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Sequence Editor; Audio Bundles By Robin Bigwood
Published November 2001

This is a view of a track in the Sequence Editor. The three types of automation display are present: ramp, stair‑step and event flag. The track information menu is open, ready for the insertion of track mute automation.This is a view of a track in the Sequence Editor. The three types of automation display are present: ramp, stair‑step and event flag. The track information menu is open, ready for the insertion of track mute automation.

Performer Notes continues its detailed look at some of DP3's new features. This month, there's more on mix and plug‑in automation, creative aux buss routing tips, and the mysterious new Audio Bundles window is unveiled...

The mix automation features in Digital Performer v3 are really good, and very easy to use. They can be pressed into service to handle anything from a simple fade‑out at the end of a song to a complete automated mix, with constant changes of volume, pan and plug‑in parameters. All sorts of creative options are available, such as automating filter sweeps, changing reverb decay times — in fact, with a bit of imagination, the sky's the limit.

Entering Data

The new Audio Bundles window, with the 'output' tab active, and various mono, stereo and surround output options. The physical outputs at the top right are those of a MOTU 2408 interface.The new Audio Bundles window, with the 'output' tab active, and various mono, stereo and surround output options. The physical outputs at the top right are those of a MOTU 2408 interface.

The mix automation controls in DP3's Mixing Board provide an intuitive way of entering volume, pan, send and mute automation directly from the mixer — it's as simple as clicking a track's automation record button, playing your sequence, and waggling (say) a volume fader up and down. If you then deselect the Automation Record button (but not the Play button) and play back the sequence, you should see the fader move on its own, reproducing the movements (and track volume changes) you've recorded. This works for both MIDI and audio tracks, but since there are some important differences in the way that each handles automation, I'll be discussing MIDI automation in much more depth next month. What follows this month applies fully only to audio tracks.

All automation data recorded like this can be edited graphically in DP3's new Sequence Editor window. Many kinds of automation are represented here by lines, ramps and breakpoints which appear within a track's data grid (as detailed in last month's Performer Notes), together with soundbites and other data. A great deal of editing can be done even without DP3's Toolbar being open, by clicking and dragging breakpoints, or by clicking on a ramp or line to create a new breakpoint. And by using the Reshape (or Pencil) tool in the Toolbar, very sophisticated curves and periodic waveforms can be entered. To get rid of one or more breakpoints, you just select them and hit delete.

As you might expect, automation data can be created from scratch in the Sequence Editor. When entering any type of automation data not already present in a track, the starting point is always the Insert pop‑up menu (see screenshot above) which lists all active data types for the track (in audio tracks these are Volume, Pan, Track Mute and all the Send levels). Parameters for any plug‑in on the track will also appear here, grouped in a submenu. When you select one of these data types, you'll notice that the mouse pointer temporarily changes into a pencil, and clicking at an appropriate point in the track's data grid enters automation breakpoints. In tracks whose automation is disabled, the line extending from either side of this breakpoint will appear broken — you have to enable automation to see it properly displayed.

Working With Plug‑Ins

Clearly, being able to automate audio plug‑in parameters is a powerful feature, but it doesn't have to be done from the Sequence Editor. In all DP3‑compatible plug‑in windows there's a little button at the top left marked 'A', and automation can be play‑ and record‑enabled from here (even VST plug‑ins being operated via Cycling 74's Pluggo or Audio Ease's VST Wrapper have this, although the button doesn't yet seem to work under VST Wrapper). You can manipulate the controls of plug‑ins during an automation recording pass just as you would for a volume fader in the Mixing Board.

Obviously, not all parameters in all plug‑ins are controlled by faders or knobs — many use switches, pop‑up menus or buttons. These parameters can be automated, but the way their automation data appears in the Sequence Editor is different. Pop‑up menu parameters, for example, are represented not by ramps and breakpoints associated with 'continuous' data, but by an 'event flag' which itself carries the same pop‑up menu choices. These flags can be selected, dragged and deleted in much the same way as a breakpoint. Other plug‑in parameters are represented in the Sequence Editor by what MOTU calls a 'stair‑step' display. This is used for parameters which have numerical value but are not capable of smooth changes. Examples are LFO phase and rate in the Sonic Modulator and Multimode Filter plug‑ins. Stair‑steps are also encountered with track mute data, although obviously this has only two states, 'bypassed' or 'enabled', so its stair‑steps are pretty big.

The data grids of tracks using a lot of automation can get quite busy. It helps that only one data type at a time can be edited, selected by a dedicated 'Active Layer' popup; ramp or stair‑step data for the currently active layer appears in bold. If you find other automation data distracting, you can hide it by using the View Filter button in the Event Information Bar at the top of the Sequence Editor window.

More On Auxes

Last month, we looked at how using aux tracks and busses can often make for a slicker mixing environment in DP3. Working with auxes and busses opens up some other possibilities, though — here are just a few.

    Putting software reverbs on aux tracks is generally good practice, and by using them in conjunction with other plug‑ins on the same track you can do a some things not possible with the reverb plug‑in alone. For example, you can gain much greater control of reverb pre‑delay times (and make them beat‑based if necessary) by putting a simple delay in the insert before your reverb (eg. the Echo plug‑in with its mix set to 100 percent). By bringing in a little bit of delay feedback you may even be able to tease out a better, more complex sound from your reverb.

You could also try placing an EQ plug‑in after your reverb to alter the reverb characteristics. This is particularly handy to get rid of boominess on a reverb being used to treat an entire drum submix, for example, or to artificially boost high frequencies for a more 'airy' sound.

    Why not try putting a compressor on an aux track, instead of across an insert, as would be more usual? The theory is that by running a compressed and uncompressed signal in parallel, it's possible to obtain all the advantages of a compressed signal whilst retaining some of the natural dynamic 'feel' of the original recording. You could also try putting the PreAmp1 plug‑in on an aux track and sending a little bit of all your drum tracks (for example) through it to dirty them up a little. This would also work well with any plug‑ins offering tube amp or tape simulation.
    If you experience a 'hole in the middle' of the soundscape on some of your stereo recordings, but don't want to sacrifice any stereo width, you could try sending each channel to its own mono auxiliary track panned just off dead centre, and set it so that it is a little quieter than the main stereo recording. This can really fill out a stereo track, and you can even try adding some reverb to the original stereo track (or to the aux busses) for creative effects. Setting the sends to pre‑fade (in the send pop‑up menu) means that the aux track levels aren't affected if you change the volume of the original stereo track later.

The 'Save As New Template' Function

If you frequently work with more tracks and windows in a project than are created by default when you select 'New' from the File menu, you can design your own preferred New File template which DP3 will use from then on. All you have to do is open and arrange as many windows as you'd like, make any input and output assignments, set preferred track names and colours, and so on, then select 'Save As New Template' from the file menu. You can do this as many times as necessary until you've got the perfect launch pad for your DP3 projects.

The Audio Bundles Window

DP3's new Audio Bundles window is a deceptively simple means of setting up groups of inputs, outputs and busses, and an absolute necessity for surround work. Whilst many of us may never use surround, we can still benefit from Audio Bundles, because they make audio routing manageable and simplify the way that DP3's internal audio structures interface with different types of audio hardware.

Along the top of the window are shown all the physical and software inputs, outputs and busses available to DP3, and, down the left‑hand side, user‑defined 'bundles' of them. Various 'models' of bundles can be created, from mono and stereo right up to 10.2 surround, and each individual channel in a bundle can be assigned an input (or output, or buss) of its own. If you used Sound Manager for audio, for example, you might create two mono bundles for left and right channel inputs, plus a stereo bundle for the two channels together. If you use a multi‑channel audio interface, though, you could set up a whole host of different bundles. This could be particularly handy when setting up surround monitoring outputs. Because bundles are never set in stone, you can 'rewire' a complex monitoring setup in a few clicks, simply by dragging the little blocks (which MOTU call 'chicklets', presumably after the American chewing gum!) from one output to another.

Bundles can also be given a meaningful name, so you might choose to have 'Main Output' instead of 'Audio 7‑8' or 'To Lexicon L/R' instead of 'SPDIF 1‑2'. Bundles can be created, deleted and renamed in the Audio Bundles window, although simple mono and stereo bundles can also be created directly from audio assignment pop‑up menus in the Mixing Board, for example.

Quick Tips

If you need to adjust two send levels in the Mixing Board simultaneously — as you might when working with stereo tracks — hold down the Alt (or Option) key whilst adjusting one send level control. Its immediate neighbour will then move in tandem with precisely matched values.

DP3 now has a new, quicker way of switching between Mixing Board layouts — just hold down the Alt (or Option) key and click in the far right of the Mixing Board's title bar to get a pop‑up menu of all available layouts. Moving between them is then a simple matter of selecting from the menu.

To quickly move between markers in a sequence, check out the little pop‑up menu just to the right of the fast‑forward button in DP3's Control Panel. This gives single‑click access to all marker locations, and saves having to keep the Markers window open all the time.

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