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DP plug-ins; USB hardware controller By Robin Bigwood
Published September 2001

Duplicating a Mix for further editing in Mix mode.Duplicating a Mix for further editing in Mix mode.

This month, more on DP plug‑ins with side‑chains, plus tips on improving audio timing, using Mix mode, and news of a compact USB hardware controller for use with DP.

Mix mode is one of Digital Performer's most powerful and useful tools, but although it's described in detail in the program's manual, there's little indication as to how it might actually be used!

In essence, Mix mode allows you to create a number of different and entirely separate mixes for any given sequence, each having its own fader, pan and aux settings, effects inserts and settings, as well as MIDI events for audio track automation, track mute and track enable functions, and MIDI Volume and Pan control data (continuous controller numbers 7 and 10). Using the mode wisely, you can try out different mix attempts without destroying any existing mixes you've made. You can also periodically 'save' a mix you're working on at various stages of its development, so that you can return to earlier versions with ease.

Mix mode is not quite as straightforward as it seems, though. Whenever you go to the Mix mode pop‑up menu for the first time in a sequence, you'll notice that Mix mode is off, and that by creating a new mix you're effectively turning it on. This may not seem too confusing by itself; it's more the way Mix mode relates to tracks on which more than one take has been used that can lead to some initial confusion.

When Mix mode is off, any automation in your sequence 'belongs' to the individual take in which it's being used. So if you record a take, enter some automation data into the track, and then switch to a new take on the same track, the automation will disappear. This allows you to enter new and different automation data for the new take, and of course you can then recall the previous automation by switching back to the original take.

However, if you switch on Mix mode, you'll find that sequence automation is no longer take‑specific, but instead becomes part of the mix you're working on. How this might affect you depends both on your approach to recording and the current state of your sequence. The way I work, it makes sense to me to have Mix mode turned off whilst recording and laying down individual parts (this being, of course, the stage at which I'm most likely to be creating and using multiple takes), and then turn it on when I begin mixing in earnest. Depending on how you work, though, you might argue the exact opposite, so perhaps you need to experiment with Mix mode to see how it can help you best.

To illustrate the above point, imagine the creation of a simple sequence. You record some MIDI and audio tracks, using a few different takes on some of the tracks. You make a rough mix, moving faders, setting pans and inserting effects. Finally you enter volume automation into some of the audio and MIDI tracks on which you've used multiple takes. At this point you're not sure how you want the mix to develop, and this is where Mix mode comes in. From the pop‑up menu select 'Duplicate Mix' — this creates a new mix called Mix 1 (see screenshot below). You still have access to multiple takes, but Mix 1 uses only the automation data belonging to the takes which were selected when the mix was created. If you subsequently switch takes in a track, you'll notice that the automation data stays put — it's no longer anchored to a specific take.

Now suppose you want to try out some automation ideas for the mix that might or might not work. Selecting 'Duplicate Mix' again gives you a separate but identical mix ('Mix 1 copy') to experiment with. If the automation works out, you can continue with this new mix, but if it doesn't you can switch back to Mix 1 and pick up where you left off. In fact, if you select 'Turn Mix Mode Off' you'll get back to the basic, post‑tracking mix, and if you select 'New Mix' at any time you'll get a clean slate to work from, with basic Mixing Board settings carried across but all automation data and insert effects discarded. Like most settings in DP, mixes can be renamed by holding down the Alt key and clicking on their names, or by using the Rename function in the Mix mode pop‑up menu.

I've found Mix mode to be highly useful. You can use it to create tracking mixes, headphone mixes, or live monitor mixes, to say nothing of producing various 'finished' versions of the same sequence to satisfy different musical (or indeed commercial) needs.

More On Plug‑in Side‑chains

Contour Design's Shuttle Pro controller.Contour Design's Shuttle Pro controller.

Last month we looked at the MOTU plug‑ins in Digital Performer that have audio side‑chain inputs — Dynamics, Multimode Filter, Sonic Modulator and Ring Modulator.

As if there weren't enough flexibility already, Multimode Filter and Ring Modulator also have what could be described as a MIDI side‑chain input, so it's possible to 'play' a plug‑in. Before you start suffering from conceptual overload, all this really means is that these plug‑ins can accept MIDI note data to control their centre frequency and internal oscillator frequency respectively. To get this working you have to enable Inter‑application MIDI in FreeMIDI Setup's Preferences (or, if you're using OMS, make sure the IAC driver is present in your studio setup — for more on doing this, see the Performer Notes columns in SOS May 2001, or surf to" target="_blank).

After selecting the plug‑in on an audio channel, you should see its name show up in MIDI output pop‑up menus in the Tracks window. You then record‑enable a MIDI track in which you've selected the plug‑in, play some audio through the channel on which you've inserted the plug‑in, and hit some individual notes on your controller keyboard or other MIDI input device. I've had great success using this technique with Ring Modulator particularly (for reference, middle 'A' on a keyboard controller corresponds with a centre — or oscillator — frequency of 440Hz).

Cycling 74's Pluggo also provides an array of side‑chain options by utilising its own 'PluggoBus' architecture. Convolver, Ring Modulator and both Vocoders can receive PluggoBus audio via one of eight possible busses, and audio can be routed to them by placing the PluggoBus Send plug‑in on the channel carrying your 'control' audio. Just make sure the same buss is selected for 'send' and 'receive' and everything should work fine.

Audio Timing


Digital Performer supposedly synchronises MIDI and audio timing automatically for any Mac it's run on, but the generated settings aren't always optimal. MOTU provide a DP project called 'Use Me To Calibrate Your Audio' (in the 'Extras' folder in the same folder as DP itself), but nevertheless, finding useable settings for the 'Fine‑tune Audio I/O Timing' dialogue box can still be tricky.

I recently came across this alternative way to set up audio timing on the motu‑mac email forum (find out more at c), in a message posted by DP user Martin Shellard. It's a little trickier than MOTU's approach, but gives great results.

First, make sure both Record and Playback offsets are set to zero in the timing fine‑tuning dialogue box. Then record a MIDI track (at least four bars long) which plays snare drum crotchets on an external sound module — DP's Step Record function (accessed by holding down Command/Apple and hitting the '8' key) is a good way to do this easily and accurately. Set the sequence tempo to 60bpm and then record the output of the sound module into DP, so you now have two tracks, one MIDI and one audio, side by side.

Open the Graphic Editing window for your audio track and zoom right in to sample level. In the window's mini‑menu select 'Samples' in the 'Set Rulers' dialogue box, and make sure that only 'Samples' is checked in the 'Measures, Frames, Real Time, Samples' section of the mini‑menu.

Hit '1' on the keypad to return to the start of your sequence, and scroll the Graphic Editing window until you see the first snare's waveform begin. Ignore this one, and keep scrolling to the second snare beat. Because the sequence tempo is 60bpm, you'd expect the waveform to start at the sample number equal to your sampling rate multiplied by the number of seconds the sequence has been running by this point (ie. two). You'll probably find, however, that the beat doesn't lie at the exact position you would expect. Make a note of where it does start — the easiest way is to double‑click on the soundbite and place the flashing cursor at the beginning of the snare beat. Then hold down Command/Apple and hit the 'Y' key (to Split the soundbite), select the soundbite section to the right of the split, and read off its start time in samples from the information box at the top of the window. Subtract the 'correct' value from this one, and you have found out your audio/MIDI timing discrepancy in samples. Repeat this process for at least another 10 snare beats. You should find that the discrepancy will be a little different every time. Finally, take an average of all your values, and enter this into the 'Fine‑tune Audio I/O Timing' dialogue box as a positive number for 'Recording' and negative for 'Playback'.

Re‑record your MIDI snare audio track and then hit Play (ensuring you're monitoring your sound module through a hardware mixer, so that there's no latency). You should hear phasing between the live and recorded tracks, but certainly no flamming. Your audio/MIDI timing should now be as tight as possible for your system.

Contour Design Shuttle Pro

I recently splashed out on a simple but effective control surface for DP, the Contour Design Shuttle Pro. It's a USB device with a jog/shuttle wheel and 13 buttons in a low‑profile, ergonomically pleasing housing a little larger than your hand (see screenshot above). The action of the buttons and wheels are entirely user‑configurable, and layouts or 'settings' are linked to specific applications, so it could be used for other audio and video applications as well as DP, and it automatically switches settings whenever an application is launched. All the controller really does is emulate standard keyboard shortcuts.

Although the Shuttle Pro comes with a ready‑made Digital Performer v2.72 settings file, I didn't find it very useful, and immediately created my own. Mine includes all the functions you'd need for intensive audio editing — Snip, Split, Trim, Delete, Zoom and Save amongst others, with window scrolling and variable speed playback on the wheels. Working with the mouse in one hand and the Shuttle Pro in the other, it's possible to work productively for long periods of time without ever needing to touch the keyboard. The software also seems very stable, and USB MIDI is not affected at all.

More details are available at — the list price is about $100, and (not atypically!) £117.50 including VAT in the UK. If you're interested, you can download the Shuttle Pro DP settings file I made from my web site, www.bigwood‑ Robin Bigwood

Quick Tips

When auditioning lots of different synth presets using patch lists in DP, you can cut out tedious mousing by selecting the MIDI track's name in the Tracks window, holding down the Apple key, and using the Up and Down arrow keys to step through patches one at a time.

Hold down the Apple and Alt buttons and hit the Right arrow to quickly zoom to the highest level of detail in MIDI and audio tracks. As you might expect, using the Left arrow in the same way allows you to zoom right out and get a full sequence overview.

Unless you're planning to do a lot of time‑stretching or pitch‑shifting of your soundbites, the Analysis files DP creates after each audio take are a waste of disk space. To turn off auto‑analysis, click the Preferences button in the Background Processing window and select 'Wait until analysis is needed'.

Get more control over background processing by resizing the Background Processing window — specific tasks can be assigned 'Do Next' or 'Do Last' status, or even cancelled.

Creative Use of Native Instruments' Pro 52

Playing audio through a gate that is being 'keyed' by a percussive side‑chain signal is a well‑known effect, but a fascinating variation on this is possible with Native Instruments' Pro 52 VSTi plug‑in. Pro 52 comes in two versions — a straightforward sound‑producing synth model, and as a version known as Pro 52 <insert> in which the synth's post‑oscillator architecture can be made to work on whatever audio is in the track on which the plug‑in has been inserted. Effectively Pro 52 becomes a sort of 'super gate', complete with resonant filter, envelope generators, LFO and delay effects. As you might expect, MIDI note data routed to the plug‑in opens the gate. Experiment and enjoy!

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