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New Tool Bar and Graphical Editing Options By Robin Bigwood
Published October 2001


DP3 is here — and there's a number of fundamental changes to the way the program looks and works. This month, we examine the new tool bar and graphical editing options and consider how to get the most out of your plug‑in effects...

Well, it's finally happened — the release version of Digital Performer v3 has arrived! In my experience, DP3 seems a pretty stable upgrade so far, and everyone should be able to benefit from new or updated features. I'll be examining various exciting new aspects of DP3 in forthcoming articles, but this month it's the new Tool Bar and editing features that get the Performer Notes treatment.

Tool Time

DP3's new Tool Bar.DP3's new Tool Bar.

One of the most fundamental changes in DP3 is the provision of a Tool Bar (albeit an non‑floating one). This harmonises editing actions across different windows, between audio and MIDI tracks, and provides many more sophisticated ways of entering (and reshaping) automation data. If you're at all familiar with Opcode's Vision sequencers, you'll welcome the Tool Bar with open arms.

To understand how the Tool Bar works, it's useful to look at what aspects of DP v2.7 it replaces. Notably, both the Insert mini‑menu and the Reshape buttons are now missing from the title bar of the window that used to be called the MIDI Graphic Editor — which itself is now merely called the Graphic Editor. These were some of DP's most awkward functions anyway, so it's unlikely anyone will mind very much. The Drum Editor has lost nearly all its editing buttons, and the Audio Graphic Editor has been replaced by the new Sequence Editor, losing its Reshape button in the process.

In some cases (especially with the Drum Editor), it's fairly easy to see how the Tool Bar replaces the missing functions, but in others it's less obvious. How, for example, do you now insert MIDI controller data in the Graphic Editor? The answer lies with the Tool Bar and the new pop‑up menus at the bottom of the Graphic Editor and Drum Editor windows.

Previously, MIDI data of nearly all kinds had to be inserted on almost an event‑by‑event basis, and always via the Insert mini‑menu — an infuriatingly slow process. Now, though, data types for insertion can be selected in the Graphic Editor's 'Data Selector' pop‑up menu and entered directly with the pencil tool in the Tool Bar.

You can try this for yourself by opening up the Graphic Editor for a MIDI track, and the Tool Bar (from the Windows menu). In the Graphic Editor, make sure that 'Bars' is selected in the left‑hand pop‑up menu, and then click the right‑hand one to see the list of data options which were previously accessible from DP v2.7's Insert mini‑menu. Choose one, then select the Pencil tool from the Tool Bar. Back in the Graphic Editor click (or click and drag) in the continuous data grid to enter some data. After you've done this, you'll notice that, unlike in previous versions of DP, the mouse pointer remains a pencil, so you can draw in more data straight away. In the Tool Bar's leftmost pop‑up menu (the so‑called Pencil/Reshape Curve menu), there are options to add straight lines, curves and a whole series of 'periodic waveforms' as well as 'Free', which lets you draw completely freehand.

To alter data you've inserted, you simply select the Pointer tool (on the Tool Bar), click and drag in the Graphic Editor to select some data, then click on the Reshape tool to change the way it looks. The pop‑up menu to the right of the Reshape tool determines the way the data is altered. 'Set' is the most straightforward and intuitive — almost duplicating the functions of the Pencil tool — whilst 'Add', 'Scale', 'Max limit' and 'Min limit' all offer fairly self‑explanatory ways to modify existing controller, pitch‑bend, velocity or other data. For example, you could reshape with the 'Flat' and 'Add' menu options to add (or subtract) a specific value to each data event in a region. When you click and drag using the 'Add' or 'Scale' options, the ruler in the Graphic Editor changes to allow you to accurately Add or Scale data by a positive or negative amount. Some fairly unusual shapes can be produced by scaling existing data using periodic waveforms, though it's a little harder to see how this could be used practically!

At this point, it's also worth noting that as well as the familiar 'quick filter' button to single out specific data types before reshaping, there's now a pop‑up menu (the middle one, at the bottom of the Graphic and Drum Editor windows) dedicated solely to selecting which type of MIDI continuous data can be viewed and edited at any one time.

Finally, the Tool Bar's Pencil and Reshape options work equally well, and if anything even more intuitively, on audio track automation data.

New Views

The new Lines (above) and Bars (below) display modes for controller data — this is the same data shown in both views for comparison purposes. Note the stair steps occurring in Lines mode where there is a significant time gap between two MIDI events.The new Lines (above) and Bars (below) display modes for controller data — this is the same data shown in both views for comparison purposes. Note the stair steps occurring in Lines mode where there is a significant time gap between two MIDI events.

As you're no doubt already aware, DP3 offers some new ways of viewing MIDI continuous data, and 'Bars' mode, in which the area beneath and to the right of MIDI events is shaded in, is a vast improvement over the older 'Points' mode (although that's still selectable should you need it). The other new display type
— 'Lines' mode — causes MIDI controllers to appear and behave more like audio automation data. It works nicely, but it's important to realise that whilst MIDI controller data can be represented by lines, breakpoints and ramps, it really consists of individual, discrete MIDI events. With that in mind, Bars (or Points) mode will always give a more accurate view of what's going on, but in some ways Lines mode is easier to work with. However, you can switch between display modes at any time.

The simplest way to understand Lines mode is to compare the way the same continuous data is represented in Bars and Lines mode (see the screenshots above). In the latter, DP3 still shows many MIDI events as automation breakpoints, but where a series of MIDI events constitutes a fairly smooth change between two values, they are shown as a single ramp or line. Where two adjacent MIDI events of different values are separated by a significant amount of time, DP3 draws in a 'stair‑step', not a ramp, to more accurately reflect what's going on.

One thing to watch for when using Lines mode is the sheer amount of MIDI events you may unnecessarily create. The 'Set Ramp Density...' mini‑menu item controls the number of MIDI data events produced by editing actions performed in Lines mode, and also determines the number of stair‑steps that are displayed. Higher values result in fewer events, but this can help to avoid creating congested MIDI data streams.

In Lines mode, continuous data can be reshaped without first selecting it, and extra breakpoints (and hence data) can be added just by clicking on a line or ramp with the Pointer tool, or even without the Tool Bar window being open, just as with audio automation.

Effects Routing In DP3


It's so easy to add dozens of effects plug‑ins to audio tracks using the insert slots in DP's Mixing Board that it's tempting to think there's little point in setting up effects in any other way. But, on a traditional analogue mixing desk, whilst compressors are nearly always connected to insert points, hardware effects boxes like reverbs and delays are generally connected between the desk's auxiliary sends and returns. There's a good reason for this — by connecting an effects unit in this way, it can be 'shared' by every channel on the desk if necessary.

Whilst it's tempting just to bung multiple reverb plug‑ins on a number of tracks in DP, it can still make much more sense to emulate analogue mixing desk practice and 'share' one (or two) reverbs between a large number of tracks. This is done using DP's logically‑named Aux tracks, and by setting up effects in this way (reverbs particularly), you not only make the most economical use of processor‑hungry plug‑ins, but potentially obtain a much more manageable mixing environment.

Here's a simple aux reverb setup. In a new project, create two mono Voice tracks and one Aux track. In DP3, Aux tracks automatically configure themselves as mono or stereo, but if you're still using DP v2.7, select a mono aux. In the Mixing Board place a mono‑to‑stereo eVerb (or similar plug‑in) in one of the Aux track's insert slots, set its Mix parameter to 100 percent, and then choose an unused Aux buss for the track's input from the track's 'In/Out Assign' pop‑up menu, or the Tracks window. Record or import some audio into your two mono voice tracks, and then route them to the same Aux buss you chose earlier with the aid of the Send pop‑up menus on each of your voice tracks.

All you have to do now is route all three tracks to your main audio output pair and set their faders to 0dB. Listen to your sequence, and as you do so, turn up the Send knob nearest the pop‑up menu you've just configured on one of the voice tracks. You've effectively created an extra output on these tracks, and now you're sending an increasing signal level from this output, via the buss, to the Aux track (where your reverb is). If everything has gone to plan, you should hear the reverb come into play. In analogue terms, the Aux Send knob corresponds to a channel's send level, and the fader on your aux track to an aux return level. Clearly, your voice tracks can have independent send levels, and you could route as many voice tracks' sends to this one reverb as you like.

Using effects auxes in this way opens up a host of other creative options, which I'll be looking at next month. Robin Bigwood

MP3 & CD Track Import

It's not immediately obvious, but MP3 files can now be dragged from the Finder into DP3's Tracks or Sequence Editor windows. After decoding, the MP3 is saved as a Sound Designer II file. DP3 can't encode MP3s, so MOTU suggests this is best done in Apple's iTunes, using stereo AIFFs exported from the Soundbites window.

There's also a new 'Import CD Audio...' option in the Soundbites window's mini‑menu, offering the ability to audition tracks and import only small sections of them when necessary, which is hugely useful for bringing in sections of CDs for looping or re‑editing.

Quick Tips

  • When working in the Drum Editor in conjunction with Memory Cycle, the window's scrolling can be a pain. DP3's new title‑bar Auto‑Scroll button allows you to quickly turn scrolling off in this and other windows.
  • Relocate the playback wiper by double‑clicking anywhere in an Edit window's time ruler.
  • Five insert slots not enough for you? Specify up to 20 (!) in the Mixing Board mini‑menu's new 'Set Number of Effects Inserts...' option.
  • Set up and learn single‑key shortcuts for the tools in the Tool Bar for rapid insertion and reshaping of all automation data, scrubbing and zooming.

Periodic Waveforms

A range of modifier keys allows changes to be made to periodic waveforms when entering them using the new Pencil or Reshape tools. I'll be testing you on these next month...

  • Command — toggles grid snapping on and off (for beat‑based effects).
  • Option — changes at what point in its cycle the waveform begins (ie. its phase).
  • Control — affects square‑ and sine‑wave pulse‑width and triangle‑wave 'sawtoothness'.
  • Shift — increases or decreases the number of cycles per bar (frequency).
  • Escape — re‑uses the last settings for all periodic waveforms.

DP3's New Commands Window

As you can see from the screenshot on the right, DP3's Commands window looks boring — but it's actually incredibly useful. It allows keyboard and MIDI shortcuts to be set up for virtually every function, from opening windows to controlling complex edits. Provision for 'Go To Next/Previous Marker' shortcuts are most welcome, and it's now possible to access, for example, the Audio Monitor and Mixer windows with single key presses. There's even the option to import sets of keyboard shortcuts ('key bindings') from other sequencers.

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