Following on from my previous Soundscape Masterclass in SOS June 2003, here are some further tips on using the Soundscape Console Manager application, as well as some insights into backing up data to PC logical drives or removable SDisks, creating shortcuts, and customising the INI file to use several units as a single system or as multiple independent systems.
Console Manager is a separate application that allows the Soundscape Editor or Mixtreme software to be controlled using practically any hardware control surface, or any Mixer that can transmit MIDI messages. For Mixtreme the on-screen Mixer can be controlled, while for the DAW systems (SSHDR1+, R*Ed, Soundscape 32), it is often possible to control the transport functions as well, and even in some cases to select editing tools, change tool page, zoom, scroll the Arrangement, and so forth. Nine-pin devices can also be used in Master or Slave mode, with functionality such as track arming controllable from Console Manager.
While Console Manager is fairly simple to use on a basic level, especially with one of the directly supported hardware devices that have a dedicated Console Interface, its only published documentation is a Readme file, which is certainly useful, but not always sufficient. I will therefore provide information to complement that Readme file, in particular with regards to using devices that are not supported by a dedicated Console Interface.
Just as I was putting the finishing touches to this article I received news that the Sydec team have bought back the totality of the company's assets in Belgium, including most of the intellectual property rights on the source code of the Soundscape Editor. Apparently, they are also in the final stages of negotiation with Mackie to settle the remaining issues, and they are just about to put the Soundscape web site back on-line. By the time you read this, Sydec should be back in business.
Installing Console Manager is straightforward. The program files come in two folders named Disk 1 and Disk 2, and the Setup.exe file is in Disk 1. The only prerequisites are that files for the DCOM protocol should be installed on the host computer if the operating system is Windows 95 or 98, and that Windows Common Controls should be present in all cases. If Internet Explorer 4.0 or higher is present, Windows Common Controls will be installed as well.
Console Manager can be launched by ticking Connect To Console Manager, under the Settings menu in the Mixtreme software, or under the Preferences submenu of the Settings menu in the Soundscape Editor. The Console Manager icon will then appear in the System Tray. Right-clicking this icon will allow you to select which program is connected (Mixtreme software, Soundscape Editor or First Connecting, which is useful if you run both). Clicking Properties will open the main Soundscape Console Manager window, as will double-clicking the icon.
Note that, for the Mixtreme software, the Mixer Automation must be enabled for use with Console Manager, and clicking the Snapshot button will transmit all the relevant data to update the hardware controller's settings to match those of the on-screen Mixer (of course, this is only effective if the controller has motorised controls or updatable displays which can respond.
The main Soundscape Console Manager window has a clear, uncluttered layout. The two sections to the left of the window have to do with the serial nine-pin (top) and MIDI (bottom) hardware devices. The section to the right has to do with the Console Interfaces, which are the software modules that allow the various hardware devices to communicate with the connected Soundscape (Editor or Mixtreme) program.
You can define a hardware device using the three buttons to the left of the relevant section (nine-pin or MIDI). The first button allows you to add a device, select its input and output serial port or MIDI channels and name it. The second button allows you to delete a selected device, and the third button allows you to check the properties of an existing device. Any number of devices can be installed in this way.
You can load a Console Interface using the first button in the Console Interfaces section, which calls up a window listing the available Console Interfaces. If your hardware device is supported, load the corresponding Console Interface and check the Readme file for details of supported functions. Any number of Console Interfaces can be loaded and, in some cases, more than one can be activated at the same time. The fourth button allows you to choose any one of the installed devices for communication via the selected interface, and the second and third buttons work as for the other window sections.
- First, make sure the hardware device is connected to the computer via MIDI and switched on. In the case of a US428, the connection is via USB, but uses virtual MIDI ports which appear in the Windows list of MIDI ports. The device must also be set up to act as a MIDI controller. In the case of the Yamaha 03D, you should be on a MIDI Remote page assigned to General MIDI.
- Click Connect To Console Manager, in the Mixtreme Settings menu or the Preferences submenu of the Editor Settings menu. The Console Manager icon will now be displayed in the System Tray. Right-click that icon, go to Mixer Selection and tick SSHDR1/R*Ed or Mixtreme as required.
- Double-click on the icon to open the main Console Manager window. Click the Add MIDI Device button (first one in the MIDI Devices section). A window will be displayed where you can name your device (I named mine 03D for the screenshot) and select the relevant MIDI channels (US428 Control Port for the Tascam US428). The new device will show Initialised in its status column.
- Now click the Add Interface button and a window will be displayed listing the available Console Interfaces. Select the MIDI Mixer Map Interface entry and click OK.
- There will be a MIDI Mixer Map Interface entry in the Console Interfaces section. Right-click that entry, click Select Device in the pop-up menu, select your hardware device and click OK. (Alternatively, you could also use the Change Device button, fourth in the Console Interfaces section).
- To activate communication between your hardware controller and the Mixtreme or Editor software, tick the box to the left of the Interface name. Your device should now be indicated as Running in the status column of the MIDI Devices section.
- Your on-screen Soundscape Mixer should now respond to your hardware controller — in the case of the 03D, you can now change the fader/pan values.
I you are a Synchro Arts Vocalign user, you will probably have noticed that the Soundscape Mixer is not always controllable from Windows while the plug-in is being used, and that if you need to change a Mixer setting (for example to unmute a Mixer channel in order to hear the Guide, Dub or Aligned Part, or to edit an EQ parameter) you may need to close the Vocalign window first, and return to the Editor. I have found that if Always On Top is selected for the Mixer Window (in the Settings menu), the Mixer can still be controlled with the mouse as long as it is visible. Opening Vocalign will still cause the Arrange window to hide the Mixer, so check the on-screen Mixer position first — the Mixer will stay on top of the SFile Manager or Main window, and if it becomes partially hidden clicking it will bring it to the front. Note that the Soundscape Mixer will also respond to commands sent from a hardware control surface, regardless of the Always On Top setting.
In addition to adjusting Soundscape parameters from your hardware controller, you can also simultaneously use the MMC Slave Interface to control on-screen transport buttons — in my case from the 03D's user-definable buttons buttons. However, for other control surfaces (such as the US428), you may need to customise the Console Interface itself.
The MIDI Mixer Map Interface is extremely easy to configure for use with any controller that uses MIDI. With your system running, select it in the Console Manager's Console Interfaces section, and click the Edit Interface Properties button (see screenshot). You will be presented with the main MIDI Mixer Map Interface window which lists, for each MIDI channel, the available MIDI controllers, and the on-screen Mixer Column, Mixer Element, and Knob (ie. fader, button, or whatever) they are assigned to. There are two ways to change these assignments. The first way is to select the MIDI controller you want to assign, and click the Change Mixer Map Entry button. This will open a window where you can select a destination Mixer Column, Mixer Element, and Knob for that MIDI controller (and for the channel specified in the View box). The second way is probably the easiest, and is certainly better suited to editing a complete configuration — click the Start Mixer Map Learn Mode button, which will call up a window displaying five entries with variable values:
- Map MIDI Message: - (0x00-0x78)
- On MIDI Channel: - (1-16)
- With Mixer Knob: - (undefined)
- On Mixer Element: - (undefined)
- On Mixer Channel: - (C1-C128)
Sending a MIDI controller message from your hardware controller will automatically update the first two values. Clicking a Mixer knob with the mouse will automatically update the other three values. Clicking Apply will memorise the assignment thus defined. You can then proceed to the next one; click OK to exit the window when you're done. Note that the on-screen Mixer will not respond to the chosen hardware controller knobs until you have closed this window and the Properties window. Also note that certain plug-in parameters cannot be mapped in this way.
Configurations defined as described above can be saved or loaded using the standard Windows buttons and dialogue boxes. It is a good idea to save them with a name that refers to the corresponding Mixer. Given that the Soundscape Mixer is entirely configurable, you could end up with as many MIDI Mixer Map Interface configurations as you have Soundscape Mixers, unless you stick to the most basic controls (such as volume, pan, and mute for the channel output elements). The files have an MMI extension.
Some Soundscape users who use the Editor in conjunction with Emagic's Logic on the same PC for Mixpander streaming under Windows XP have reported that Logic slows down and comes close to freezing when the Soundscape Mixer is open. The solution is to close the Soundscape Mixer window, load Logic, launch the Windows Task Manager, and set Logic's priority in the Task Manager to Higher Than Normal. Thereafter Logic will behave as normal, regardless of the Soundscape Mixer window's open/closed status. This seems to be a Logic problem, as it does not occur with other similar applications.
If you are using a multiple-unit Soundscape DAW setup, there will be cases when it is useful to run the units independently. For instance, this will allow you to use one unit for a recording job while the other is defragmenting SDisks. You could also create sound effects using scrubbing on one unit, recording the results into another unit. Furthermore, for simple recording tasks, there is little need to fire up a 128-track system, although you may want to select a particular unit according to its optional hardware (analog I/O or sync card) or plug-ins. It is therefore useful to have shortcuts on your desktop and/or in your Start menu that reference your available units individually or in any combination. When you start up the Editor by clicking a shortcut, it will check the INI file referenced by that shortcut for instructions on which unit(s) should be used.
In a standard installation where the C drive is your working partition, the INI files reside in the C:\Soundscape folder and are named SSEditor1.ini, SSEditor2.ini, SSEditor3.ini, and SSEditor4.ini, corresponding to the shortcuts for one, two, three, or four units respectively. You can rename any one of these files, as long as you also modify the corresponding reference in the relevant shortcut's Properties window (Right-click the shortcut, click Properties in the pop-up menu, and the INI file reference is at the end of the line in the "Target" box — note that there must be a space in the line before the INI file's name).
The units are listed at the top of the INI file, in a line titled SDevicePath. To use unit one only, the line should read:
Change the final zero to a one for unit two, a two for unit three, or a three for unit four. The lines below show examples for running two, three, or four units together — note the space after each unit number:
SDevicePath=\\.\SSDEV0 \\.\SSDEV1 \\.\SSDEV2
SDevicePath=\\.\SSDEV0 \\.\SSDEV1 \\.\SSDEV2 \\.\SSDEV3
The INI file also contains instructions about which Mixpander(s) should be used. The Mixpanders are listed in a line titled MixpanderDevicePath, which has a similar syntax to the SDevicePath line. Although you can also edit this line to use different hardware configurations, you do need to make sure that each Mixpander is properly connected to the expansion port of the unit you want to use it with! To use one Mixpander connected to unit 1, the line should read:
The following lines show examples for using two, three, or four connected Mixpanders:
MixpanderDevicePath=\\.\SSMXP0 \\.\SSMXP1 \\.\SSMXP2
MixpanderDevicePath=\\.\SSMXP0 \\.\SSMXP1 \\.\SSMXP2 \\.\SSMXP3
If you do not have as many Mixpanders as you have DAW units and you do not want the available Mixpanders to be allocated to the lowest-numbered units, you can use NOMIXPANDER in the MixpanderDevicePath line. For example, here's a line for using two Mixpanders connected to units two and four of a four-unit system — once again, note the positioning of the spaces:
MixpanderDevicePath=NOMIXPANDER \\.\SSMXP0 NOMIXPANDER \\.\SSMXP1
If you have free physical inputs and outputs on a Soundscape DAW, they can be used as extra busses. For instance, if the TDIF A socket of a R*Ed is connected to a hardware mixer with only one TDIF port (such as a Yamaha 03D or 01V), this will leave two free TDIF ports on the back of the R.Ed (TDIF B and TDIF C). If these two ports are linked via a TDIF cable, the corresponding inputs and outputs (TDIF 9 Ux to TDIF 24 Ux) become usable as busses in the on-screen Mixer. TDIF outputs 9-16 will be linked to TDIF inputs 17-24 respectively, and TDIF outputs 17-24 will be linked to TDIF inputs 9-16 respectively, so in practice this can add 16 'external I/O busses' to the 16 internal busses, for a total of 32 busses per unit, or 48 per unit with a Mixpander. This trick can also be applied to take advantage of any free AES-EBU, S/PDIF or analog inputs and outputs.
While backing up is not the most glamourous activity that can be performed with a DAW, it is nonetheless essential. Soundscape has a lot of features relating to data backups, and the best technique for backing up depends on the particular requirements of each user. A single SDisk is enough for a single-unit Soundscape system to run to the full extent of its capabilities. However, with up to four 137GB hard disks (SDisks) per unit, the Soundscape hardware can provide storage for 2192GB of data stored across sixteen SDisks in a four-unit R*Ed or Soundscape 32 system. Moreover, a single Arrangement may use files from all these SDisks simultaneously.
The Soundscape Disk Filing System (SDFS) is proprietary, and specifically designed to be capable of loading Arrangements from different Soundscape setups (within the limits of available track count on the destination system) and to offer better data security than is available on a typical PC. The Soundscape SFile Manager has been developed to provide maximum efficiency in this very special context. While it looks superficially similar to Windows Explorer, it is different in its layout, particularly with regards to the way in which SDisks are handled. In the SFile Manager, the root level contains any number of SFolders and SFiles created by the user. A given SFolder may contain SFiles that physically reside on any SDisk in the system (by way of comparison, in Windows Explorer, a given folder and all its contents always reside on the same logical drive). This is a substantial difference, because, while Windows does not allow several files within the same folder to have the same name, this is possible in a Soundscape SFolder, as long as the SFiles are on different SDisks. There is no doubt that the Soundscape system has benefits for music, but it's not always straightforward to directly export the contents of a Soundscape SFolder to a PC folder.
It is useful to be aware that, within Soundscape, an Arrangement references Takes according to a unique Take Stamp. Because of this, when you change the name of a Take, any Arrangement that references that Take will still be able to locate it. Furthermore, even if a Take is moved to a different SDisk within the system, any Arrangement that references it will locate it and load it properly (the only restriction being that, if the Take has been transferred to an SDisk in a different unit, its track assignment will be changed and it will be muted).
The Take Stamp is the basis of the Editor's built-in solution to avoid the name conflicts that arise in Windows when Takes with the same name are exported to the same PC folder. If the Use Unique 8.3 Format Filenames For Exported SFile Takes option is enabled (in the Settings menu's Preferences submenu), Takes are exported under unique names such as 'o4idnake.t1c', and recover their proper names automatically by reference to the Take Stamp when imported back to a Soundscape SDisk. This solves the problem and may be all that you need. However, using this feature makes it impossible to quickly identify a particular Take on the PC (in order to re-import it individually, for instance).
To save an Arrangement with all the Takes it references and its corresponding Mixer, the best solution is to load the Arrangement and Mixer, go to Export SFile To PC File under the File menu, select Active SFiles and any listed SDisk or all SDisks as appropriate. If you are not using 8.3-format filenames and files with duplicate names are exported, you will be prompted to either rename, overwrite, or skip files. You will also have the option to recreate the complete SFolder structure inside the destination PC folder. This is an excellent solution for a single Arrangement, but it is not ideal for backing up a whole project, because a single project may contain many Arrangements. Also, alternate Takes that are not used in any of the Arrangements will not be backed up following this method, even though they may be needed later.
To back up a whole project, the best solution is to have all the relevant SFiles within a main SFolder named after the project — this main SFolder can also include subfolders. Then you select the contents of this SFolder and export them using Export SFile To PC File under the File menu. There is a risk with this method: any SFile belonging to the project that does not reside in the main project SFolder will not be backed up. Version 3.7 of the Editor has new features that help take care of this, such as Move All Active SFiles To Current SFolder or Copy All Active SFiles To Current SFolder, under the SDisk menu. However, this only applies to SFiles active in the current Arrangement. I would recommend always exporting SFiles from different SDisks to different PC subfolders inside the main project folder, since it makes it easier to transfer them to the appropriate unit in a multiple-unit system and completely avoids Windows name conflicts. Note that the suffix of the exported files suggests their type and origin: for example, an audio Take from SDisk1C will have an ATAK1C suffix, and an automation Take from SDisk1A will have a CTAK1A suffix. Therefore, if you export SFiles from all SDisks to the same PC folder, when re-importing the project you can right-click inside the Windows dialogue box, go to Arrange Icons in the pop-up menu and select By Type, so that the files are grouped and can be selected easily according to their origin.
When your source and destination Soundscape systems have the same number of units and the same track count per unit, but different SDisk configurations, as long as you restore to units with the same number, the restored Mixers should work first time with the corresponding Arrangements. For example, Takes with the extension ATAK2B can be restored to SDisk2A, SDisk2B (original), SDisk2C, or SDisk2D. If the source and destination systems have different numbers of units or different track counts per unit, then you may need to reassign certain audio and automation Parts to different tracks, or to load Takes from one single original unit into two different units of the destination system. For example, when loading an Arrangement created on a four-unit, 48-track SSHDR1+ system into a two-unit, 64-track R*Ed system, audio Takes from the third SSHDR1+ unit (file name suffixes ATAK3A and ATAK3B) that would have been assigned to tracks 25-36, should be loaded into both R*Ed units. R.Ed unit one will use the Takes for tracks 25-32, and R*Ed unit two will use the Takes for tracks 33-36. The Mixer configuration will also need to be tweaked to work on the destination system. Automation Takes can be loaded to any unit of the destination system regardless of their origin.
If the Mixer configuration is changed after automation data has been recorded, the Automation tracks have to be reassigned unless the default settings for automation have been changed. In other words, if a new channel is inserted between existing Mixer channels, for instance, causing other channels to be moved one notch to the right, the Automation tracks must be moved up by one track number. The Adopt Virtual Track Output Assignment When Moving/Copying Tracks option is useful then. As long as the automation tracks are grouped and ordered logically, it is easy to create the necessary record tracks in the record track Column, and 'group drag' the Parts that need to be reassigned to the corresponding virtual tracks with the Move Vertical tool. In fact, if the tracks are laid out in descending order, creating all tracks with one mouse click may be handy (unless existing record tracks are still needed, because you cannot undo; it would also undo the new track assignments). There is another solution: using the global command Select All Parts With Same Output, then reassigning them. But the global command doesn't reassign muted tracks, and in most cases it means more mouse clicks.
For busy professional users, backing up an internal or removable SDisk to an empty, removable SDisk is often convenient. Keeping an individual SDisk for a particular client is practical and comparatively inexpensive, although it still makes sense to also back up to CD-RW or DVD-RW for safety purposes. The manual states that only two SDisks should be present when backing up in this way, the one that needs backing up and the empty destination SDisk itself. This is because there is no way to select all the SFiles on a single SDisk from the root directory of the SFile Manager. Selecting all the SFolders will select all the SFiles from all SDisks. Removing an internal SDisk is time-consuming, and not the kind of thing you want to be doing every day. In fact many users stick to using the two removable SDisks. However, there is a solution if internal SDisks are installed:
- Initiate the Format SDisk procedure (under the SDisk menu) for each SDisk that you do not want to back up.
- Click Cancel. The contents of the SDisk will not have been erased, but they will now be invisible to the program, as the SDFS file (table of contents) will have been removed.
- When only the SDisk that needs backing up and the empty destination SDisk are visible in the SFile Manager, select all SFolders and SFiles in the root directory, then click and drag them. When you release the mouse button, the Move/Copy SFile dialogue box will be displayed. Select Copy, select the destination SDisk as appropriate, and click OK.
- When the backup is complete, use the Recover SDisk function (under the SDisk menu) to restore the SDFS files of the hidden SDisks.
Please make sure you are familiar with the Recover SDisk function before you attempt to use this technique. While the SDFS filing system is exceptionally safe in that it allows data recovery, anything that has to do with the very existence of your data should not be taken lightly!