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Using Cubase Drum Maps

Steinberg Cubase Tips & Techniques By Mark Wherry
Published November 2003

The main and backup AMD systems used to record the main stages at the Wacken festival. Note the rack under the desk containing the Rosendahl Nanoclock and the five Nuendo 8I/O converters.The main and backup AMD systems used to record the main stages at the Wacken festival. Note the rack under the desk containing the Rosendahl Nanoclock and the five Nuendo 8I/O converters.

We report on Steinberg using Nuendo to record a three-day music festival, and look at how a Cubase Drum Map can assist you in finding and working with all the one-shot drum and percussion sounds in your studio.

Before we continue our exploration of Cubase's drum programming features, as promised last month, I want to start this month's Cubase Notes with some interesting news about how Steinberg recently used Nuendo to record a rock festival in Germany. Yes, I know this column isn't called Nuendo Notes, but since both Cubase SX 2 (as reviewed elsewhere in this issue) and Nuendo 2 are built around the same VST 2.3 audio engine these days, many of the issues concerning Nuendo are also relevant to Cubase users, and vice-versa. This is one of the reasons you won't be seeing a Nuendo Notes column appearing in SOS any time soon, as Nuendo users should (we hope) find plenty to interest them already, right here in Cubase Notes.

Wacken All Over The World

From humble beginnings with just six bands playing to 800 people in 1990, 13 years later Wacken Open Air has grown into Europe's biggest Metal festival. Forty-one bands played to a crowd of 30,000 at this year's event, held during the first weekend in August at a small northern-German village called Wacken. In addition to the popular 'guess the average number of piercings per musician' and 'pin the musician to a giant industrial magnet' competitions, one of the most interesting aspects of this year's festival was that a team from Steinberg attended to record the event, using Nuendo 2.01 systems for a double-CD release later this year, with a DVD to follow at the beginning of 2004.

With main performers alternating between two main stages, affectionately known as True and Black, and additional performances on a smaller 'party' stage, Steinberg used two separate rigs to record all the necessary material. At the heart of each rig were two computers supplied by AMD, a main and a backup system, each consisting of an Athlon XP3200+ processor, an Asus A7N8X motherboard, 512MB RAM, Nvidia Geforce FX5900 Ultra graphics, Maxtor 6Y160PO 160GB ATA hard drives in removable drive bays, and either two Nuendo 96/52 DSP or two Nuendo 96/52 cards for the main and party stage systems respectively.

A diagram to illustrate the signal flow in the rig used to record the two main stages at the Wacken festival.A diagram to illustrate the signal flow in the rig used to record the two main stages at the Wacken festival.The audio feeds from the main stages were routed through a 96-channel Yamaha PM1D console, with 40 channels from each stage routed to a different layer. Keeping the outputs from the two stages on different layers allowed the engineers to make level adjustments for one stage while leaving the settings for the second stage untouched on another layer, during recording. The 40 record channels from the console were fed via ADAT connections into five Nuendo 8I/O eight-channel converter units, acting as ADAT splitters, which allowed the outputs from these units to be connected to the Nuendo 9652 cards in both the main and backup computer systems, again via ADAT connections. Finally, all the gear in the rig was clocked via word clock to a Rosendahl Nanoclock. For more information, see the accompanying signal-flow diagram, below.

The rig for the 'party' stage was fairly similar, but a Yamaha M3000 console was used instead to route the 40 audio channels, this time in the analogue domain, to the Nuendo 8I/O converters, which were used for both conversion duties and feeding into the main and backup computer systems. In addition, a Rosendahl Nanosync was used instead of a Nanoclock.

All these technical details mean that four Nuendo systems were each recording 40 tracks simultaneously, for hours at a time, over a three-day period, in a live situation. Best of all, I'm told that the systems performed flawlessly, meaning that the backup systems were quite literally redundant. While using Digital Audio Workstations to record a live situation is nothing new, it's still quite common for engineers to employ a tape backup, and this test should hopefully go some way to proving Nuendo, and now Cubase SX, stable and dependable platforms — at least for Windows users.

X Marks The Drum

Getting back to our own studios, in last month's Cubase Notes we explored the basics of Cubase's Drum Editor. In order to get the most out of it, however, setting up appropriate drum maps for the percussion instruments in your studio, whether real or virtual, is essential. Indeed, many of the Drum Editor's features are only available if you have a Drum Map selected for the MIDI track containing the drum pattern you're editing. So in this month's Cubase Notes we're going to talk about the use of Drum Maps, look at how you create your own, exploit every map-related pun, and find the treasure!

A Drum Map tells Cubase how the Drum Editor should interact with the instrument that's responsible for playing the drum sounds. Its most basic feature is to provide you with the correct drum names that will appear in the Drum Sound list for the corresponding MIDI notes triggering the sounds. To choose a Drum Map for the Drum Editor to use, select the relevant MIDI track in the Project window and open the General section of the Inspector. Click the Map field (at the bottom of the section) and choose the required Drum Map from the pop-up menu. By default, there's only one: a GM Map, which covers the most common, General MIDI, conventions for drum note assignments.

Since Drum Maps always need to be assigned to a MIDI track manually, when a MIDI track's Map setting is set to No Drum Map, which it is by default, Cubase takes the names and note assignments for the Drum Sound List according to the setting of the Names selector at the bottom-left of the Drum Editor. By default, this selector is set to GM Default, although you can click the Names field to select names and note assignments from any available Drum Map. The Names selector is only available when a Drum Map hasn't been chosen for the MIDI Track containing the Part being edited; you'll notice a duplicate Drum Map selector just above the Names selector.

One immediate benefit you get if you assign a MIDI track to a Drum Map is that whenever you double-click a Part on that track, Cubase will automatically open the Drum Editor, regardless of the default editor setting — very useful. However, there's also a common problem that people experience when they first activate a Drum Map on a MIDI track, which is that the sound coming from the drum track appears to stop. The reason for this is that, in addition to containing MIDI note assignments for drum sound, each drum in the Map can be assigned to a different MIDI channel or, for that matter, a different MIDI device, and if playback appears to cease the drum may be set to the wrong one. If you experience playback problems when you select a Drum Map, you'll need to adjust your chosen Drum Map accordingly in the Drum Map Setup window.

The Drum Map Setup Window

Given that a Project only contains a basic GM Map by default, it's inevitable that the time will come when you need to either make changes to this map, load an existing Drum Map from disk, or create your own from scratch. For any of these procedures you'll need to open the Drum Map Setup window by selecting MIDI / Drum Map Setup (or the Drum Map Setup option in the pop-up menu used to select a Drum Map for a MIDI track).

Clicking the Map parameter in the Inspector allows you to set and configure a Drum Map for the selected MIDI Track.Clicking the Map parameter in the Inspector allows you to set and configure a Drum Map for the selected MIDI Track.In addition to the GM Drum Map, there are also many extra Maps supplied on your Cubase CD-ROM that you can load into the Setup window. To load a Map from disk, click on Load in the Setup window, choose the Map you want to load, via the file selector, and click Open. The Map appears in the Drum Maps list and can now be selected from the pop-up menu of available Maps.

With the basic GM Map selected, let's take a look at what the various columns that make up a Drum Map actually mean. A neat thing to remember is that if you have the Project playing before you open the Drum Map Setup window, any changes you make to the currently selected Drum Map are automatically reflected in playback. However, you won't be able to stop Project playback until you close the Drum Map Setup window.

The first column is blank and enables you to select a row in the window. This is useful because clicking in any other column (except for Pitch) opens a text field or pop-up menu to change a setting. The Pitch column itself is just a label and doesn't actually dictate what note gets played (except for cases where no Drum Map is selected in the Drum Editor). Its main role is to uniquely identify each row in the Drum Map.

So if the Pitch label doesn't set the note that each row plays in a Drum Map, how does the Drum Editor know what note pitches to trigger? Well, the actual pitch played by a given row is set with the O-Note (output note) column and, to make things easy, the O-Note setting and Pitch labels are identical to begin with.

Although this might seem unnecessarily complicated, the ability to change the output note for a given row can be really handy in some situations. For example, say you've programmed a complete drum track, but you suddenly decide you want to swap the snare drum you originally chose with another one in the same kit. While you could manually open up every Part (perhaps even in the Key editor) and manually transpose the original snare notes to the pitch of the new snare drum, it would be much quicker to change the output note for the snare row in the Drum Map to a different MIDI note, via the O-Note setting. This way, any notes programmed on the snare row in the Drum Editor will now play exactly as before, but with the new sound you've set in the Drum Map.

Creating A Drum Map

A basic Drum Map for the LM7's Compressor kit should look like this.A basic Drum Map for the LM7's Compressor kit should look like this. As an example of how to create a Drum Map, let's make one for the LM7's Compressor kit, which is the drum kit loaded by default when you add an LM7 instrument (bundled with Cubase SX and SL) to the VST Instruments window.

  • In the Drum Map Setup window, click New Map. If you wanted to create a new Drum Map based on one that's already been defined, you could select that Drum Map from the list and click New Copy.
  • Now type in the name for the Drum Map — 'LM7 Compressor', for example — and press Return. You can later rename a Drum Map by double-clicking its name in the Drum Maps list, typing in the new name and pressing Return.
  • Scroll the Drum Map in the Drum Map Setup window to find the row for the note C1, click in the Instrument column along that row to rename it, type in the name 'Bass drum' and press Return. Since it's impossible to delete rows from a Drum Map in the Drum Setup window, to make the display a little clearer, click in the Pitch column of the C1 row and drag it to the very top of the Drum Map. As you drag a row in the Drum Map, a yellow line should appear above it to show you where the row will be moved to when you release the mouse. Incidentally, the Drum Map Setup window's Remove button is used to remove the currently selected Map in the Drum Maps List rather than the currently selected row in the Drum Map.
  • Now repeat the steps described in the last paragraph until the Drum Map Setup window looks like the accompanying illustration.
  • Once you've set up a new Drum Map, it will be automatically saved with the current Project, although it's a good idea to also save a copy of the Drum Map to disk separately, both for security and in case you want to load it into another Project. To save a Drum Map, click the Save button, and, in the file selector, navigate to a suitable location, type in 'LM7 Compressor' (it makes sense to use the same name for consistency) and click Save.
  • Finally, click Assign to close the Drum Map setup window and assign the new LM7 Compressor Drum Map to the Drum Editor — clicking OK also closes the Drum Map Setup window, but it does so without assigning the currently selected Drum Map.

Device Specific

In addition to setting the output note for each row, via the O-Note parameter, you can also set the MIDI channel and device that each row should use to play the output note. To start with, each row is set to MIDI channel 10 (the standard MIDI channel for drums on most MIDI devices) and the Default Device. It's important to point out that any Channel or Device settings made for the Drum Map selected on a MIDI track override the channel and device settings for that track.

For example, if your MIDI track is set to MIDI channel 1, but the Drum Map selected is set to play some notes on channel 10, those notes will be played on MIDI channel 10, and not channel 1. If you want the Drum Map to follow the channel setting of a MIDI track, you need to set the Channel of each row to 'Any'. To set every row to the same Channel, click in the Channel column of any row, hold down Control/Apple and select the required channel for the pop-up menu.

The Drum Map Setup window enables you to create your own custom Drum Maps for use in the Drum Editor.The Drum Map Setup window enables you to create your own custom Drum Maps for use in the Drum Editor.

Similarly to how it works in the case of MIDI channels, as explained above, when the Device for a row of a Drum Map is set to Default, the row will play back on the MIDI output device set by the MIDI track; but if you choose specific Devices for rows on a Drum Map, the output setting on the MIDI Track will be ignored. This is actually pretty useful if you have a large collection of MIDI gear, since you can create a Drum Map based on the best sounds from all your equipment, and use the Drum Editor in exactly the same way as if you were programming a pattern for single MIDI sound module.

You'll notice that, in addition to the O-Note parameter, a Drum Map also contains an I-Note (input note) parameter, which allows you to set the input note for a row when the sounds in the Drum Map are triggered via an input device such as a MIDI keyboard. By default, the I-Note is set to the same pitch as the O-Note, but if you find these pitches uncomfortable (or even impractical) from a player's perspective, you can change the note that triggers a row by adjusting that row's I-Note parameter. While it might be obvious, I just want to stress the point that settings made in a Drum Map (especially the I-Note, O-Note, Channel and Device settings) only affect a MIDI track when the Drum Map has been assigned to that MIDI track.

Last but not least, a Drum Map also features a Quantise column, which has two uses. Firstly, when 'Insert Length' on the Drum Editor's toolbar is set to 'Linked To Drum Map', the length of the drum notes entered in the Drum Editor will be based on the Quantise settings in the Drum Map. So if, for example, you have a bass drum row set to 1/16 Note, any notes entered in the Drum Editor on that row will be sixteenth notes.

The second use for the Quantise settings in the Drum Map is when both Snap Mode and Global Quantise are activated in the Drum Editor. In this case, the Snap resolution for each row will depend on the Quantise setting from the Drum Editor's toolbar. However, when Global Quantise is disabled, the resolution of the Snap grid for each row will depend on that particular row's Quantise setting in the Drum Map.

Once you have a Drum Map set up, you'll notice that the settings from the Drum Map become available in the Drum Sound List itself, and changing these values in the Drum Sound List actually updates the Drum Map as if you were using the Drum Map Setup window. If you can't see these additional settings, you can drag the dividing line between the Drum Sound List and Note Display, just like you can drag the dividing line between the Track List and the Event Display on the Project window, to reveal the additional settings.

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