for the Mac.

The FreeMIDI system, introduced with Performer v5.0, provides MIDI resources and functionality for all current MOTU programs. Setting up FreeMIDI is done from two small applications, FreeMIDI Setup and PatchList Manager. FreeMIDI Setup you have to come across straight away, as it's here that you create the FreeMIDI configuration file that tells your MOTU software what devices you have connected to what MIDI interfaces, how many MIDI channels each device has, and what properties they have. PatchList Manager, on the other hand, deals purely with patch lists; if the patch lists that you get automatically from FreeMIDI accurately reflect the patch names in your gear, it's possible that you do not actually need to use it at all in order to get the most out of FreeMIDI patch lists.

When you add devices to your configuration in FreeMIDI Setup, many of the synths will automatically be allocated a patch list, made up of the original factory sounds for that synth. The information for these patch lists comes from files in the FreeMIDI Folder, which is tucked away in the System Folder. If you have a unit that isn't allocated a factory patch list (instead, you may see Patch 1, Patch 2, and so on), you can use PatchList Manager to manually create your own. Or, if you do have a factory patch list from FreeMIDI, but you have altered and renamed some of the patches in your unit, you can edit the patch list that FreeMIDI provides to reflect the real state of your unit.

When you first run PatchList Manager, you're presented with a list of the devices in your FreeMIDI Configuration (see Figure 3, above). From this you can choose which devices you would like to create or edit a patch list for. There's also an option here to use one of several patch list templates — for instance, the General MIDI set (this is useful for assigning the GM patch list to QuickTime musical instruments). Once you've selected the devices you want to create patch lists for, you can create new patch lists from scratch in the Patch Lists window. You can specify how many patches the list should have, and the numbering system used. To make the task of manually entering names a bit easier, each time you 'arrow down' the patch list, the next program change is sent out, so if the display of your synth is in visual range, you just need to glance over at it before entering the next name, rather than having to keep switching between computer and synth.

If you wish to edit one of the existing default factory lists, select the relevant devices in the FreeMIDI Devices window, then choose 'Load FreeMIDI PatchLists' from the mini menu. The current list assigned to the device by FreeMIDI will appear in the Patch List window, ready for you to edit with a double click.

To create a hierarchical display of multiple banks for a device, simply make a Folder in the PatchLists window and drag individual patch lists into it. The bank numbers needed to switch between the multiple banks can be set from 'Set Bank Select' in the Patch Lists window mini‑menu, for devices that use the fairly standard Controller 0 and/or 32 to switch banks (make sure this corresponds with the Properties that are defined for the device in FreeMIDI Setup). You should be able to get this information from your device's manual.

Some devices use very non‑standard ways of switching between banks — for example, older Ensoniq synths like the VFX‑SD use high‑numbered Program Change messages to select banks. Fear not: by clicking in the MIDI Message column you can specify any MIDI message to be sent when a particular bank is selected; basically, if it's possible to switch a bank via MIDI, then PatchList Manager can do it.

There are, however, some devices that simply do not allow you to select all of their patches via MIDI. Emu's Proteus series and the Alesis Quadraverb are both examples of devices that have more patches than are selectable by their MIDI implementation, and no amount of clever programming can change that.

Finally, when you're happy with the patch lists that you've created, make sure that you've assigned the new lists, or folders contining multiple lists, to the devices and modules (ie. multitimbral parts of a device) in the FreeMIDI Devices window. By now, you should see that PatchList Manager gives you the power to create any patch list for any device, looking just the way you want it to.

To Chunk Or Not To Chunk?

The addition of the new Mixing Board in Performer v5.5 (already in Digital Performer since v1.6), and the way in which Digidesign's DAE places a limit on the number of virtual tracks available at one time, means that the usefulness of using Chunks to arrange multiple sequences should be considered against the benefits of a wholly linear approach to sequencing. The Mixing Board is derived directly from the tracks of a sequence, so if you have multiple sequences (ie. Chunks), you have multiple Mixing Boards — not impossible to work with, but not as straightforward as having one overall desk, as in the real world. The limited number of virtual tracks available from the DAE means that by duplicating audio tracks in multiple Chunks, you're likely to run into this limit sooner rather than later. The good news is, now that Markers are fully integrated into the Tracks Window, many of the advantages of using Chunks are available directly in that window: for example, you can select a whole section, one Marker to the next, simply by clicking on the Marker above the tracks; the selected section can now be removed (Snip command), copied, cut, or whatever, while you get the benefit of one Mixing Board, and better use of virtual audio tracks — plus it'll be much easier to export any of your works as a MIDI File.