WIN a DrumCore Deluxe - gigs upon gigs of grooves! www.VirtualInstrumentsMag.com M AY 2 0 0 8 - V O L . 4 N O . 3
MOTU MachFIVE 2 THE UNIVERSAL
SAMPLER Scoring to Video in Pro Tools HANDS ON the Euphonix MC Mix controller REVIEWS: USA $5.99 CANADA $5.99
Brainworx Media bx_digital loops Euphonix MC Mix controller Overloud Breverb Sample Logic The Elements Submersible DrumCore libraries TrackStar Radio Waves loops VSL Appassionata Strings Wave Machine Labs Drumagog 4
hese days you don’t expect any total bombshell products to be introduced when you go to trade shows. There are often very exciting products, of course, but music and audio technology is so advanced that it doesn’t seem possible for there to be any more complete breakthroughs. But there was one at the Musikmesse in Frankfurt this year: Celemony Melodyne, an extremely clever pitch manipulating program that treats audio like MIDI on a piano roll editor, can now edit polyphonic audio. That means you can transpose individual notes in a guitar or piano chord, tune a guitar after it’s been recorded, of course fix mistakes…it’s quite amazing. Direct Note Access, as the feature is called, won’t be released until later this year. But it’s a bona fide breakthrough, and the way it’s implemented is really slick. Everyone broke into applause at the press conference where inventor Peter Neubäcker demoed the notes exploding into their positions on the piano roll grid. The other impressive product demoed at Musikmesse was VSL’s MIR—Multi Impulse Response mixing and reverberation engine.
This convolution-based system is still under development, but the basic idea is that it uses lots of separate IR samples to position instruments on the stage rather than just one. In order to get it to run in real time at the show, they limited the demo to about 14 impulses—which is still a lot but not something like 100 of them, which is the idea. Still, they were moving instruments around, even pointing their bells in different directions, with pretty remarkable results just in the headphones on the show floor. MIR will allow instruments that aren’t VSL libraries too, but from what they say that will have some limitations. It relies on things it knows about VSL’s own samples. Exciting stuff. I for one am really looking forward to both products.
Editor/publisher: Nick Batzdorf Art director: Lachlan Westfall/Quiet Earth Design Advertising/Marketing manager: Laurie Marans Web designer: Denise Young/DMY Studios Contributors: Contributors: Jim Aikin, Jason Scott Alexander, Thomas J. Bergersen, Peter Buick, David Das, Bob DeMaa, Peter Dines, Doyle Donehoo, Gary Eskow, Jerry Gerber,
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34 V E R Y
A Winning Score with Sibelius
By Jim Aikin
Adventures creating a publication-standard score and parts in the popular notation program
Introductions, updates, news
Mockup 44 MIDI Microscope
Euphonix MC Mix controller by Bob DeMaa
A new sleek controller that communicates over ethernet raises several bars for affordable DAW controllers
By Rich Tozzoli
Some basic pointers about scoring to video in Pro Tools
In this installment of our series on composers and how they did their MIDI programming, composer/mixer Gabriel Shadid discusses one of his cues. Download the cues at www.VirtualInstrumentsMag.com and follow along.
Scoring to Picture in Pro Tools
By Frederick Russ
64 Trends: My Field Trip to the Grammies Rehearsal By Nick Batzdorf
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Submersible Music DrumCore DrumerPacks
By Marc Schonbrun
The “universal sampler” (meaning that imports practically all formats) gets a big upgrade
Sample Logic The Elements sample library
Big Products, Little Reviews Wave Machine Labs Drumagog 4.1, Brainworx Media bx_digital mastering plug-in, and TrackStar Radio Waves contemporary beat and vocal construction kits
Is this the next best thing to having a famous drummer on your tracks? A look at ten add-on rhythm loop libraries for the popular librarian/player
MOTU MachFive 2
By Jason Scott Alexander
By Chris Meyer
Vienna Symphonic Library Appassionata Strings I and II By Nick Batzdorf
Gigantic string sections from VSL
By Nick Batzdorf
An electronica toolkit of interesting processed sounds
Overloud Breverb reverb By Nick Batzdorf
Why there’s still a place in the universe for a really good algorithmic reverb plug-in.
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Letters Please send your questions and comments to Letters@VirtualInstrumentsMag.com
Fig. 1: As in many onscreen mixers, the Direction Mixer plug-in in Logic Pro has both width and position controls.
Multiple positions Thanks for making a great magazine! Fantastic to be able to download past issues and find so many things to learn. The MIDI Mockup Microscope series in particular I find very interesting. On the topic of digital orchestration I’m still left with a couple of puzzling questions that I hope you could give some attention to in a future issue: 1. Several sample libraries come with multiple microphone positions (like close, stage, far) and I have been looking for some tips on how to mix these to get the best out of the sound. I have noticed that to obtain a sound equal to some film scores I had to use all three positions and create a mix of all. Sometimes I get the impression that using a different panning on them or some EQ creates a fuller sound. But I suppose in settings other than film type scores it might not be the best option. So I’m kind of looking for a logical approach to it all, especially since some sample libraries don’t have multiple mic positions and how would one be able to get the same full sound? I would appreciate some ideas on how and when to use multiple mic position recordings. 2. In several articles I have read about that some pros prefer to use samples that
can be accessed freely for editing, pitch or time shifting etc. to be able to customize a given library to their tastes. The current trend seems to go more toward libraries where the user can’t edit the samples anymore and only a limited editing is possible like the VSL or EWQLSO Play engine etc. The advantage of the new developments seem to be the increase in playability, using clever ways to switch between articulations in real time, like VSL’s speed and performance control, or the legato transitions and trills etc. Libraries that can be edited use samplers like EXS and Giga etc. and those seem to be lacking these increased clever options for articulation switching aside from the old key switching or mod wheel approach. I have been wondering where this trend will end up and whether it will be possible in open samplers to have the more advanced options of the closed systems. Will it be possible to have my great project SAM brass library as playable as the Vienna instruments? Or will we have to use complex programming for many years to come to get a musical line perfect? Best regards and keep up the good work! Jitse Pruiksma The Netherlands
Thanks Jitse. 1. It sounds like you have a good handle on using the three mic positions the instruments in the EWQLSO orchestra come in. The main thing is to listen to how the front-toback positioning changes as you alter the balance; that and the amount of ambience should be the guide. Also, a suggestion in the manual is to bring the close positions up subtly to accentuate important entrances and then move them back a little. You well may want to EQ the mic positions differently, especially the close ones that provide the most definition. EQ will let you bring out or subdue different aspects of the sound of the instruments. Just make sure you don’t get phasing between the one you’re EQ-ing and the other two mic positions. Linear phase EQ, if you have a plug-in that does it, tends to work better on strings than standard EQ due to the lack of phase shift. Blending in other sample libraries that only have one mic position is not a problem in my experience. Just use reverb; while you want to try to match the halls (or other spaces) and especially the reverb times, the ear is very
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Fig. 2: Audio Ease’s Altiverb convolution processor lets you drag around speakers to position sounds front-to-back and laterally. The set-up shown here might be good for first violins.
Fig. 3: Delaying one side of a hard-panned stereo signal in increments less than 1 millisecond shifts the image toward the earlier side. Here the left channel is delayed by .48mS, which positions the signal about half way to the right; by the time you get to 1mS it travels all the way over. This is only for stereo playback—in mono it will phase and sound just awful.
good at accepting multiple spaces on a recording. Whether you get as full a sound depends on the reverb processing and how its programmed, but you can get a full sound out of any orchestral sample library. It would be quite unusual to pan the three EWQLSO mic positions in different places from one another, since the whole point is to get a single composite sound with a precise image rather than three unrelated recordings mooshed together. But if panning them differently produces a wider sound that you like, then by all means do what sounds good to you. Or is the reason you’re getting a fuller sound when you pan things around simply that you’re balancing or filling in the soundfield? For example, the sound will be rightheavy in the standard orchestral seating when, say, just trumpets and cellos are playing. You’d probably want to even them out in a piece for trumpets and cellos. The players wouldn’t sit in their normal orchestral positions for a performance of that piece either. And you’d certainly want to do that in a pop context, because most pop recordings aren’t trying to emulate a concert hall. Note that the “pan” controls in Tascam GigaStudio, VSL’s Vienna Ensemble host, and many other onscreen mixers incorporate both pan and width (also know by other names). Check out the screen dump of Logic’s Direction Mixer plug-in in Fig. 1—it’s selfexplanatory. Using that instead of just the pan control is a good idea. Audio Ease Altiverb has an even more sophisticated method of positioning instruments. See Fig. 2.
Yet another method of panning instruments shown in Fig. 3 makes use of the Haas Precedence Effect: hard-panning a signal left and right but delaying one side by an increment of .1 milliseconds up to 1 millisecond— in other words by the time you get to 1mS the image has shifted all the way over to the earlier side. Delay-based panning results in a very solid image that doesn’t shift when you move your head a fraction of an inch (as standard amplitude-based panning does), but it’s not mono-compatible and should only be used for stereo playback. In any case, spacial balance is something composers and orchestrators often take into account. Furthermore, the space itself can be an important element in compositions these days. An example of that is Essa Pekka Salonen’s “Wing on Wing,” a piece he wrote about (and performed in) Los Angeles’ Disney Hall. He has snippets of architect Frank Gehry’s voice coming from speakers all over the hall, soprano singers in the balconies, and the orchestra on the stage. You need surround sound with overhead speakers to get anywhere near close to that with a virtual orchestra, but it might be an interesting avenue to explore. 2. You also have a good handle on the advantages and disadvantages of integrated players. One thing you didn’t mention is copy protection: so far there doesn’t seem to be a way of locking down libraries with samples that can been edited freely, and that’s one of the reasons for the players. And of course for developers, the market is limited to musicians who own the sampler they’re developing for if they don’t include a player. Plus in some cases, such as Spectrasonics Stylus RMX, they can develop players with the unique features they need. Where will it end up? I think it’s already ended up. Full-featured samplers like GigaStudio and Native Instruments Kontakt certainly have a place, in fact you can often open up libraries that use players in the full sampler from which the players are derivative. And it’s not true that one is inherently more playable in real time than the other, it’s that some of the proprietary players that are designed for real-time playing only work with embedded libraries. But we’re well past the writing on the wall stage. Players are here to stay.—NB
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Free Native Instruments KORE Player
Introductions, updates, news
MOTU Digital Performer 6, 828MK3 FireWire Audio Interface, Electric Keys When MOTU’s flagship audio sequencer Digital Performer goes up a number, it’s a major upgrade. DP 6 features include: a complete interface redesign; improved efficiency when running V.I.s, as well as better AU support (including sampleaccurate timing); XML file interchange with Apple Final Cut Pro; punches, flutters, and streamers direct to DV output from within the sequencer (a feature that would have caused composers and music editors to swoon back in the day); native support for interleaved and floating point audio files; direct CD burning (just like bouncing audio); new track comping features that make it easier to select the desired parts of takes; a new ProVerb convolution reverb and MasterWorks Leveler (LA-2A emulation) plug-ins; and improved support for Pro Tools HD systems. In addition to an onboard digital mixer with built-in effects (reverb, parametric EQ, compression/limiting), the 828MK3 FireWire interface features a total of 28 inputs and 30 outputs in a 1U box; eight balanced 24-bit analog I/Os, two XLR main outs, and two two preamp inputs operate at up to 192kHz, and two 8-channel ADAT I/Os work at up to 96kHz. Other features include a DSP-driven phase lock engine for low jitter, digitally controlled analog input trim, and a new V-Limit hardware limiter. The unit works on Windows XP/Vista and Mac, and it comes with MOTU’s AudioDesk audio recording/editing software for Mac. MOTU’s new Electric Keys V.I. ($295) for Mac and Windows is a 40GB library of 50 classic and rare electric keyboards in a player, with models from Fender, Yamaha, Korg, Roland, Hammond, Wurlitzer, Hohner, Elka, Farfisa, Mellotron, Moog, RMI, Arp, and others. It has a separate FX rack, and most models can be played at 24-bit/96kHz (or standard) resolution. www.MOTU.com
VSL Special Edition Downloads Vienna Symphonic Library has announced seven Extended and PLUS Libraries that complement their Vienna Special Edition download products. PLUS and Extended libraries are available for strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion (Extended only for percussion). The PLUS libraries add additional articulations (short détache, harmonics, etc.) while the Extended libraries add additional instruments. Please visit their web shop for pricing. www.VSL.co.at
NI’s KORE is a stand-alone or plug-in host/librarian with an optional controller/interface, and the free player version is designed to play their line of KORE Soundpack libraries. This free player is available from NI’s website, and it includes a free “get started” library with usable sounds. NI also shipped four new KORE Soundpacks ($79/EUR 69 each): MASSIVE Expansion Vol 1; Best of Absynth; Pop Drums; and Kontakt Sax & Brass, a library by Chris Hein designed or jazz, funk, and R&B. www.native-instruments.com
RME MADIface for laptops RME MADIface is an ExpressCard MADI interface that works on laptops. This package consists of a card and a breakout(plus mixing software) and runs up to 64 low latency audio tracks in each direction over a single wire at up to 192kHz sampling rates. MADI is an interesting solution for higher-end studios with multiple machines, and this particular system includes a MIDI port within the driver. The MADIface works on Windows and Mac. Price TBA. www.rme-audio.de
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Digidesign Hybrid and Strike upgrades, PT|HD 7.4 news Version 1.5 of Digidesign’s popular Hybrid synthesizer for Pro Tools starts by adding 330 new sounds and reprogramming the old ones to take advantage of the new features. Those features consist of a new VCF vintage filter for “classic retro sounds of the 70s and 80s,” plus five new filter saturation modes: Distort, Hard Clip, Rectify, Bit Crush, and Resample. Digidesign also announced a Strike Content Expansion for their virtual drummer plug-in for Pro Tools. This expansion adds over 300MB of classic drum samples, as well as 100 new Style settings that affect how the instrument plays patterns. Both upgrades are $19.95. Meanwhile Pro Tools HD 7.4.1 is now compatible with Mac OS X 10.5.1 on 8-core Mac Pro computers with Intel Harpertown processors; “expanded” OS X 10.5 support, including native (LE and M-Powered) versions of Pro Tools, is still under development. www.Digidesign.com
Spectrasonics Omnisphere Spectrasonics previewed what they’ve been working on at the NAMM show in January: the successor to their popular Atmosphere instrument. Omnisphere ($499), due for release September 15, is being presented as [paraphrasing] “a Power Synth that combines a wide variety of hybrid real-time synthesis techniques, an epic library of ‘psychoacoustic’ sounds, and many unique features.” Omnisphere will be based on a proprietary underlying synthesis engine they call STEAM, and the sampling was done with a new Composite Morphing Technique that morphs the harmonic characteristics of one instrument to another. The control capabilities in the STEAM engine listed by Spectrasonics include: Variable Waveshaping DSP synthesis, Granular synthesis, Timbre Shifting, FM synthesis, polyphonic ring modulation, sample playback, Harmonia, Dual Multimode Filter structure, Chaos Envelopes, a Unison mode, and a FlexMod routing system. While we don’t know what every one of those words means, the idea is that there’s a lot of real-time control and a lot of new technology being used. Part of the core library will feature “best of” Spectrasonics sounds that can then be processed by the STEAM engine. But the new sample that got the most attention was a burning piano. Yes, a piano that’s on fire. www.Spectrasonics.net
Applied Acoustics Strum Acoustic GS-1 Strum Acoustic GS-1 is a modeled guitar synthesizer based on AAS’ physical modeling. The $279 instrument for Mac and PC includes a collection of nylon and steel acoustic guitars. Its features include automatic guitar voicing from keyboard chords; and strumming and picking actions are reproduced by an auto-strum function, special strumming keys, or MIDI loops. EQ, multieffects, and reverb modules are also included. www.applied-acoustics.com
Toontrack EZplayer pro EZplayer pro is an expanded version of Toontrack Music’s EZplayer FREE. This plug-in MIDI engine organizes all the MIDI on your hard drive, letting you assemble and audition percussion MIDI clips from anywhere and then drag them into your sequencer. Tracks and sub-tracks can also be triggered by a hardware controller. EZplayer pro will be included with the upcoming Superior Drummer 2.0 as its MIDI engine, and it is available as a download or boxed version for $49. www.toontrack.com
Peavey ReValver MkIII This $299 plug-in offers 15 amp models (including seven from Peavey itself), using an alorithm that analyzes the interactions of the components in the circuit level, based on the original schematics. You can then combine the amps to come up with custom ones. The plug-in features a 64-bit oversampling HQ mode, FFTbased convolution reverb (included sampled spring reverb, and 150+ speakers). www.peavey.com
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Euphonix MC Mix controller A new sleek controller that communicates over ethernet raises several bars for affordable DAW controllers
Review by Bob DeMaa
Euphonix MC Mix, $1399 list.
Compatibility (as of publication):
Direct support of EuCon protocol under Mac OS X: Apple Logic Pro, Steinberg Cubase and Nuendo; direct support coming: MOTU Digital Performer and Apogee Maestro.
HUI and/or Mackie Control support: Ableton Live, Apple Final Cut Pro and Soundtrack, Digidesign Pro Tools, MOTU Digital Performer, Propellerheads Reason.
EuCon Professional software allows Windows slaves to work.
he first thing you notice about the Euphonix MC Mix controller is that its footprint is so small, which makes it very ergonomic to use in a real-world set-up. While you can put it anywhere, it fits perfectly between your computer keyboard and monitor; it’s not necessary to rethink your entire set-up to integrate it conveniently. This new 8-fader motorized control surface communicates with a Macintosh computer (full Windows support is expected to follow) over Ethernet using either its own EuCon protocol, or if your application doesn’t support it yet, the venerable HUI or Mackie Control standards. That makes it compatible with pretty much every Mac audio program. The next thing you notice is that this is a really sexy looking piece of gear. Gone are the backlit LCD scribble strips of yesteryear,
replaced by eight much nicer, high resolution 128 x 64 pixel OLED displays. This provides more information at a much better resolution. In addition to being compact (17” x 9.5” deep), the MC Mix has a low profile:1-1/2” thick, just about right to sit in front of and clear the new thin Apple keyboard. If you’re using a standard keyboard, Euphonix includes optional riser brackets that slope the unit about 1” in the front and 2” in the rear. You can also use up to four units, in which case you remove the side panels and attach them to one another, saving an inch of space on each connection. As of this review you need a Mac on the network, but we were able to get it to work with a Windows machine using a beta set-up with Euphonix software from one of their house-priced controllers.
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Setup & installation For this review we used two Macs, both running OS X 10.4.11: a dual 2.7GHz G5 with 6.5GB RAM, and a MacBook Pro 2.16 GHz Intel Core 2 duo with 3GB RAM. Both are connected to a gigabit ethernet switch. We had MC Mix review units connected to a 100 Base T switch, and both switches run into a Linksys Router. The MC Mix firmware was 1.0.1; as of this writing they’re on version 1.0.3. It’s simple to install the software, including authorizing Nuendo’s or Cubase’s Syncrosoft dongle to use it. (It’s not necessary to authorize it for Logic or other programs.) You also have to set up HUI or Mackie Control applications, and a virtual Euphonix MIDI Interface is automatically built in the Audio MIDI setup application so that the HUI and Mackie Control Protocols can be assigned correctly. It’s not actually necessary to plug the MC Mix into the computer—it just has to be on the same network. You can let the IP address be configured automatically using DHCP, or if you have multiple computers, you can assign a permanent fixed address manually. (IP address = each device on a network has its own number.) EuControl software The EuControl Settings application is launched automatically when you start the computer, and any MC Mix surfaces on the network are connected and ready for use immediately (Fig. 1). Think of EuControl as the traffic cop for the MC Mix. EuControl will recognize surfaces on the network, it can be used to tailor some of the behavior, and it recognizes additional computers on the network. That feature is definitely of interest to VI readers running multiple machines, as many of you are (Fig. 2). Let’s say you’re
running Logic or Digital Performer on one computer as your main DAW for composing, and no a second computer you have Pro Tools or Nuendo for printing stems or setting up the mix. The EuControl software sees all the computers on the network—Windows or Mac
name, pan location, track automation mode, and meters for the signal level. (You can turn off the track number to make more room). Each fader also has a large key for On/Mute/Solo. All the faders and knobs have two function keys (modifiers) to access several functions—selecting channels, record-enabling them, selecting the automation mode (my new favorite feature), and assigning. The Assign function is used to set the fader to one function, for example making it always be the master fader even when you bank through all the faders in your session. (See Fig. 3.) Along the left side of the surface are buttons to determine what the encoders are controlling. Pan handles both stereo and surround, there are controls for bus or aux send levels, EQ (accesses the built-in EQ in Cubase or the Channel EQ in Logic), inserts (for editing assigning plug-ins), and a Channel Mode control assigns the entire display to one channel to view multiple parameters.
It's not necessary to re-think your entire set-up to integrate the MC Mix.
(only the main one has to be Mac)—and provided that the correct drivers have been installed on each machine, it lets you switch control from to one system to the other with a click. This is awesome! I often run Logic and Pro Tools side by side, and being able to mix on one machine while monitoring the other is really convenient.
If you press Shift, these buttons access secondary functions: Mix (output assignments), Group (assigning channels to groups), Dynamics, Input Assignment, and finally Flip, which swaps the faders and encoders globally. If the plug-in you’re controlling has more than eight knobs, you use the Page
Or if you have multiple MC Mixes, you can split them up between workstations.
up and down keys to scroll through all the parameters. Hitting both Page keys simultaneously switches into Configuration mode. This is a rather ingenious method of assigning busses or plug-ins to a channel using all the knobs to select the plug-in slot, then the plug-in folder, and finally the plug-in. If you’re familiar with other surfaces that require you to scroll endlessly through huge lists of plug-ins, then you’ll love this—you can get to a plug-in at the
Operation In addition to the eight touch-sensitive motorized faders, the MC Mix has eight touch-sensitive rotary encoders that can be pushed like buttons as well as being twisted. Above the encoders is the OLED Display that defaults to showing the track number, an abbreviation of the track
r e v i e w VI You can automate these controls, and after trying this feature I saw that it’s absolutely for real (Fig. 4). Currently there’s no way to reorder the controls, however, so you’re stuck with the parameters in the order they’re presented. In reality most controls are grouped together logically and have a useful layout, but some scrolling is inevitable. Euphonix tells us that they’d like to add a custom knobset feature, so maybe we’ll see that in the future. That would be useful, since the MC Control would make a good controller for riding MIDI Expression (CC11) or volume (CC7) while sequencing.
bottom of the list in seconds. Transport controls are Shift-modified functions of the Solo/On keys above the second four faders, but you can lock the Shift on simply by pressing both the left and right Shift keys. That prevents you from having to hold down Shift if you want to use the MC Mix to control RTZ, Prev, Next, Rew, FF, Stop, Play, or Rec. As with all control surfaces, you aren’t limited to eight channels—Bank and Nudge keys scroll the MC Mix’s eight faders in banks of eight or one at a time. These keys also do double duty with the Shift key, opening and closing the Mix window or closing the session.
This is a new and fairly complicated product, and while it worked very well overall, there were still some bugs that needed ironing out. None of this is a deal breaker—the MC Mix didn’t crash the host DAW once—but it did fall off the network a couple of times. Strange behavior would
In use It took no time to start using many of the console’s controls to access send levels, plug-in assignment, plug-in parameters, bus assignment, and my new most favorite control parameter ever: switching the automaton type. While the session is playing, you can put a channel into touch mode, adjust it, and then put it back into Read mode all without looking at the screen. In fact I found myself getting used to not looking at the screen as often because of how well the parameters and pages are laid out across the knobs. Another nice feature is that all the keys have obvious but not overbearing lights on them, so there’s never ever wondering what mode you’re in. However, I do that the black print on the background hard to read in the dark. The same goes for the Transport controls, I find hard to see at a glance.
result until it was rebooted and set up again in EuControl. Also, I experienced some fader calibration issues. Their positions can be off a few millimeters from where they’re supposed to be, and they can be a little jumpy and unpredictable when you touch them. Euphonix is hard at work on this issue; firmware updates are planned, so it will be easy to take advantage of the improvements and fixes. If you’re a Logic user, you’ll be able to call up the parameters of many VIs. (Cubase users don’t have access to this feature…yet.) It’s impressive to see all the labeled parameters from various virtual instruments appear on the controls when you call them up. I tried this with Native Instruments Massive, Absynth, Pro 53, and B4II; Cakewalk Dimension Pro; Zebra 2; and several of the native instruments that come with Logic.
Mackie the knife The Mackie Control and HUI protocols are fine, but they’re a few years old and have some limitations compared to the EuCon protocol. While the Mackie protocols work fine, a fair percentage of the features disappear—for example you won’t get any VI control or be able to access surround panning. That’s to be expected. The Eucon-aware applications get the most from the MC Mix: Logic 8, Cubase 4, and Nuendo 4, and indeed I personally love using it in Logic and Nuendo; everything I need is literally a few key pushes
You can put a channel into Touch mode, adjust it, and then put it back into Read mode without looking at the screen.
away, and most of the features are now integrated into my workflow. The gavel The MC Mix has a lot of excellent features, and its sleek and compact design— coupled with its easy set-up—lets you put it to use streamlining your workflow right away. Combine that with a historically reputable and competent company with excellent human tech support, and you end up with a very appealing product. VI
Full disclosure: Bob DeMaa was on the MC Mix beta team (because among many other professional musical activities he provides tech support for Obedia).
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Scoring to Picture in Pro Tools Some basic pointers about scoring to video in Pro Tools By Rich Tozzoli
orking with video in Pro Tools is surprisingly simple and inexpensive these days. Until a few years ago you needed a high-end Pro Tools TDM system to work with video, but today hostbased Pro Tools LE systems are available, and you can access almost all the same features without a major investment. TDM is Digidesign’s high-end mixing and processing environment, which uses its own
hardware to augment the host computer’s power (or really v.v.—the host is used to augment the hardware, and it behaves like a “remote control” for the TDM hardware); Pro Tools HD systems are the current incarnation. While there are definite advantages to Pro Tools HD, a lot of composers—even ones who use other DAWs for composing— are adding inexpensive LE systems to their rigs just for compatibility.
r e v i e w VI It’s common to see these systems being used on separate machines just to host video and also to act as a mixdown machine for stems to be delivered in the popular Pro Tools format (see sidebar: Pro Tools LE as a stand-alone host). But a lot of musicians use Pro Tools on their main DAWs too, since the system itself has a lot to offer even if for people who use other DAWs. What Pro Tools does with video is let you import either QuickTime or Windows Media video files and extract any audio that comes with them. The imported video can then be viewed either inside the View window (Control+9 for Windows, Command+9 for Mac) or can be sent to an external monitor through a FireWire converter box such as the ones made by Canopus. Once you’ve imported the video file into Pro Tools, you can scrub it along with the audio, lock it down so it doesn’t move and when finished, and create a QuickTime or Windows Media bounce with embedded audio. (See Fig. 1)
Figure 1. Locked Video
More about LE Note that you’ll want a Pro Tools LE system for working with video, most likely not an M Audio M-Powered one. M-Powered systems aren’t capable of locking to timecode that starts at any time other than 1:00:00:00. Using a Digidesign LE system you can score to picture out of the box—the software it will chase timecode starting at any location even though there’s no timecode ruler. But there are some missing features from the TDM Pro Tools software that require you to add the DVToolkit2 option (and Pro Tools 7.1+). Without it you won’t be able to import multiple video files and access multiple playlists on them, nor can you edit the
video (just like an audio region) and group it along with audio. There won’t be any SMPTE Time Code Feet + Frame functions, and you can’t import OMF (Open Media Framework), AAF (Advanced Authoring Format), or MXF (Material Exchange Format) files. While $1300 for the DVToolkit2 may
extra priority over screen tasks); Medium (gives the movie a higher priority), and Highest (gives the highest priority and disables screen activity, requiring you to use the spacebar to stop playback). (See Fig. 2) When you check High Quality QuickTime Image, Pro Tools will decompress the interlaced video frames and give
A lot of composers—even ones who use other DAWS—are adding inexpensive Pro Tools LE systems to their rigs just for compatibility.
seem like a lot, you will then be able to do all of the above and more, as it also includes several useful plug-ins like Synchro Arts VocAlign Project for synchronizing dialog to video and tightening Foley, and DINR LE for noise reduction. It will also increase your track count to 48. And finally DigiTranslator 2.0, which lets you convert and exchange OMF, AAF and MXF files, is included. Pro Tools HD users will need DigiTranslator 2.0 for file exchange, and it runs $495. QuickTime or Windows Media Pro Tools can handle Windows Media files, but there are some irregularities and limitations that make QuickTime the better choice of formats. If you go to Preferences > Operation Tab, you’ll notice under the Video subsection that there are three QuickTime Playback Priorities: Normal (no
you the highest possible resolution. I’ve personally found Normal mode to work best in most situations, however, especially on my HD/Intel Mac rig. Rating isn’t overrated The first thing to establish is what frame rate your client is using; get this wrong, and your contributions to the project will be out of sync. The frame rate is in the Session window under Time Code Rate, and it must be entered when you first create the session. Confirm that you can play back the type of media they are delivering, and if you can, request a “video burn-in” (sometimes called a “window burn”), meaning there’s superimposed timecode in the video window. But note that while it’s good to have, we’ll see that timecode is not always essential. The import of importing The first obvious thing is to get the video into your session. Go to File>Import>Video and select your clip. (See Fig. 3) You can also press Command+Control+Shift+I on the Mac or Alt+Control+Shift+I in Windows. A Video
Figure 2. Playback Priorities
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Figure 4. Main Video Track
Figure 3. Import Video
Import Options dialog box will appear, from which you choose where you want the video to be placed (Main Video Track, New Track, Region List). The Location pop-up menu provides options of Session Start, Selection, Spot or Song Start. The Gaps Between Selection option is there in case you want to import more than one video to a track and create space between them. You can also choose Import Audio From File, Remove Existing Video Tracks/Regions or Clear Destination
Video Track Playlist (if you have one). You’ll probably want to select New Track, Session Start, and usually you’ll want to import the audio. The audio is often a dialog track or existing music or sound effects. A new Video track will appear onscreen, along with a new Audio track (if selected). In Example 4 you’ll notice a small QuickTime icon next to the Video Track name. If you imported an Avid video file (available in Pro Tools HD only) there would be an A, and a Windows Media file would display that icon (in Vista only). You’ll also notice the Video Engine Rate of 29.97 fps (in this instance), just below the View Options pop-up menu. Pro
Tools can handle Time Code Rates of 23.976, 24, 25, 29.97, 29.97 Drop, 30, and 30 Drop FPS. The Lock icon signifies that the video track was locked in place, and the Video online button next to it lets you switch the video track online (blue) or offline (gray). When Frames is selected in the Video Track window, Pro Tools will display the movie as pictures in the video track (Frame View). While it looks cool and can help in spotting, it tends to bog down your processor. If you notice that happening, choose Block View instead, which will replace the video frames with colored blocks and lighten the load. Many editors will give you a video with the “industry standard” session start time of 01:00:00:00 (hours, minutes, seconds, frames). If you’re using a drop frame time-
Reference Video Matt O’Connor, who began his career as a Pro Tools editor at Gizmo Enterprises in New York, switched over to video production and editing several years ago. Here he answers some questions about our reference video for the HDTV film “A View From Below.” Q: Do you always send out window burn on your QuickTimes? A: For film work I would always give viz-code (visual timecode), but for television work I usually make a QuickTime of the entire section, or show, and just give it to the composer without. I gave you an OMF with a QuickTime of the entire film with temp music and the dialog tracks on it. This was to help you out scoring wise, so you would know when to back off and when to not step on the dialog. Q: You had us work in 29.97 drop frame. A: We shot it in HD, so the frame rate is 60i (interlaced), which really comes out to be 59.94 fps. That is actually the
same exact frame rate as 29.97 in standard definition NTSC. If you work in Pro Tools at 29.97 drop frame, it’s the same thing as my 59.94. But for editing purposes, we worked at standard definition, which is your 29.97. Q: We often delivered you QuickTimes back with our music on it, aside of the separate 24bit/48kHz music tracks. A: That was a big help for us, because there would be times where we were already past the scene in the movie, and it would help refresh us. It also let us give you feedback on moving forward or tweaking something. Q: How did you compress the QuickTime for us to view? A: We found that Apple’s H264 codec gave you the best picture quality. I used to use Sorenson 3, because it was one of the better compressors out there. The downside of H264 is that it takes longer to export, whereas Sorenson 3 is faster. But we were delivering you low-resolution files to begin with, so we always tried to give you that H264 codec so it looked good on your screen.—RT
v e r y Case study Co-composer Scott Moore and I recently worked on a TV project for producer/editors Matt O’Connor and Paul DiNatale (see sidebar), and we came up with a good working method in Pro Tools. This show required a lot of music, most of it scored to picture. As one would Figure 5. Block View expect, we started by creating a master cue sheet in spotting code, you’ll notice a semicolon just before meetings, where we determined where the frame numbers instead of a colon. music went, along with its direction and If your video starts at 01:00:00;00, you feel. Then we were given a single OMF file can either choose Session Start when of the entire show. All 82 minutes came in importing, or use Spot mode to type in the a single QuickTime file with window burn. correct timecode address after the fact.
Figure 6. Drop Frame Timecode
Note that you can also type these numbers on the Transport window if you have Time Code selected. Make sure to go to Setup>Session and enter 01:00:00;00 in the Session Start time, and once again confirm the Time Code Rate. Next, by opening the floating Video window and pressing Play, you will be able to see that the timecode is locked by watching it along with your transport window. Now comes the easy part: creating the music or sound design to the video. If you find it frustrating to work with a small video window, simply just resize it. By Right-clicking (Windows or Mac) or Control-clicking (Mac) on the actual window, you can choose from Half Size, Actual Size, Double Size, or Fit Screen. You can also click in the corners or sides to make it any size you prefer—a most welcomed recent feature in Pro Tools.
Two stereo audio tracks were included: one dialog and production sounds, one with some temp music cues. While you could load the entire cue into Pro Tools and score from beginning to end, we prefer to create separate Sessions for each cue. To do that, once you’ve imported the video and audio into Pro Tools, first group
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the main video track along with the two audio tracks. Then select the video clip for each scene, create markers for the In and Out points, and separate the region (Edit>Separate Region> At Selection). Next make a QuickTime bounce with the dialog included (mute the temp music). If you need it, make that exact bounce of the temp music, exporting both to a new folder for each cue. From there you can create a new Pro Tools session for each cue, and import the QuickTime and dialog. Sometimes we’d also import the temp music as well for direction. Creating separate Sessions keeps things clearly organized for when the inevitable changes occur. Also, by keeping the video inside the session and the separated video clips inside each master session folder, there was never any hunting around. Instant total recall. The next step is to decide upon the tempo for the cue. Every composer knows that the first In point in every scene is critical. Since you can now edit QuickTime video in Pro Tools just like audio, simply find that In point and cut right on it with the Trim Tool. Then use Grid Mode and place that hit point at the beginning of measure 2. (Grid Mode constrains regions to whatever grid you’re working at, whether it’s quarter notes or any other value.) To help you “ramp” into the scene, go into Slip Mode (which turns off the Grid mode constraining) and slide the Video track with the audio dialog track back in the timeline. Now roll the scene from the top, and you’ll have a perfect 4-beat count-off into the scene intro at measure 2.
Figure 7. Trim Tool and Grid Mode
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Reference Video in Pro Tools LE on a Separate Machine As mentioned in the article, a lot of composers are hosting their reference video in Pro Tools LE systems on slave computers in order to free up their main machines for V.I.s and plugins—to say nothing of being able to use the Pro Tools software, which is great for audio production. How does that work? It’s actually very simple. To keep the machines moving at the same speed, from the audio interface on your main machine you send either word clock or S/PDIF digital depending on the Digidesign hardware you’re using. The Pro Tools machine has to be set to digital sync (not internal sync).
As with most every function in Pro Tools, there are several approaches to every task. Hopefully these ideas will help you figure out yours. VI
Then you send MIDI Time Code (MTC) from your main machine to the Pro Tools machine, which you put “online” (command/;). Obviously you have to tell your DAW to send MTC out the MIDI port you have going to the Pro Tools machine. If you want to be able to scrub the video you can also send MIDI Machine Control, but that’s optional. So the MTC triggers Pro Tools to start playing at the address it specifies, while the digital sync keeps it locked at the same speed as the main machine. You can also send audio to Pro Tools to print stem mixes.—NB
Producer/engineer/composer Rich Tozzoli (Richtozzoli.com) has worked with artists ranging from Al DiMeola to Ace Frehley. His music can be heard on channels such as VH-
1, Discovery Channel, and National Geographic.
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Submersible Music DrumCore DrumerPacks Is this the next best thing to having a famous drummer on your tracks? A look at ten add-on rhythm loop libraries for the popular librarian/player.
review by Chris Meyer
DrumCore DrummerPacks $49.99-79.99 each
Platform: add-ons for Submersible Music’s DrumCore or DrumCore LT virtual instrument; some available for other playback engines.
License: Free to use one copy to create or perform your own works as long as the samples are not distributed or publicly performed on a standalone basis.
ubmersible Music recently sent us a set of ten DrummerPack rhythm loop libraries that work with their DrumCore virtual instrument. We’ve covered this instrument before, starting with a review in the premiere issue of this magazine. If you aren’t familiar with what DrumCore is, it’s a stand-alone ReWirefriendly librarian and player for drum (or any other) loops that also includes a MIDI pattern player and partner MIDI sample
player. The output of both can also be exported for use in other systems. Submersible’s libraries for DrumCore therefore can contain a combination of loops, MIDI patterns, and one-shot samples typically arranged as MIDI drum kits. Each DrummerPack is themed around a particular drummer or style. They contain a number of drum sets, with each set typically featuring a couple of dozen component loops, usually presented as choruses, verses, breakdowns, fills, and so forth. This
r e v i e w VI allows the construction of songs that display a lot of variety and evolution. My enthusiasm for having some many variations has been muted in the past by the relatively short length of those loops (typically 2 bars); happily, many of the new collections feature longer loops. Even though DrumCore can time-stretch and -compress loops, many of the components have been recorded at different tempos as well, with the performance changing to match the feel of the new tempo. When you request a tempo, the player picks the nearest matching loop. Some of the newer collections also individual loops for the ride cymbal, high hat, snare, rim, and kick for a handful of the base loops. Submersible records all of their collections at 24-bit 48 kHz quality. The acoustic sounds tend to have a lot of headroom with low average levels but no clipping, while the more processed or drummachine-like sounds tend to be subjectively louder and more compressed. The “sound” changes from kit to kit, often in anticipation of how you might use it in a mix: some are big, bold, and in your face; others are more muted and veiled to act as backing tracks. I was particularly impressed with the sound of the new MIDI kits; whereas I thought the kits paled next to the full
the same price as the DrumCore versions. And now the collections. Upbeat & Aggressive This collection is aimed at those creating rock, metal, and alternative tracks. It features a gigabyte of audio loops plus over 280 meg of multi-velocity samples from which 26 MIDI drum kits have been crafted. There are 25 songs (including one each in 12/8 and 6/8 time) featuring an average of 45 loops per song, including individual layers for some of the patterns.
Tempesta’s double kick work, and the kick is indeed up front in the mix among these muscular grooves. The sound is more on the small room and intimate side, rather than stadium-size power rock. Sk8PuNKbeAtz This fun collection from Chuck Treece (he of Bad Brains, Urge Overkill, and session work from Billy Joel to G. Love) shows there is more than one kind of “punk.” Rather than a frenetic thrash, the grooves here owe a lot more to the tight, skittering,
Even though DrumCore can time-stretch and compress loops, many of the components have been recorded at different tempos as well, with the performance hanging to match the feel of the new tempo. The sound is big and compressed with a lot of cymbal noise and a mean kick, although overall it was a touch veiled for my personal taste. My favorite set in the collection was “Offbeat,” where the cymbals were given a rest to allow a very mus-
Each DrummerPack contains a number of drum sets, each typically featuring a couple of dozen
off-beat feel of modern ska or even drums&bass (Submersible calls it a combination of “punk, hip-hop and other styles to forge a cool, new, urban hybrid”). As it contains only 647 meg of audio loops (plus 154 meg of hits arranged as three MIDI kits), it is being sold at a bargain price of $49.99 and features ten sets leaning toward the higher end of the tempo spectrum. Treece’s sound is tight, while one of the MIDI kits was supplied by Zoro Nawlins and features a contrasting big-ambi vibe.
component loops, usually presented as chorses, verses, breakdowns, fills, and so forth.
loops in the original version of DrumCore, these new DrummerPacks have some great sounds. As a result, I often found myself having as much fun with the MIDI patterns (especially when played back through alternate kits) as the audio loops. Most of these collections are sold as add-ons to Submersible Music’s sample and MIDI pattern player DrumCore, which is $249 bundled with loops and songs from ten top drummers. If you want a lower-cost vessel, Submersible offers a stripped-down, less-expensive player called DrumCore LT. The Upbeat & Aggressive, Blues & Boogie, and Jazz & Latin collections are also available in formats for other software from DrumsOnDemand.com at
cular beat to come through more clearly. TempestaPack I Keeping the metal theme, this collection was played by John Tempesta, who has worked with the likes of Rob Zombie, Exodus, Testament, and Helmet. It contains 1.26 gigs of audio loops plus 265 meg of samples for the five kits that support a generous helping of MIDI patterns. Although the collection features only eight sets, some contain dozens of support loops. The designation “I” can only lead us to believe that another collection is on the way, and indeed, Submersible is scheduled to release TempestaPack II this April. The main hook presented here is
Blues & Boogie This is aimed as being a songwriter’s toolbox of over 20 sets with styles in the blues, shuffle (with four 12/8 songs), and country domains. There are just under 1 gig of audio loops at a wide variety of tempos plus 103 meg of samples arranged as three MIDI kits (two blues & boogie woogie, one country), although there are no MIDI patterns provided; use these with your own programmed grooves or patterns from other collections. In keeping with the stated backing track nature of this collection, the snare is more muffled, and the ride is very low in the mix. In general, the feeling is relaxed and swinging. pureDrums 1 Continuing with the drum-loops-forsongwriters theme, next we have ureDrums 1 from the combination of ses-
r e v i e w VI sion drummer Graham Hawthorne and producer FAB (whose credits include Jennifer Lopez, Queen Latifa, DJ Colette, Toots and the Maytals, DJ Mark Ronson, Bon Jovi, Babyface, Isaac Hayes, and others). This library contains two collections: The Basics (nine sets), and The Rock (15 sets, including one in 6/8). It totals over 2 gigs of loops and hits, plus more than 150 meg of additional samples arranged as four
Robertson, Dave Stewart, Everclear, Ann Wilson), the programming tends to be oldschool hip-hop, shading toward the sparser side. The real fun comes in mixing and matching the patterns with the two dozen MIDI kits provided. These contain a mixture of acoustic plus electronic sounds (weighing in at only 114 meg), leaning toward the pumpin’ compressed/saturated side with a nice attitude. At only $49.99,
The "sound" changes from kit to kit, often in anticipation of how your might use it in a mix: some are big, bold, and in your face; others are more muted and veiled to act as backing tracks. MIDI kits (including a brush kit). This is one of the collections that features longer individual loops, often extending out to 4 or 8 bars. This allows room for additional details that really adds to the overall feel. The drum sound is solid, leaning more toward sit-in-the-mix than inyour-face, although I have to say I love the low toms that occasionally boom through. pureDrums 2 The second library from the team of Hawthorne and Dupont helps broaden the range of pureDrums 1, providing collections titled The Bounce (12 sets in the funk and disco style) and Vintage Classic (ten sets in older pop, rock, and folk styles). It weighs in at an additional 1.85 gig of audio loops and hits plus 165 meg for four more MIDI kits. Overall, the playing is a touch more sparse than Pure Drums 1, although the drum sound is bolder. Urban GT And now for something different: an allMIDI-pattern library programmed by Gary “GT” Thompson. It too contains two collections: Hip Hop Classics and Hip Hop/R&B. Hip Hop Classics is a collection of nearly 200 patterns divided by tempo ranges into four folders, weighted toward the slower end of the scale. There are some small families of related loops, but this is primarily a large grab-bag. In contrast, HH/R&B (as it is identified inside DrumCore) contains over 30 song-like sets, each typically featuring about ten patterns per song. Although GT’s resume contains some decidedly non-hop names (Robbie
it’s one of the bargains of these ten collections. Jazz & Latin Speaking of old school, how about a collection of old-school big band, jazz, and Latin grooves including swing, blues, bossa nova, shuffle, and other styles? There are 18 sets played with brushes as well as 15
Santana, Shakira, Jackson Browne, and Sergio Mendes are just a few of the artists he has played with. This first collection contains one drum song plus 16 sets broken down by instrument (such as triangles, shakers, djembes, et cetera), style (such as ChaCha, Salsa, Samba, and so forth), or song-like designations such as “Sympathy.” Many of these contain a full mix as well as individual instrument breakdowns at a wide range of tempos, adding up to just under 600 megs of loops. The MIDI side of this collection is particularly strong, including half a dozen very well recorded kits. Aside from the fact that LuisPack I contains a goodly number of MIDI patterns of its own, one of my biggest guilty pleasures while working on this review was playing GT’s hip-hop patterns through Luis’ innovative percussion kits. LuisPack II This add-on collection contains another 12 sets of loops divided by style, including a driving Cajon folder plus the most slammin’ set of udu loops I’ve ever heard. Although short on songs, there are a lot of nice layers here to add into your other work. This collection also contains another nine MIDI kits.
I often found myself having as much fun with the MIDI patterns (especially when played back through alternate kits) as with the audio loops.
played with sticks at tempos ranging from 65 to 222 bpm. This set includes a generous number of loops per song (adding up to just under 900 megs), including some individual snare, hat, and ride cymbal layers. Although no MIDI patterns are provided, there are three MIDI kits: a stick and brush kit each sampled from a vintage Gretsch kit, plus an Alt Country kit provided by Lonnie Wilson. The feeling overall is nice and relaxed, with a very clean acoustic sound. LuisPack I Luis Conte is one of those few musicians that can be identified by only his first name, he’s so well known and respected. Madonna, Ray Charles, Phil Collins,
I have to admit I’m a little disappointed that Submersible didn’t combine these into one collection; $79.99 each for relatively few samples compared to their other collections (LuisPack II contains under 300 meg of loops) is a touch steep—but Luis Conte’s playing helps make up for it. VI
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MOTU MachFive 2 The “universal sampler” (meaning that it imports practically all formats) gets a big upgrade
by Mark Schonbrun
MOTU MacFive 2, $495; upgrades from previous versions, $195.
HYPERLINK “http://www.MOTU.com” www.MOTU.com
System requirements: Mac—
1GHz G4 minimum, OS X 10.3.9; G5 or Intel-based Mac running OS X 10.4+ recommended. Windows—Penium 4 1GHz minimum, multiple processors/cores highly recommended; XP, XP X64, or Vista (32- or 64-bit); Open GL-compatible video card that supports v.1.2, preferably 1.5 or 2.0.
License: uses iLok USB key.
ark of the Unicorn (MOTU) has rolled out a huge upgrade to their flagship sampling product. MachFive 2 adds some important features to an already robust product. Machfive is a universal sampler that ships for all major plug-in formats on Mac (Universal Binary RTAS, VST, AU, MAS) and PC (VST, RTAS and DXi) so you can integrate it into whatever DAW you like. MachFive 2 comes with an impressive 32GB of sample content, ranging from loops to surround instruments, pianos, and a section of the 16-bit VSL (Vienna Symphonic Library) MachFive edition. If you own content in other sampler for-
mats, MachFive boasts “universal” sample library import. That’s always going to be subject to limitations due to different features in different samplers, but the idea is that no matter what format you own (Giga, Akai, and more) MachFive can serve as your central sampler. In addition to the improvements within the sample editor itself, including some very impressive Photoshop-like layers, MachFive 2’s effects section has been beefed up to include a full mixer, and convolution based impulse response reverbs. All in all it’s an impressive update. Let’s break it down piece by piece.
r e v i e w VI large projects with relative ease. It also helps that the browser makes it dead easy to find sounds spread across the vast 32GB library. This review was done on a MacBook Pro with a Firewire800 drive dedicated to samples; the 32GB sample library needs to be on a fast drive like this to load and perform smoothly when it’s being played. Some of the effects (which we’ll get into shortly) are pretty demanding of the computer, but that’s to be expected—long convolution samples especially take a lot of processing power.
GUI intuition Graphical User Interface, or GUI for short is your portal to any software plug-in, and in my mind is almost as important as they sound of the instrument—if you can’t find your way around, no one will want to use it. What MachFive does is take the idea of a single window interface to a whole new extreme, providing a myriad of features, and views in a single, compact interface (Fig. 1). Each section of the interface is labeled by section, so you know where you are. All in all I found it very easy to get around the software—everything is basically where it
extend the size of the sample editor with a single click to take up the whole entire screen (Fig. 2). If you edit samples often, having a larger display really helps out. Efficiency On the most important points to consider when looking at a sampler is how efficient it is, especially if your projects get large. Indeed, MachFive does quick work on sample load and is able to recall
Streaming MachFive boats some impressive options for disk streaming vs. RAM-based sample playback. Each instance of MachFive can load up as many parts (or sounds) as you need, crushing the barrier of 16 MIDI channels that some other plug-ins face. Within each part a button lets you can choose disk streaming (useful for large instruments like pianos) or opt for RAMbased storage for shorter sounds (see Fig. 3). The flexibility of being able to assign sounds to streaming or RAM on the fly is wonderful, and it allows you to manage your precious resources as you see fit. This feature adds to the MachFive’s overall efficiency.
MachFive comes with 32GB of sample content, ranging from loops to surround instruments, pianos, and a section of the 16-bit VSL orchestra. seems it should be, and subjectively the ergonomics of the software are likeable. Since MOTU uses the UVI plug-in engine used by other products on the market, many of you will feel right at home. In truth, some of the white text on a gun metal grey background can be a little hard on the eyes, and some of the knobs are small. But it’s great that you can
r e v i e w VI read when you insert the media, you access them through the integrated browser (see Fig. 4). Amazingly, each of the three formats I threw at MachFive worked absolutely perfectly.
Import MachFive boasts the claim of “universal” sound library support, a lofty goal. You can import just about anything into MachFive, including: Giga, Akai, Kontakt, Kurzweil, EMU, and more (a full listing is available at HYPERLINK “http://www.motu.com” www.motu.com). MachFive will convert the sounds, keeping all the layers intact, along with many other performance details.
and dropping into the interface, or in the case of CD-based sample libraries, such as Kurzweil that many computers won’t even
Pre-built library MachFive 2’s 32GB library comes on four DVDs. Disc one contains the basic library of bread and butter instruments: a nice mix of loops, traditional instruments, drums, and synthesis sounds. Disc 2 contains the large, multi-sampled pianos, which vary from classical to honkytonk pianos. Disc 3 is reserved for “premium” sounds such as 96k and 192k sampled guitars and drum kits, along with a bank of surround-sampled orchestral sounds, loops, and a church organ. Disk 4 contains the VSL MachFive edition, a 16-bit version of the acclaimed VSL. What this comes down to is a very good starter library. All the instruments sound good and will fit into most mixes with ease. The pianos are very good for an included library, as is the very hypnotic surround organ. Subjectively the loops were probably the weakest link in the library, both in breadth of styles and quality. But loops are so abundant these days that this is not going to be a deal breaker. The VSL library sounds very, very nice,
You can import just about anything into MachFive: Giga, Akai, Kontakt, Kurzweil, E-mu, and more.
This is tricky business, as any of the sample formats have proprietary elements. To test this I threw a few files at MacFive: the free NS natural kit (Giga format), Spectrasonics Symphony of Voices in Akai format, and the Take 6 vocal library in Kurzweil format. Importing is handled by simply dragging
r e v i e w VI aggressive and some of the EQs harsher on the ears than we’ve come to expect with plug-ins. You could easily produce a whole mix in MachFive and have it sound good, but the reason there are so many thirdparty plug-ins on the market is that dedicated processors almost always offer more than basic stock ones. Conclusions MachFive 2 is an impressive update. It’s easy to adapt to, the included library is recorded nicely and has a good variety, and you’ll be very surprised by the convolution reverb if you haven’t heard them before. With a stand-alone version that doesn’t require a host, this could be a boon for live musicians. And with all the built-in processing plus the ability to load as many parts as you need, it would work well as big part of anyone’s studio production environment. This is a sampler that’s well worth checking out. VI
and if this your first taste of VSL, you’re in for a nice smile when you bring up the string sections (the flute is a winner too). In general MachFive’s library is a great start for a sample library, which is what it’s intended to be. You can fill in more detailed libraries as the need comes up. Effects What sampler wouldn’t be complete without some high-quality effects? MachFive ships with all the staples: EQ, reverb, compression, delay, chorus, modulation, distortion and many more (see Fig. 5). You can apply effects on one of four effects busses, or if you access the new mixer (see Fig. 6) you can add four additional effects per part. A big upgrade for previous MachFive users is the addition of the convolutionbased reverbs. Convolution reverbs use actual samples of spaces, and when it’s done right you feel like you’re really there. The convolution that ships with MachFive is surprisingly good when you consider that convolution is only as good as the rooms you sample, and MOTU clearly did some legwork to get such nice samples in the program. Once loaded up, you’ll see the convolution sample listed, and you can tweak elements such as the time, dampening, and width (see Fig. 7).
In addition to the convolution, the other effects were more than serviceable, even though I found the compression a bit
Marc Schonbrun is an active educator, writer, and performer on the East Coast, with a scope spanning classical guitar concerts to jazz trios to rock concerts. He is an experienced writer and author on music technology, as well as a lecturer who educates musicians and teachers, and also a professional training specialist for Native Instruments, Korg USA, Sibelius, Digidesign, and M-Audio.
Are you playing speakers at perfect distance (not in your face) and 5' apart
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extra heavy-duty Knape & Vogt 8900 drawer slides rated for 10,000 travels (underneath desktop)
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desktop between playing and writing positions - goes all the way forward and back (2' of travel)
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A Winning Score with Sibelius Adventures creating a publication-standard score and parts in the popular notation program by Jim Aikin
Preparing sheet music for publication is one of the more complex tasks that software is called on to perform. Sibelius has become the standard in sheet music publishing because it’s both powerful and easy to use. But while basic note entry is very quick, and while Sibelius handles many of the thorny aspects of score layout automatically, there are still a few snags that can trip the unwary. 34
I discovered this recently when I was hired to enter a medium-sized orchestral score for the Livermore-Amador Symphony. This local group had commissioned a composer (my friend Tom Darter) to write a special piece to celebrate the opening of Livermore’s new performing arts center. I was working on a deadline, and while I sometimes use Sibelius for lead sheets, I had never prepared a full orchestral score with it. So I was frankly unprepared for some of the issues I ran into. Other Sibelius users might come up with entirely different sets of tips. The program is deep, and there were many features I didn’t touch. You may want to keep an eye peeled for Marc Schonbrun’s upcoming book on Sibelius, which will be soon published by Cengage. In the meantime the lessons I learned along the way may help you if you’re handed a similar project. May the forum be with you. Your first step after reading the entire manual (the Sibelius manual is far more readable than most, but yeah, I’m joking)
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Fig. 1. Here the two flutes (top staves) share a rhythm, as do the two oboes (middle) and the two clarinets (bottom). The note pitches for the second part can be entered in each case using Reinput Pitches mode. Note the bar number above each bar. This type of numbering is one of Sibelius’ options.
should be to register at Sibelius.com so you can post questions to the user forum. Each time I hit a stumbling block in my scoring project, I posted a question on the forum and got an accurate answer by email within hours. Ergonomics. Set your workstation up in such a way that (somehow) you can reach the MIDI keyboard while looking at the screen and also the manuscript from which you’re working. If you have to twist your back and stretch to reach things, you may get backaches. A keyboard with octave switching buttons is very handy in this regard, as it allows you to input exclusively from the near end of the keyboard (the left end, if the keyboard is on your right). Take breaks often. The medical condition known as “mouse hand” is a real possibility, if not during data entry then during the editing process, when dragging things around by small increments is often necessary. Sibelius implements “sticky dragging,” which means an object will initially resist
when you click it with the mouse and try to drag. This is arguably a good thing, as it prevents small accidental changes in spacing. But it adds to the “mouse hand” problem.
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copy it to the second part. Click on the first note and hit Ctrl-Shift-I (Mac: CmdShift-I). This puts you in Re-input Pitches mode (the cursor becomes a dotted line), so you can play the new pitches on the keyboard while stepping through the existing rhythms automatically. The composer finished making a full pencil score and asked if I wanted to start work immediately or wait until he added the dynamics, phrasings, bowings, etc. Since we had a deadline, I said, “Sure, give it to me and I’ll get started.” This decision ended up costing me an extra hour or two of work. If I had been adding the dynamics as I went along, whenever I block-copied a few bars the slurs and dynamics would have been included. So if it’s practical to do so, I recommend insisting that you get a completely edited score at the very beginning of your work. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for going through the whole score twice. While adding dynamics, I found missing timpani notes, two places where I had simply forgotten to input a few bars of woodwind notes, numerous missing dynamics markings, and so on. If you’ve entered the notes first and are adding articulations and dynamics later, you may be stymied at first when you try
Phoning the client about every single missing tie that you spot will not earn you any good will, but arbitrarily making changes without alerting the client wold be even worse. When adjusting the precise positions of objects in order to avoid collisions with other objects, select the object using the mouse, and then move it using the arrow keys. Around the block. In orchestral scores it’s common to have two parts on separate staves that play the same rhythm for a number of bars, but different pitches (see Fig. 1). Enter the first part in the normal way, and then block-
to copy multiple objects in one operation in order to paste them from one part into another. Holding the shift key while selecting a second dynamics object will also select the notes between them, which you probably don’t want to copy and paste.
Fig. 2. The dynamics objects have been selected by Ctrl-clicking. The blue color shows they’re selected. They can now be copied and pasted as a group.
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The secret key combination is Ctrl-click (Mac: cmd-click). This lets you add objects to your selected group one at a time (see Fig. 2). It’s also possible to select only the dynamics and slurs in a region without selecting the notes, and then block-copy and paste them to another part. Select the passage containing the objects you want to copy, then go to the Edit > Filter > Advanced Filter dialog box. By default, this box selects notes and chords, but nothing else. Click the Deselect button. This will deselect the notes and chords in the passage, while leaving the dynamics and slurs selected. You can then copy and paste them as a block. When pasting, select the first note in the destination passage to which you want one of these objects to attach. Unfortunately, articulation marks, ties, and graphic objects such as downbow marks can’t be selected and copied in this manner. The zen of oops. As you work with even a single large score by a composer (to say nothing of several scores by the same composer over a period of time), you’ll start to develop an instinct for which problems—if any—you can fix without consulting the composer. This depends on several factors: the personality of the client, the style and repetitiveness of the music, and how tight the
c l i n i c and musical sensibility are always required. Proofing the score is good, but looking at individual parts line by line after you’ve printed them out will reveal things you might never notice in a busy score, such as missing “pizz.” indications in the strings. Parting of the ways. The composer whose work I was inputting had given me a manuscript in which the clarinets, trumpets, and French horns were notated correctly—that is, transposed rather than at concert pitch. Inputting from this type of manuscript could be awkward if you had to transpose in your head in order to play the handwritten notes on a MIDI keyboard. In File > Preferences > Note Input, you’ll find a handy radio button. Click on Transposing Staves > Input written pitches. Now you can sight-read the transposed part off the handwritten score and it will be entered correctly. Extracting parts for printout can pose some challenges (see below under “Make it nice”). Sibelius’s implementation of “dynamic parts” allows the parts to remain in the same file as the score, which can be handy because you only need to fix wrong notes in one place: note changes in the score will automatically be reflected in the part, or vice-versa. But there’s a downside to dynamic parts as well. Here are some tips from the forum,
There are often several ways to accomplish tasks in Sibelius, and very few users are intimately acquainted with all of the possibilities.
deadline is. Phoning the client about every single missing tie that you spot will not earn you any good will, but arbitrarily making changes without alerting the client would be even worse. My method, which seems to work well, is to keep a bright red Sharpie on the desk. When I spot an obvious or suspected error, I circle it on the photocopied manuscript from which I’m working. That way, the client will have a complete checklist of the changes I’ve made. Obvious slips of the pencil, such as ties that are present in one part but missing in a parallel part, I fix when I notice them. If the music uses conventional tonality, missing accidentals are also a good bet for quick fixes. But care
provided by professional engraver Jeremy Hughes, who uses Sibelius: “I don’t use dynamic parts much for publication-quality scores, as you can’t get the mix of combined and solo staves (e.g. in winds and brass) that my employers ask for, and also have usable parts. Instead of extracting all the parts [i.e. printing the parts from the same file as the score], we tend to use a second score just for parts. A possible workflow: “(1) Make the parts score (one staff per instrument throughout) with no work on layout. (2) Proofread and correct content. (3) Create a copy of the file for the score and work on layout, combining staves as necessary. (4) Do the layout of parts in the
Fig. 3. When you select a ditto mark in the Properties box, it can replace a whole-rest in a measure.
other file. Subsequent errors need to be corrected in two files, of course.” I’m a little leery of the phrase “you can’t” in the description above. There are often several ways to accomplish tasks in Sibelius, and very few users are intimately acquainted with all of the possibilities. A different approach, suggested in the manual, would be to create a single master file containing all of the staves you’ll need. This might include, for instance, a piano reduction (for vocal accompaniment) that will not appear in the conductor’s score. In the case of parts such as Trombone 3 and Tuba, which are combined on a single staff in a standard conductor’s score, create both a combined staff and individual staves
v e r y in your master file. Then generate the conductor’s score as a separate “part” that includes most but not all of the staves in the master file. Combining two staves into one is not difficult, but it requires a little forethought. First, if you know you’re going to combine two staves, enter the music for the second staff as Voice 2. When finished, select this entire part (by double-clicking) and use the menu command Edit > Filter > Voice 1 Only. This will select only the whole rests in
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other problems, the hidden status of the whole rest is not copied. Fortunately, there’s an easy shortcut: don’t use the Symbols palette at all. Instead, click on an empty bar (or a whole bunch of them at once) to select them. Then open the Bars section of the Properties window. At the bottom (see Fig. 3) you’ll see a dropdown that, by default, shows a whole rest. Click the drop-down and you’ll see a ditto mark as an option.
When setting a fee, ask whether the client wants “publication quality” or just “clearly readable.” Getting a score ready for actual publication is a huge slug of extra work. Voice 1 (since there’s nothing else in that part that’s in Voice 1). A quick Shift-Ctrl-H hides the rests. Select the entire staff again, filter for Voice 2 Only, and copy the data. Now you can paste it into the staff where the first voice has been entered, and Sibelius will combine the two staves, using correct stem directions. In passages where both parts play the same rhythms, you may need to go back through and change Voice 2 notes to Voice 1 so that the stems will be combined, allowing the conductor to read them more easily. Under Plug-ins > Composing Tools you’ll find a plug-in called Reduce, which will combine two staves onto one new staff automatically, thus bypassing the process described above. In version 5.0, the checkbox in this plug-in for ignoring cues didn’t work. This bug was fixed in 5.1, but I found that even when I checked the “Use minimum number of voices” button, grace notes that were the same in Voice 1 and Voice 2 were duplicated when the parts were combined. As usual with Sibelius, there are plenty of power tools for handling complex chores, but you’ll still need to proof the results and check for glitches. Play it again. Ditto marks are easy for orchestral players to read—but at first I was having trouble inserting a bunch of them in the score at once. You can hide (Shift-Ctrl-H) a wholerest in a bar and paste in a ditto mark from the Symbols palette, but there’s no way to block-copy a bar you’ve created in this manner. If you try it, you’ll find that among
Select it, and it will magically replace the whole-rests in all of your selected bars. (They won’t play back during audio proofing, however.) There’s a keyboard shortcut for this: select the empty bars containing whole rests and press shifthyphen. Hitting this key combination repeatedly will cycle you through the options for the appearance of empty bars.
Fig. 4. The Parts box. To print a part, select it here and then click the printer icon in the lower left corner.
Make it nice. Adjusting the positions of objects so that an orchestral score looks good is quite likely to make the parts look like crap. For instance, you might want to drag a boxed rehearsal letter slightly to the left in order to make room for a new tempo indication (such as “Andante con moto”). This will cause the rehearsal letter to anchor to the previous bar. In the score, this won’t be a problem— but when you look at the parts, you may find that in a particular part, the bar before the bar that has the tempo change and rehearsal letter is the last bar in a given staff. In that case, the rehearsal letter will now be at the end of one staff when it ought to be at the beginning of the next staff. At this point, moving it in the part can cause unusual problems. One solution, as noted above, is to finalize the appearance of the score in one file and the appearance of the parts in a different file. This will “break” Sibelius’s handy linkage between the score and parts, but that may be the lesser of two evils. Before starting to tidy up the full score, go into House Style > Engraving Rules >
Staves and decide how you want to set the parameter “Justify staves when page is at least xx% full.” Sibelius experts recommend against ever setting this to 100%, but if you always want to have white space at the bottoms of your pages (rather than between systems), a high value would be good. You definitely don’t want to fiddle with this parameter after you’ve started adjusting the vertical spacing of single staves within systems, because changing the parameter will cause Sibelius to readjust the entire score. For instance, if you change it from 80% to 90% (in order to prevent an almost-full page from jumping to full height), another system that had been vertically justified may shrink, causing objects to collide with one another visually. To adjust the vertical position of a single staff within a single system only, click on any measure and shift-drag it up or down. Shift-dragging will move only that staff, while non-shift-dragging will affect the vertical spacing of the entire page. When entering hairpins (crescendi and descrescendi), trill lines, and similar objects
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within parts in a score, keep the object within a single bar unless it should extend well into the next bar. If you should happen to drag an object’s right end so that it extends only slightly over the bar line, and if that bar line happens to fall at the end of a staff in the individual part, Sibelius will put a little bit of the object at the start of the next staff. While this is standard practice with crescendi, it may not be what you intended. Getting rid of these ugly little graphic bits is time-consuming. Sibelius can handle bar numbering in one manner in the score and in a different manner in the parts—for instance, at the top center of every bar in the score (which conductors like) and at the beginning of each staff in the parts. Set the type of numbering you want for the score in the House Style > Engraving Rules box. For the parts, open the Parts box (AltCtrl-R), select one or more parts, and then click the button at the bottom of the Parts box that looks like a page with a starburst in one corner (see Fig. 4). This opens the
c l i n i c hand (which was so low that it was written in bass clef right up to the last note, which switched back to treble clef) into a trombone part. The switch to treble clef caused the trombone to be switched to treble clef clear to the end of the piece.
“clearly readable.” Getting a score ready for actual publication is a huge slug of extra work, primarily because hundreds of graphic objects need to be aligned so that they look esthetically pleasing. You’ve created a “clearly readable” score and parts
Deleting the clef change from the cue solved the problem.
Fig. 5. Ghost notes? No, this is a cue from the oboe part that has been pasted into the flute part using the Paste As Cue command. The cue appears in the score only when View > Hidden Objects is switched on, but it visible in the part by default.
Feeling a draft. Trying to print an orchestral score on 81/2 x 11 paper is silly, unless you plan to proof it with a magnifying glass. But most home office printers don’t have 11 x 17 capability. The solution is to create a PDF file that you can take to a print shop. On the Mac, you can use Print > PDF to create this file.
It quickly became clear that sufferers from obsessive/compulsive disorder should probably avoid Sibelius. It offers far too much control over fine details.
Multiple Part Appearance box, in which the House Style tab will open a page where you can set the bar numbering type. Before starting to edit the graphic appearance of the parts, take a few minutes to go through the score looking for places where it would be courteous to the players to add cues. Sibelius handles cues very nicely; it even inserts clef changes automatically before and after the cue if needed. All you have to do is copy a couple of bars from the part that will be playing the cue, select the destination bar in the score, and use Paste as Cue (Ctrl-ShiftAlt-V). They show up in the score only when you’ve selected View > Hidden Objects (see Fig. 5). Be careful of cues that cross into a bar where the entering instrument will be playing. Pasting into a bar where there are real notes will overwrite the real notes. Also, watch out for cue parts that have their own internal clef changes. I needed to paste a cue from the piano’s right
Windows users may want to grab a program called PrimoPDF. This free applet installs in your system and appears (to other apps) to be a printer. When you’re ready to print out the full score, select PrimoPDF as the destination device. Go into its Advanced Properties box and select 11 x 17 “paper.” Be sure to choose the PDF option for print rather than for screen. Then tell Sibelius to print. It will save a PDF file instead of sending the pages to your printer. Fees. If you’re new at creating publication-quality scores, start by estimating how long the job will take you and then add a sizeable chunk to your requested fee. The job will take longer than you think, because there will be lots of details (mainly adjusting the parts to look good) that you may not have factored into your original estimate. When setting a fee, ask whether the client wants “publication quality” or just
when there are no collisions (overlaps that make it impossible to read certain symbols) and when it’s visually clear which objects are intended to be grouped together. If the client wants “publication quality,” I’d suggest asking in advance for a copy of a score and parts that meet the standards he or she has in mind. The minutiae of page layout can soak up extra hours or days! It could be very useful, if the client starts making unreasonable requests for minuscule refinements in the appearance of the page, to be able to say, “But look how they did it in the score you provided as an example.” I didn’t have this particular political problem in my project, thank goodness. But when I started cleaning up the parts, it quickly became clear that sufferers from obsessive/compulsive disorder should probably avoid Sibelius. It offers far too much control over fine details, and it has its own opinions about those details, which often have to be overridden by dragging one object at a time. All for note. If you’re tight with a composer or arranger who has a budget and regularly needs printed scores, Sibelius will most likely meet or exceed your expectations in every area. If you need to do a large score only once in a blue moon, be prepared to wrestle with some of the features. Hopefully the tips in this article will help get you off on the right foot. VI
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Sample Logic The Elements sample library An electronica toolkit of interesting processed sounds by Nick Batzdorf
The Elements, $299
Format: Native Instruments Kontakt Player 2—standalone, VST, AU, RTAS.
Requires Mac OS X 10.4+, G4 1.4GHz or Intel Core Duo 1.66GHz, 1GB Ram; Windows XP or 32-bit Vista, Penium or Athlon 1.4GHz, 1GB RAM.
Copy protection: online using Native Instruments utility.
e reviewed Sample Logic’s first library, Ambience Impacts Rhythms (AIR), back in the 11/06 issue. That library started life as a graduate student project, but then it turned out so well that they developed it into a successful commercial product. Their second library, The Elements, continues in the same electronica vein but on a larger scale. In addition to Ambience Impacts Rhythms, The Elements includes instruments and loops classified as Bass, Harmony, and Melody—combining into
what they consider the six elements of music. The Elements is 13.5GB, over twice the size of their first effort (which is still available and very useful). Like AIR, this library comes in a Native
r e v i e w VI Instruments Kontakt Player 2, which means it streams and that it’s available in all the standard plug-in formats. You’re given control over envelopes, filters, a phaser, reverb, and delay for the programs, along with the standard NI mixer. Being able to grab the envelope and make fast adjustments is important when you’re trying to fit weird sounds to your music. Plus The Elements’ loops and arpeggiated programs sync to the host DAW’s tempo (or the tempo you set if you’re using the stand-alone version). Concept The Elements has a lot of interesting processed sounds. Because of its nature, it’s more like a synthesizer with presets rather than a standard sample library. But because it uses samples in addition to synths, a lot of the sounds have a complex, organic nature to them—especially in the Ambience category. In fact several instrumentalists are listed in the credits: flute, trumpets, vocalists, drums, guitars, sax, viola, and cello. But note that “processed” is an important word to describe this library, because while those sounds are based on real instruments, you’re not going to play a standard flute part with The Elements. Instead the idea is that this is sort of an electronic music construction library. Its programs are more like “sound design” effects than instruments. These programs are designed to be treated as...well, elements in a composition that you layer in. You’d probably use them as parts of a groove or riff in a composition, and most of them would work very well for scoring. Now, The Elements does have quite a few instruments that play the notes you hit on the keyboard. But they don’t have velocity layers or other traditional sample programming that makes them respond like physical instruments, in fact the programs that even respond to velocity at all don’t do so over a very wide range. There are also quite a few programs that don’t really sound at the notes you play on the keyboard, either because they’re effects that aren’t pitched in the traditional way or because they’re diads (often fifths) or other chords, i.e. every note is the same chord transposed. And in some programs the keyboard is split into two or three zones with different although usually related sounds. So if you were to choose, say, a Bass instrument at random from the list, you almost certainly won’t get a typical bass that you’d use to play standard bass parts. Instead you might find yourself playing a
sine wave synthetic-sounding instrument with a lot of sub bass and a single velocity layer, or some rumbly low synthy thing that’s listed under the Bass category because it’s low. There are some more familiar bass sounds, but they’re all heavily stylized and here again, generally not provided with velocity or other control. Organization You’ll see in the screen dump with this article that Sample Logic has all the programs grouped into their six elements and then in to descriptive sub-lists. The Kontakt
hitting sounds that kick you in the chest— Pow! Boof! Bang! Wham! and other onomatopoeias. But that’s only a comment about what’s not there; what is in the Impacts category tends to be very creative. Combined with the envelope controls in the interface, they can usually be made to fit the musical context very easily. Not surprisingly, they also combine very well with the Ambiences. Conversely, I personally find the instruments (as distinct from the loops) in the Harmony category the least useful overall, since they’re not very malleable. However,
The idea is that this is sort of an electronic music construction library. Its programs are more like "sound design" effects than instruments. These programs are designed to be treated as, well, elements in a composition that you layer in.
Player 2 makes it easy to browse through successive programs in a list (you click on arrows to advance to the next or previous one), and most of the programs in this library don’t use a lot of memory and therefore load very quickly. But unfortunately there’s no way to avoid the problem of it being time-consuming to browse through effects-oriented programs that essentially defy description and can take on different meanings in every context. So as with Sample Logic’s AIR library, it makes sense to make “user lists,” i.e. to create your own folder(s) inside the program’s folder and copy in programs you think you might use. Sounds This is the subjective part of this review. I personally find the Ambiences in this library the most consistently interesting, because they’re complex (often combining samples and synths), they evolve over a long time, and above all they really set a mood. These programs especially would be very useful for scoring, and you can use them to hang your hat on—as the foundations of cues. They’re very well done. Similarly, the Impacts category contains a lot of the same types of sounds, only shorter. These programs are swells, little hits, noises, and so on. My one criticism is that there’s a dearth of...well, what I’d look for in a category called “impacts”: hard-
there’s certainly very useful material to be found here, including some short arpeggiated ostinatos and fun keyboard set-ups with, say, an interesting percussive sound in 5ths on the bottom and little harp strums on the top. Somewhere sometime you’ll find a use for some of these programs, or maybe they’ll inspire a piece. The loops in the Harmony category are another matter. While I’m personally not into loops that write the cue for you (example: a 2-bar riff pattern of I min/bVI Maj/bIII Maj/bVII Maj triads), a lot of people will find the loops here to be very high quality. It’s nice that unlike some Kontakt Player w libraries, you can open The Elements in the full version of Kontakt 2 (or now Kontakt 3) for further editing. But it wouldn’t particularly bother me if more performance control (beyond host-based automation and limited velocity response) had been programmed into the sounds…actually in general, not just in the Harmony category. For that reason I would be more inclined to take the easy path and gravitate to a sample-based synthesizer such as Native Instruments Absynth for the sort of complex, processed musical sounds in the Harmony category. That would also apply to a lesser degree to the instruments Bass category,
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Overloud Breverb reverb Why there’s still a place in the universe for a really good algorithmic reverb plug-in.
by Nick Batzdorf
Overloud Breverb, $399
www.Ilio.com (U.S. distributor), www.Overloud.com
Formats: AU, VST, RTAS (Mac/Win)
System requirements: (minimum) ?Mac—Intel Core Solo 1.5GHz with 512MB of RAM, Mac OS X 10.4.4 or later, 1024x768 video, or 866MHz Power Macintosh G4 with 512MB of RAM, Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later, 1024x768 video;?Windows—Pentium III 1GHz / Athlon XP 1GHz with 512MB of RAM, Windows XP, 1024x768 screen.
License: uses PACE iLok USB dongle (not included).
hese days most of the interest in reverb is centered around convolution processing, because it sounds so stunningly realistic that it’s revolutionized the field. All the major soft samplers and sample players now have convolution built in, and it’s being used to place instruments in sampled spaces—or to run them through anything else you can record (amps, instrument bodies, what have you). Meanwhile the standard “algorithmic” types of reverbs we’ve been using for at least 30 years are still absolutely valid and have their own advantages. The main problem has been that until not very long ago the ones that existed in software were rather poor; reverb usually takes a lot of computer processing power, and that used to be in short supply. Today’s computers have a huge amount of processing power, but frankly many of
Overloud Breverb, a leading candidate for the Best Plug-in Algorithmic Reverb crown. These reverb units still have a legitimate place in the world even though we now have convolution processors. The pop-up menu at the right is assigning a parameter to one of the host-automatable faders on the pull-out drawer to the right; conveniently this provides a list of all the available parameters and also what’s lurking beneath each of the tabs at the bottom of the main unit.
the reverb plug-ins found in peoples’ plugin folders are still barely at the level of a typical budget outboard unit from 15 years ago. In stark contrast, the one we’re reviewing here, Breverb, would make a very respectable studio hardware unit— only it has all the additional advantages of being a plug-in.
r e v i e w VI Breverb is developed by a new Italian company called Overloud, and it has some well respected people in our industry attached to it. It turns out that’s for good reason, because this is a very interesting product. Performance Right off the bat, the conventional problem with algorithmic reverb plug-ins is a non-issue: Breverb is amazingly efficient. A stereo hall reverb program took up just
RT15?! An example of the precise control you have in Breverb is what I consider its most interesting parameter: the Shape control. Shape affects how quickly the telltale initial part of the reverb builds up, from “tchup” to “shhhhhup.” This works in conjunction with two other parameters, Size and Spread, which scale its effect. Breverb’s approach to early reflections is different from the way they’re handled in other units, including convolution proces-
Frankly many of the reverb plug-ins found in people’s menus are still barely at the level of a typical budget outboard unit from 15 years ago. 10% of one processor on the test dual 2.5GHz PowerMac G5 used for this review; Overloud’s claim of running 80 instances of an unspecified program on a 3GHz Pentium 4 seems quite reasonable. So it’s hard to imagine that any computer from the past several years couldn’t handle all the Breverbs you need for a mix. Raison d’etre The main advantage to algorithmic reverbs is that they’re so programmable, and you can hear the results of your adjustments immediately—a characteristic that in itself makes them more programmable. While you can make basic and very useful adjustments to the reverb time and EQ in convolution processors, it’s not the same thing as having a whole slew of parameters to adjust with fine resolution. Now, prominent individual instruments in a pop mix, such as lead vocal or snare, need a reverb program that sticks to the sound; the reverb is very much a part of the instrument. You only have to imagine how bad a snare drum with a thin, spread out reverb that rings into the next beat would sound to understand why these instruments normally get their own dedicated reverb processor with a carefully tweaked program. Convolution reverbs work really well for overall spaces, among other things, but algorithmic reverbs can shine in these kinds of role-playing applications. And indeed, the bulk of the presets in Breverb are quite specific; within each of its four algorithms (hall, plate, room, and inverse) you find a lot of tailored programs: Female Lead Plate, Jazz Guitar Chords, and so on.
sors—they’re not really treated as a separate sound. Rather than dealing only with RT60 (the time it takes reverb to decay 60dB), Overloud points to recent research showing that after RT15 the reverb is perceived as separate from the instrument it’s attached to; it’s the part before that they’re most concerned with. Because you can’t isolate the early reflections and the tail independently, this system of control over the initial part of the reverb requires some minor rethinking if
Alla brèverb Beyond that it’s actually very easy to program Breverb, both because of the selfexplanatory controls and because of the interface. You can see the basic layout in the screen dump with this article. Onscreen knobs that control up to six parameters, usually fewer, are grouped logically behind tabs labeled General, Pre, Freq, EQ (2-band parametric), and Gate. It’s not necessary to slog through all of Breverb’s parameters in this review, since we’ve already discussed what’s very different about it. Suffice it to say that anyone who’s used a reverb before should have no trouble getting it to sound the way you want in no time. There’s a “pull-out” set of six faders that can be assigned to pretty much any Breverb parameters, and you can automate these faders in the host DAW. This is a great feature of software reverbs; while MIDI control over reverb parameters is at least 20 years old, most musicians didn’t bother using it; having it this easy should encourage people to use the feature. And automating reverb is an especially good thing to do on individual instruments. Simple things like lowering the reverb level and shortening the time as a keyboard part gets louder can add a lot of clarity to a mix. Also, Breverb’s delays are synced to the host sequencer’s clock and
The main advantage to algorithmic reverbs is that they’re so programmable, and you can hear the results of your adjustments immediately—a characteristic that itself makes them more programmable. you like to use individual early reflection reverb plug-ins for positioning and then share a single tail between multiple instruments—something you probably don’t need to do with a plug-in this efficient. However, Breverb sounds very convincing, and Shape/Size/Spread make it really quick to dial in the overall sound you’re after. The other distinguishing feature that some algorithmic reverbs have is that they aren’t static. Lexicon reverbs have long had a Spin parameter, an internal chorus that’s used to animate and smooth out the tail. Breverb has an adjustable Motion parameter that’s a little different from that, but it does provide some subtle animation to the sound.
you can select things like predelay using musical values. Chirping in the morning? This reverb is intended to recreate the sound of “classic studio reverbs.” And a glance at the onscreen faders controlling reverb parameters leads the mind in only one direction: the Lexicon LARC remote controller sitting on every studio’s console back in the day. So—with special thanks—we checked out Breverb next to composer Andrew Keresztes’ (see MIDI Mockup Microscope in the 3/07 issue) Lexicon PCM90, a well
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f e a t u r e VI M I D I
M O C K U P
M I C R O S C O P E
In this installment of our series on composers and how they did their MIDI programming, composer/mixer Gabriel Shadid discusses one of his cues. Download the cues at www.VirtualInstrumentsMag.com and follow along.
by Frederick Russ
Gabe in front of the historic Crest Theatre in Westwood Village, CA.
Gabriel Shadid ended up full time in the music industry, but he didn’t start there. His career in the entertainment industry started unglamorously answering phones in a one-room post house—part time. From there, he learned about music libraries, advertising agencies, television shows, post supervisors, line producers, editing audio, mixing, studio equipment, sound design, and more
Gabe later took this knowledge to another studio where he still answered phones on the night shift. After nine months he was given a chance to be a post mixer. He jumped on this opportunity and essentially turned it into a full-time career. Along the way he’s mixed the show America’s Most Wanted, Behind The Music, shows for Discovery Channel, National Geographic, MTV and VH-1, presidential political campaigns, commercials for McDonalds, Mobil, promo for ABC, Disney, Discovery, NBC, WB, FOX, HBO, and more. Epic Score’s credit list spans many types of media. A recent one they’re particularly proud of is a NASCAR spot that aired twice in the 2008 Super Bowl. They’ve licensed their music into trailers for Harry Potter, Transformers, Fantastic 4, Eragon, Pirates of the Caribbean, 10,000 BC, and others. Epic Score’s music was used as the theme to Discovery Channel’s Planet Earth and has been busy with such video game trailers for Spiderman 3, Transformers, and Ultimate Alliance. Their music is licensed into promos for ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, USA, SciFi, Showtime, and others. Epic Score is now one of three companies that Gabe owns with different partners. He’s recently started two new endeavors—a custom music company and a sound design company. Since your background is as a mixer, let’s start with a look at your DAW and studio. Well, my main DAW is a Mac Pro 3.0 GHz 8-core with 5GB of RAM and four hard drives. I use a Metric Halo Mobile IO+DSP interface and Genelec 1030 monitors with a Genelec 1092A sub. For optical digital input on Mac I use two MOTU 2408mkIIIs.
f e a t u r e Picture 1: “I always bounce a final mix live. I never bounce a final mix offline. I like to hear it as it plays. I think it comes from all my time in post houses where you always monitored your work during the final mixdown pass. Everything is bussed out 17 & 18 and sent to the “Mix Bounce” audio track at the bottom. DP has a very flexible audio routing system that works well for my taste. It’s very analog in terms of thinking.”
Then I have two slave Windows XP Pro PCs made by VisionDAW, one for Native Instruments Kontakt 2 hosted inside Steinberg VStack, one for TASCAM Giga 3. Each PC has an RME HDSP 9652 sound card. Each card is capable of three optical outs, so that works nicely with the 2408mkIIIs, because each one has three optical inputs. That gives me 12 stereo pairs to work with from each PC. I like to keep things split as much as possible coming into DP [MOTU Digital Performer] and process in DP. My goal is never to sum audio in the PCs. I want to make all those decisions in DP on the Mac. If I add more PCs, I can simply add more 2408mkIIIs. I use Remote Desktop Connection to view the PCs via ethernet. I have two monitors on the Mac: a 30” Apple monitor and a 20” Formac. My controllers: Kurzweil PC88mx, Korg Karma, and Kurzweil K2000. (I have an old Korg 01/Wfd hooked in, but leaning against the wall.) I use a Presonus FaderPort—nice faders, and the transport is very convenient for when DP is in the background and the spacebar doesn’t start/stop the sequence. For example, when I’m working on a PC window and DP is in the background and I want to play the DP sequence, the FaderPort is very handy. Which sequencer? I use MOTU Digital Performer 5.13 for composing. I was an old Opcode Studio Vision guy—hehe—I actually beta tested it almost 12 years ago. DP was the closest thing to it when Opcode went away. The flow in DP works well for me and it’s become a very powerful app. I saw DP6 at the NAMM show and it looks very promising. I created a large DP trailer music template I always start with. It’s constantly evolving. Right now it’s about 250 MIDI channels, 24 stereo aux inputs coming from the two PCs, there’s a dozen stereo audio tracks, four Kontakt 2 instances with all types of sounds, Spectrasonics Stylus RMX, Vanguard, several Altiverbs, and a
fair amount of DSP plug-ins already in place with settings that have been tweaked over time. Additionally, there are templates in each PC that correspond to the DP template settings. It took quite a while to set up the template, but the effort has resulted in a
streamlined workflow that allows me to work quickly—strings, brass, percussion, choir, synths, grooves, and more are all preloaded, panned, processed, ’verbed, and ready to go. Are you using Pro Tools TDM?
f e a t u r e VI Picture 2: “I love DP’s track folder feature. I nest folders inside folders. It really helps tame hundreds of tracks in a meaningful way. For the slave PCs I think in terms of MIDI ports. At a glance it’s easy to look at a folder and know that a particular sound is on Vstack Port 3. From there it’s quick to open the third instance of Kontakt 2 on the Vstack computer and tweak the sound.”
ing, Pro Tools is the DAW for me. Any time I need to cut a demo like the one for ES008 (discussed below), I do it in Pro Tools. And I usually master in Pro Tools. Sometimes I’ll master in DP, but there are a few plug-ins that are only available for Pro Tools, so I find myself in there a fair amount. Okay, now about your music. I’ve noticed that these tracks seem to use quite a bit of compression and limiting for punch. What signal processing are you using to achieve that? All mixing of my tracks is done in DP. Many of these decisions are made during the writing process and then make it to the final mix. The 8-core MacPro is powerful enough that more than 90% of the mix is all live and not bounced or frozen tracks. For me, it’s so much more flexible to make last minute changes without having to worry about frozen/bounced audio. I use Waves (I beta test for Waves so I have all their stuff), Sony, and Izotope mainly. Which convolution reverb do we hear on your symphonic work? I’m a fan of Audioease’s Altiverb. It has an organic quality that works for me. Usually there are several instances doing different tasks—orchestra, choir, etc.
I was a post mixer for 13 years. I mixed shows, promos, commercials, etc. Pro Tools was the standard in that world during the last eight years I mixed, so I’m totally up on Pro Tools. In my studio I have an MBox 2 with PT 7.4LE and DV Toolkit 2. With an
8-core MacPro, it’s actually a very powerful set-up. But I don’t write music with it. However I still find myself needing to mix and edit non-music projects, and Pro Tools is my main axe for those things. For straight edit-
What library are you using for choir? Several years ago I found myself needing access to choral sounds for trailer work, so I captured my own samples. I combine vowels and consonants to make gibberish that sounds like Latin. People often ask me what they’re saying. They’re saying nothing—it just sounds like something—I hope. Choral samples definitely require a lot of patience to get a good result. In Epic Score I’m the “choir guy” (laughs). Tobias [Marberger, the subject of a previous MMM column] hates creating choir lines, so it usually lands on me. But that’s okay—I like doing it. Both my parents sang in choirs, so I definitely have the sound in my head. Apparently, when I was an infant, I would
f e a t u r e
Picture 3: “Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Connection is a great way to view the PCs without needing a KVM switch or separate monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Version 2 of RDC allows you to have windows of multiple PCs open at the same time…very cool. Plus it’s free. This mess of windows is when the FaderPort’s transport comes in so handy. Regardless of what window is active, I can always play the DP sequence using the FaderPort’s transport.”
be in the choir loft with my parents and I used to snooze right through the loudest parts of the Tchaikovsky mass with the entire choir singing at the tops of their lungs.
I looked around at several other thriving companies, and most of them were two people. After a long search I teamed up with Tobias, and when I talk about him being the percussion guy and me being the choir guy, it illustrates that both of us bring different sensibilities to the table and that it would be harder to do this stuff solo. Plus, when you do library music you’re not writing to anything in particular, so it helps to gain perspective from someone else who understands what you’re trying to do with the music.
Yes, I use synths—most are V.I.s now. I have Stylus RMX, Atmosphere, Trilogy (for the record I beta test for Spectrasonics, and wrote the user manual for Stylus RMX); Native Instruments Komplete 5 and Kore 2; Synthogy Ivory Grand; Vanguard; East West Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra and Symphonic Choirs; Quantum Leap RA, StormDrum; Sample Logic A.I.R. and The Elements [reviewed in this issue], and Epic Score owns an Access Virus Ti Polar, but Tobias has it in Sweden right now boohoo. The arpeggiator in the Korg Karma is amazing, and I find plenty of uses for it to trigger sounds in V.I.s. Now for your cue. 0:01-0:09—Nice intro, dense mix. Are you playing these in on the keyboard? I play all my parts in on my PC88mx. I’m a piano player, so whatever notes I hear in my head I can play on the keyboard. For me, I find this helps with the realism and feel of the part. Which trumpets and horns are you using? It’s really a very typical set of instruments here—no surprises: full strings, horns,
Picture 4: “The 30” Apple monitor is my central workspace. It hangs on an Ergotron monitor arm. I love the Ergotrons because they allow monitors to hang right in front of your face, instead of having the monitor four feet away and squinting.”
What about synths?
Percussion: I not familiar with the percussion libraries you’re using here. Perhaps a large part of that is the use of processing on them? The beauty of being in business with Tobias Marberger is that he’s a percussion crazy man. 95% of the percussion I use comes from him. We’ve done our own percussion recording sessions that have netted some great sounds. Plus we use many of the percussion software products available. The trick comes in the layering of all these various sounds. Often times I create a rough percussion track that demonstrates the feel I’m looking for and then hand it to Tobias. He’ll come back with a track that kicks butt. At the end of the day, I think our tracks have a unique percussion sound because of the efforts of Tobias. Before Epic Score existed, I wanted to start a music company of my own. But I was convinced that I couldn’t do it myself.
f e a t u r e VI Usually people shake their heads when they listen to this music, then they look at me and start to wonder what’s wrong with me—and is it really safe to be in the room with me? Because a guy that writes this music can’t be sane, right? RIGHT?
Pictures 5 and 6: “I have quite a bit of acoustic foam in the room. I used Auralex foam and it works well for me. I covered around 90% of the surfaces in my room. [Note that muffling the sides is a controversial approach to room treatment that doesn’t necessarily reflect the opinion of the VI Editorial Committee… :-) —Ed.] I like a fairly dry environment when I’m mixing. Picture 6 shows the diffusers directly behind my head. I also have diffusers over my head above the mix position. I cannot stress enough the importance of a good listening environment. You could spend a zillion dollars on speakers, but if you have a bad, boomy, mushy acoustic environment, you’ll have no idea what your mix really sounds like. Also, many people ignore the ceiling when considering small studio acoustic treatment. As it turns out, the ceiling is one of the biggest problems areas and you really need to address it.”
Generally how much editing do you do to achieve the best results? Well, I play all the parts in to get the idea down. Once they’re in, I do quite a bit of editing with velocities and timings, plus I end up changing a lot of notes. For me it’s a very fluid process, and that’s why I resist freezing/bouncing tracks as much as possible. As these tracks climax into huge endings, I find myself experimenting a LOT, trying to find more tension and insanity.
trumpets, choir, and tons of percussion. What is more significant is that there’s a lot of layering of different patches to make one sound. For instance, I layer six violin and viola staccato patches from different sources to get the sound I want for the high string staccatos. And I constantly adjust the layering of these sounds. I feel like I learn a little more about how to layer them better each time I write a new track. The brass is largely custom recordings. And the choir is custom. Staccato passes like that take a fair amount of time to get to sound right.
0:10-0:34, a different shift. The choir staccatos sound great—natural syllable transitions. Is the ambience on them in the recording? No. Because I wanted to put staccato sounds together, I decided to record in a space with minimal ambience. Altiverb is providing the space on the choir. It’s always a debate of natural versus convolution ambience. In this case I felt convolution would be more flexible. This brings up a point: I would urge anyone reading this article to go sample something for themselves. It doesn’t matter what it is. You don’t even need nice gear. What matters is the process. I think it’s HUGELY valuable to sit there with a microphone and make decisions about how you’re going to record a sound source. It really opens up your eyes to what a developer is facing when they set out to sample something. I think most people would be surprised at how cool the result is. In the end I think you can use samples better when you understand the approach behind them. How do you approach routing to the reverb? Different verbs for dif-
f e a t u r e ferent instrument/choir sections? Yeah, I use multiple Altiverbs. In the past I had to be so wary of available CPU that I ran more things than I wanted through some of the same verbs, and to some degree it’s still that way because I haven’t changed yet to reflect having more power in the 8-core. I don’t usually verb via aux sends. Most of the time I route the whole signal into an Altiverb and then adjust wet/dry to taste. For me there are no hard and fast rules. I just approach it with a sound in my head and keep tweaking until hopefully I arrive at what I want to hear. I find that I constantly adjust the verb on the choir to fit in better with a particular track. 0:39-0:53—the cue shifts. Which audio wave editor do you use? For editing demos like this on, I do all that in Pro Tools LE 7.4. Since Pro Tools was my daily DAW in television for so many years, I’m very comfortable working quickly with it. For finishing cues that are going to be pressed to an audio CD master, I use Peak Pro 5. I’ve used it since version 1 and like how it works with individual files. And I make my CD masters inside Peak. Their claim is that Peak burns 100% Red Book standard compliant CDs, which they claim is not the case of other burning programs. Given that our CDs are distributed all over the world, I want to ensure that any CD player will play them. Do you use live instruments at all? Some of the percussion is live playing, but as far as orchestral musical instruments, no. Music-wise everything you hear in this demo was programmed in DP with a lot of custom recorded samples. We plan on moving into the live realm in the future. What percentage of your samples are Giga compared to Kontakt? NI Kontakt 2 and 3 is my main sample player inside DP and in VStack on one of the PCs. The streaming engine in Kontakt 2/3 works very well on the 8-core MacPro. I also have to give credit to the Kontakt 2/3 team for creating such a powerful MIDI scripting feature. There seems to be endless uses for the scripting feature. Plus there’s a vibrant base of users that freely create scripts for other users…very very cool. In fact, the VIControl.net forum is a great place to find that community of people. I also own MOTU MachFive 2. The original MachFive was very useful in bringing my old Kurzweil, Roland, Akai, etc. samples
into the soft sampler age. Plus it was very easy to program a sound in MachFive. Now with v2, they have a viable streaming engine and a ton of new features. I have a PC dedicated to Giga 3. I have many custom recordings that were programmed in Giga, so I use it quite a bit. I’ve considered trying to reprogram from Giga to Kontakt, but the task is daunting. And I have to say that my Giga computer is very stable. It can run for months with no crashes, and the Giga streaming engine is amazing. Basically, if you do this stuff for a living, it’s good to have access to all formats. None of these tools are that expensive if this is your living. Of course, there is the learning curve for each one… Are you relying upon the converters of your digital audio box or a master clock? I use the clock inside the Mobile IO as my master clock. The rest of my studio syncs to that. How do you keep very dense mixes from sounding like mush? With tracks like these, it can be challenging—there’s just so much going on; so many elements fighting for the same space. You can spend a ton of time balancing all the nuances in the percussion, and then later all the percussion gets buried by something else. And to add to the fun, you find that something that was okay when the percussion was soloed is not okay later
Gabe Shadid and Tobias Marberger (the subject of a previous column) in Los Angeles.
in a full mix and you have to adjust. And then what happened to the low strings? I can’t hear them anymore! So then you push them up, but then the low brass gets drowned out, so you raise them—darn—now the high strings are buried—great—raise those up, but now the high brass sounds weak, so you gotta raise them—and you’re pretty much right where you started but the whole thing is louder, which is no good because now it’s too loud and it’s clipping. So you have to lower the whole thing—hmmm back to square one. This illustrates that volume can’t be the only thing—it’s EQ and spatial placement too. These things allow different elements to be more prominent without volume being the only factor. A trap that’s easy to fall into is working too loud right from the start. I’m not talking about the volume coming from the speakers; I’m talking about how much headroom you have in your DAW. If you start too loud, you have nowhere else to go but down. Starting all the elements softer allows you more flexibility in the mix later. You still have room to punch an element up via volume or EQ or some other way without slamming into ceilings. Personally I’m a fan of wide mixes.
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r e v i e w VI
Wave Machine Labs Drumagog 4.1, Brainworx Media bx_digital mastering plug-in, and TrackStar Radio Waves contemporary beat and vocal construction kits
by Jason Scott Alexander
Wave Machine Labs Drumagog 4.1 Drum Replacement Plug-in Drumagog 4.1 Pro, $289; Platinum (with BFD support), $379.
Formats: Audio Units, RTAS, VST. Windows XP/Mac OS X 10.4+. Despite the appearance of some strong competition, Drumagog is still the gold standard for drum replacement plug-ins. What makes this all the more impressive is that until Version 4, Drumagog was only available as a DirectX plug-in. With added support for all the most popular formats,
many refinements to its transient detection algorithm, and a ton of remixer-friendly features—plus a growing library of drum sounds available—it’s quite a program. Drumagog is a real-time plug-in that’s designed to fix and enhance less than ideally recorded drum tracks, or ones where a poor drum choice was made. It does this by automatically replacing any audio that exceeds a definable threshold with your choice of other samples. Wave Machine Labs demos it at trade shows using a kit made up of household items— pots and pans, etc.—implying that you can play drum parts in using anything you have around. That could be a very interesting way of sequencing drum parts. A huge library of acoustic and electronic kicks, snares, toms, hi-hats, and cymbals in both stick and brushed varieties is included. Incorporating up to 48 velocity and positional multisamples each, the layers of these proprietary .gog files are played back in L/R round-robin fashion. You can also import and arrange WAV, AIF, SDII, and GIG samples to create custom GOGs. What’s very cool about this format is that it allows you to arrange and save your own sample sets within a single file that’s
easily exchanged with others online. In fact, some of the best sounding GOGs are from users on the Drumagog forums. Getting up and running is simply a matter of inserting the plug-in onto a drum track and selecting a replacement sample. Drumagog can literally do the rest. But you’ll probably want to tweak a few parameters on the main page to make things really fit in tightly. The new visual triggering mode allows you to view incoming audio as a scrolling waveform, with the triggering controls (sensitivity, resolution) superimposed on top as a set of crosshairs. This provides an intuitive method of selecting exactly which incoming hits will trigger Drumagog, as only those impulses reaching above the horizontal threshold line will actually sound a sample.
r e v i e w VI You can teach Drumagog very quickly how to follow impulses that occur very close to one another (i.e. drum rolls and flamming), or conversely to ignore ghost notes, by setting the vertical resolution window in ms to seconds. Any incoming audio that scores a “hit” is displayed as a white dot on the display, making it easy to see a history of which impulses caused Drumagog to trigger. Quite often drum tracks contain excessive kit bleed, so a highly versatile pre-trigger filter is provided to combat false triggering, by cutting out unwanted sonic material before it enters the analysis stage. You have the choice of high, low, notch/bandstop, and bandpass filters with adjustable frequency, Q, and input level. An audition button lets you hear exactly how much of the source signal is making its way through to the triggering engine, a very nice feature. Most engineers would argue that keeping a little bleed intact is integral to the natural sound of a well recorded kit. To test the program, however, I used a pretty extreme case with lackluster sounding toms only being picked up by the overheads; I wanted to replace the toms with-
out jeapardizing the feel of the overhead content in any way. Drumagog’s new Stealth mode was an indispensable tool for this. Using the filters with sharp Q settings, I first tuned multiple instances of Drumagog into each tom’s
instance of Drumagog on both the original snare track (with ducking set to send) and each of the L/R overhead tracks (receive). Every time the snare played, the two overhead instances would automatically duck the audio by the amount dialed in, result-
At trade shows they demo it using a kit made up of household items—pots and pans etc—implying that you can play drum parts in using anything you have around. pitch. Stealth mode then allowed all of the original material to pass through (in this case the crashes and cymbals), crossfade quickly into the replaced tom samples when a respective trigger event occurred, then crossfade back into the cymbals again. I found myself totally impressed by the seamless and completely natural sounding results. Another song called for a replacement snare, but you could still hear it on the overheads. This is where the handy autoducking feature comes in. I placed an
ing in a flawless blend when combined back in with the replacement snare sample. In my urban production and mixing work I often get asked to mutate snares, put some fuzz on claps, and replace wonky bass drums with killer kicks. Sometimes an acoustic kick drum has the perfect tonal quality for this application, but it lacks the balls to punch through a heavy electronic arrangement. Drumagog’s Synth section is a wonderful solution to this problem, as it allows you to blend in the support of a pure waveform (sine, square, sawtooth,
r e v i e w VI three types of triangle, and noise), tune its level, frequency, attack, decay, and mix it into the original signal. Beyond multitracked drums, Drumagog is really quite useful on full mixes as well. Using the combination of resonant filter section and visual trigger display, I was able to pinpoint an individual percussion instrument in a submix or loop and replace or contort it in real time. Such a time saver. Being able to choose the playing position of a replacement sample (i.e., middle of snare head, off-center, rimshot, sidetick, bell of ride, etc.), adjust its phase and match its pitch to the original are all great features. And then you get to the Advanced page, where you fine tune the triggering engine even more. Three transient detection algorithms are available to pick from. Simple detection has adjustable quality and latency (1ms to 30ms) and is recommended if minimizing CPU usage is a priority. Live detection provides absolutely zero latency, but at the expense of slightly reduced triggering quality; it is recommended when using Drumagog as an insert on the main console in a live concert performance, or as a “drum brain” for drum trigger pads. The Advanced detection algorithm has a latency of 73.22ms, but it offers the highest triggering quality and is therefore recommended for mixing. An auto-align control allows you to pick whether it uses psychoacoustic or actual peaks, and provides controls to optimize response for either bass drums or snare. I did experience one performance issue in Pro Tools 7.4 HD. Regardless of whether I was using the special ‘fixed latency’ version (designed for hosts with automatic delay compensation) or standard variablelatency version of the RTAS plug-in, the overall generated delay was still enough to make it impossible to audition replacements against the rest of the kit. So, once you’re happy with the replacement, bouncing down is a must. On the same token, what I really love about Drumagog, because it is real time, is that you can audition your favorite sounds on the fly, leaving you the flexibility of changing things later that session, another day, or during mixdown several months later. And every parameter can be automated in the host just like any other plug-in. Bottom line, Drumagog is an incredibly well thought out tool. It’s available in three versions, starting with Drumagog Basic at $199; though this lacks so many great features that you’d probably want to step up
to Drumagog Pro (reviewed here) for the extra 90 bucks. If you own a copy of FXpansion’s BFD, Drumagog Platinum adds the ability to trigger BFD samples directly, without MIDI or complicated routing setups. Hands down, if you do any extensive mixing of drum tracks or want to experiment with remixing older ones, Drumagog needs to be in your plug-in folder.
Brainworx Media bx_digital mastering plug-in ?698 TDM; ?398 Native, Scope (all prices are for download versions from the Brainworx Web Shop) Formats: TDM, Audio Units, RTAS, VST, Scope www.brainworx-music.de Brainworx is a German company known mostly to elite mastering houses, but they’ve spent the past couple of years port-
ing over emulations of their ultra high-end hardware processors into software. Based on their bx-1 Modus Equalizer and bx-2 Image Shifter/De-esser outboard, bx_digital combines the technologies into a single multi-layered plug-in. Most intriguing is that it works in up to three modes on any stereo signal. One of these is a highly sophisticated M/S mastering matrix for applying level and EQ changes separately to middle and side (aka “sum and difference”) signals. M/S processing opens up a whole new
world of opportunities, whether you’re recording samples (since this is VI mag), working with loops, or mastering. One of thou could use bx_digital to EQ the sides of a mix completely independently of the middle. For example, you could use it to bring out the bite in stereo-spread guitars without over-emphasizing the midrange in whatever’s in the middle. The plug-in can also function as a standard stereo/dual-mono EQ, and as a recording processor for converting and equalizing M/S microphone signals into mono-compatible stereo. After you select the mode you wish to work in from the centrally located Modus switch, signals enter the bx1 section. This is comprised of a 5-band parametric EQ for each channel; the TDM version adds highand low-pass 12dB/octave filters with overlapping ranges of 20-20kHz.
r e v i e w VI In all versions the LF and HF EQ bands cover 20Hz-1kHz and 400-20kHz, plus there are shelving options. There are also wide overlapping LMF, MF, and HMF bands and separate Input Gain controls for left and right channels to help balance mixes that aren’t quite centered. All bands have a maximum cut/boost of 12dB and a Q range of 0.3 to 15. A handful of Link buttons tie individual bands of one channel to their counterparts on the other channel, while individual M and S output gain controls allow you to balance the stereo width of your mix. The bx2 section features a so-called Image Shifter, consisting of “intelligent” bass and presence controls. Each is a single-function knob that boosts at one frequency (63Hz for bass; 12kHz for presence) while simultaneously cutting at an adjacent frequency (315 Hz for bass; 6kHz for presence). This is extremely effective for scalloping big bottom lows and airy highs without sounding muddy or excessively sibilant. Cutting essentially inverts the boost/cut peaks, making it possible to build up the low midrange of piano or guitar, for example, without introducing lowend boom. When used in conjunction with the bx-1 EQs, these shifters behave more like gentle contours, giving you incredibly detailed yet quick and highly musical sounding control over the entire frequency spectrum in one swoop. There’s also a special de-esser for each channel with adjustable center frequency (4.5kHz to 20kHz), threshold (0 to -60db) and individual solo buttons to monitor the
Pressing the phase-corrected SOLO buttons allows you to hear only the M or S components of your mix (L/R in stereo/dual-mono mode) so you can work on these two signals independently. Auto Solo is another novel feature. With it enabled, touching any control solos that section’s channel. In M/S mode, for example, adjusting the side EQ will solo the side channel so that it’s easier to hear changes being made. As soon as you let go of the controls with your mouse the signal automatically
You could use bx_digital to EQ the sides of a mix completely independently of the middle.
returns to full stereo output. Of course this also works for the L and R channels in standard stereo or dual-mono modes. It’s also very satisfying to use this plug-in with a control surface. I had great success using the Euphonix MC Mix [reviewed elsewhere in this issue] within Pro Tools 7.4 and Logic Pro 8. And bx_digital’s surface implementation works well with all Digidesign controllers, allowing for touchsensitive Auto Solo and tight integration with ICON EQ (TDM only). The on-screen metering is also intuitive, with solo-sensitive behavior juggling between displaying pre-EQ (L/R input), post-EQ (M/S matrix), and final L/R output levels. The SCOPE version includes four insert slots for external
M/S processing opens up a whole new world of opportunities, whether you're recording samples, working with loops, or mastering.
side chain so that you can hear what is being removed. Gain reduction meters tell the story visually. Finally, the unique Mono Maker control allows you to dial in how much of the low frequency content you wish to take out of the side channel, turn to mono, and force into the middle channel. This is a great way to tighten up the low end of a mix. And if you happen to be in the mood to master for vinyl, this feature is essential. bx_digital’s ability to audition middle and side signals separately is a big advantage during both mixing and mastering.
equalizer band and the de-esser. Without question, you can do some serious carving using this plug-in, so I preferred to get any deep tonal shaping out of the way in LR mode before switching over to M/S mode, which is appropriate for more delicate stereo imaging treatments. As a stereo EQ on individual instrument tracks, bx_digital’s dimensional channels are great for pulling distant or narrowly recorded instruments and vocals right up close while at the same time spreading
dynamic processing, with a promise from Brainworx that they’ll provide updates to all versions with inserts as soon as the host standards allow for this feature. The interface to bx_digital is rather large, taking up a screen real estate of 1024 x 882—nearly an entire typical 19inch LCD! Thankfully the window panes for bx1, bx2 and the graphical EQ display may be switched individually between show/hide-view to preserve space. Taking the advice of Brainworx, I started off by using bx_digital as a standard stereo EQ to get a feel for the power of each
them out. If that sounds counterintuitive, just imagine raising the level of the middle channel as a whole (making it sound drier and closer) while lowering the sides (thus reducing ambience), then boosting only certain frequencies of side channels for width It was great how this fattened up the built-in stereo chorus on a Roland Juno 106 synth, made acoustic pianos and strings sit within a virtually larger room, and created trippier psychedelic space around phased Mellotron samples and flanged GForce Virtual String Machine patches. This sounded completely natural, not like an effect. Of course, it’s easy to overdo stereo widening at the track level. I found that by applying M/S processing to a primary vocal or instrument only, it separated other instruments as a byproduct and gave the mix much more clarity. Similarly, recording with microphones set up in M/S pairings and running through bx_digital’s conversion matrix produces gracious, ambient tracks. You then have complete control over the center image and side ambience—not just with levels, but also for EQing, de-essing, and bussing to apply independent compression, effects, and so on. But, the application where bx_digital shines most brightly is mastering. The creativity and ease with which you can repair/augment background vocals buried deep within a final stereo mix, for example, is uniue. With the side channel soloed, you can really hear what’s going on and grab hold of the appropriate frequencies, boosting presence and adding air without affecting the lead. Folded back in with mono signal, the result is huge.
r e v i e w VI You obviously couldn’t do that with a typical stereo EQ, because you’d also be boosting the same frequencies in the lead vocal and anything else in that frequency space. Likewise, having de-essers in both the M and S channels is a godsend. I was able to control the sibilants on a centrally paned lead vocal while leaving background vocals and shimmering cymbal overheads material unscathed. I frequently found myself running out of headroom when boosting frequencies in bx_digital, and that’s when I discovered that the left and right channels can’t be linked. That means you have to carefully notch each input by exactly the same amount, and with the rather small size of the input control knobs, this isn’t an easy task. However you can command-drag (on Mac) for more precision control, or you can just enter numeric values. I can’t remember the last time I found so many uses for or become quite so enamored with a plug-in. M/S processing and EQ can breathe life into less than perfect recordings or mediocre mixes by allowing you to refocus the listener’s attention to the frequency elements that really matter. And short of remixing a record, there’s no easier way to fix heavy-handed reverb treatments and stereo effects. And on top of all that, bx_digital sounds as smooth as silk; it just blows my mind every time I use it. Serious stuff for the serious professional.
are well suited for commercial pop, hiphop, and R&B. Under the musical direction of executive producer Josquin de Pres, Radio Waves blends his West Coast recording experience, southern French origins, and great
The bx2 section features an Image Shifter, consisting of "intelligent" bass and presence controls—extremely effective for scalloping big bottom lows and airy highs without sounding muddy or excessively sibilant.
affinity for ethnic instrumentation to create a library that has a more worldly and cutting-edge vibe than the many others circulating on the market today. While similar to Hip Hop Exotica, it has infusions of Arabic scales and Middle Eastern melodies, but instead of using authentic ethnic instruments (à la Pharrell Williams/The Neptunes) the arrangements are made using synths that have been tweaked to provide a modern spin on old world tones. Stylistically the mixture’s just as fresh. Clearly inspired by—but not blatantly imitating—some of the greatest producers around, Radio Waves runs the gamut from sexy and happy to dark and menacing with deep synth chords, gothic organs,
TrackStar Radio Waves contemporary beat and vocal construction kits Radio Waves, $99.95 Distributed by Big Fish Audio: www.BigFishAudio.com Formats: Apple Loops, REX, WAV, Spectrasonics Stylus RMX. From the same team that brought us such titles as Hip Hop Exotica, Reggaeton, and Punk & Indie Rock comes a decidedly more mainstream collection. Comprised of 50 construction kits in 24bit WAV (1.6 GB), Apple Loops, REX2, and RMX formats, the emphasis is on catchy instrumental and vocal hooks that
remain appealing to mass CHR/Rhythmic radio. Trying out both the Apple Loops and REX2 formats, I was pleased to discover that the samples had obviously undergone superior care during preparation. Every file
and the like. There are a few club bangers, but their energy’s kept in check so as to
looped and stretched smoothly without any complications or tell-tale skips. Users of Spectrasonics Stylus RMX will find installers for both Mac and PC that will place the RMX files in the correct directories and create the RMX suites for use in the user libraries area. Regardless of format, each kit contains a key-labeled full mix “audition” track, a main drum loop, one or two alt beats, and typically three or four instrument loops plus vocal phrases (sometimes offered as High, Mid, and Low to create harmonies). Tempos range from 72 to 136 BPM. A separate Drum Tracks folder gives you access to the individual parts of the main beat to recreate or mix and match between different parts of the drums. You could take the snare loop from one kit and match it with the drums and hi-hat from another kit, for instance. There’s also a folder of singlehits per kit for augmenting beats or creating your own fills and transitions. It might seem surprising just how sparse and breezy the drum parts are in this library. There are a few real kickers here and there but, for the most part, the rhythm tracks follow the current hip-hop trend of minimalist beat production. These are mostly 4-bar patterns. You’ll often find No-kick patterns featuring syncopated hi-hat with tuned ethnic percussion, hand claps, and scattered tambourine set on the offbeat. These get reinforced in their alternate drum loops by booming timpani, muted box kicks, stomping drumline-style bass or rubbery subkicks featuring a wobbly, ringing decay. This sounds similar to the old engineer’s trick of bouncing a basketball off the conCONTINUED ON PAGE 60
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r e v i e w VI
Vienna Symphonic Library
Appassionata Strings I and II Gigantic string sections from VSL
by Nick Batzdorf
VSL Appassionata Strings I: Standard set $645, Extended set $575, Full set (both) $1220; Appassionata Strings II: Standard set $515, Extended set $185, Full set $700.
Copy protection: uses a Syncrosoft dongle, sold separately as the Vienna Key.
System requirements: PC Intel/AMD with Windows
Fig. 1: The Vienna Instruments player with the 20-piece Appassionata violin section loaded. This is Universal preset Matrix (Vl-20 Perf-Universal), which loads a lot of articulations for you and sets them up. Each of the nine cells at the middle left holds an articulation; the one in 3B, marcato with two velocity layers, is currently active. In this Matrix, cells along the horizontal axis—cells 1, 2, and 3—are selected by the Speed control, which detects how fast you’re playing (currently the fastest of the three speed settings, as you can see at the upper right). Then you select the vertical articulation—A, B, or C—with CC1, the modwheel, which is currently in the center of its range, hence cell 3B is selected. There are more sets of programs (articulations) loaded under seven keyswitches, shown at the lower left…and there’s more to it. But it’s very flexible, an it’s very easy to set up your own Matrixes by dragging articulations into cells and selecting how you want to switch between them.
XP/VISTA 32 and 64 bit versions (Core 2 Duo/Xeon recommended); Apple G4 (G5 or Intel Core 2 Duo/Xeon processor recommended) with Mac OS X 10.4 or higher; 1 GB RAM (2 GB or more recommended)
SL has not so quietly been releasing a whole series of new libraries recorded in their Silent Stage recording studio. They’ve also been packaging their famous orchestra in different ways, including the Special Edition orchestra that we hope to cover next issue, and they’ve
even offering individual instruments that you can download from their website. But in this review we’re going to look at their attempt to do something that so far hasn’t worked really well in sample libraries: giant string sections. It’s hard to say why attempts to sample larger string
r e v i e w VI sections haven’t been as successful as the smaller sections, but there’s a tendency for them to (in my opinion) sound synthy. That’s especially so as you get higher up in the registers. VSL has had three sizes of strings in its repertoire for a while: Solo Strings, Chamber Strings (6-4-3-2 [VSL has found it unnecessary to record separate second violins]), and Orchestral Strings (10-4-8-6, with vlns/vlas in the I library and vlcs/cbs in part II). Now with Appassionata Strings I and II they’re going for the warm, lush, smooth, sweeping string sound you only get with huge sections: 20-14-12-10. Details Like all current VSL libraries, Appassionata Strings I (about 18GB, compressed to about 2/3 that on disk) and II (about 10.7B) run in the included Vienna Instruments player (Fig. 1). We first wrote about this very clever player in the January 06 issue, but in a nutshell its main purpose is to manage the huge number of articulations in every VSL library. It lets you play as many articulations as you want from one sequencer track, and often you can play a part in real time. To facilitate that, the VE player has a customizable matrix onto which you drag the articulations you need. Then you switch between the articulations using keyswitches, velocity, various controllers, or a unique Speed control that senses how fast you’re playing. This matrix is presented as a series of cells that hold articulations. Cells are placed along the horizontal and vertical
ples into as much RAM as you have installed. Meanwhile the 64-bit Mac version is forthcoming, but you can still get a whole lot of mileage (roughly 5.5GB) out of the current 32bit version by running about 3GB in the stand-alone VE plus an additional 2.5GB— minus anything else you’re running—in the plug-in inside a host sequencer. The audio is streamed into your DAW’s mixer through a plug-in (Fig. 3)— you don’t need to worry about routing it. Also, VSL showed built-in audio- and MIDI-over-ethernet working in VE at the NAMM Show in January—meaning that you don’t need audio and MIDI interfaces when using multiple machines to run VSL. That version, which works on both Mac and PC, will carry a nominal fee. Appassionata I has regular strings and Appassionata II has the same articulations in sordino (muted) strings. Both come with the standard library plus an Extended library of additional articulations that’s time-bombed, the hope being that you’ll
The Appassionata Strings really do sound radically different from VSL’s Orchestral Strings, which really do sound different from their Chamber Strings. axes, so that different articulations can have their own set of other articulations to switch to depending on the situation. It’s very flexible, plus there are preset Matrixes that let you load and play. Please see Fig. 2. VSL recently came out with a host, Vienna Ensemble (VE), for the Vienna Instruments player and for thirdparty processing plug-ins (but unfortunately not third-party instrument plug-ins— V.I.s). The Windows version has 64-bit memory access so you can load VSL sam-
end up buying it (for about 90% the price of the standard set). You can see a list of what articulations are included under the Products tab on VSL’s website; in general the instruments follow VSL’s concept of recording the same set of articulations for every instrument, although that’s not 100% consistent. For example the only “harsh” articulations in Appassionata are in the violins Extended set, and the contra bass has fewer articulations.
Fig. 2: The Vienna Ensemble player hosts VSL instruments and third-party effects (see inserts in the channel strips). Note the panning and width controls. The Windows version has 64-bit memory access, so you can load up as much RAM as you have installed; the Mac version is on its way there. But you can still load 2.5GB of VSL in the Mac plug-in version, plus another 3GB in the stand-alone version, which streams into the DAW’s mixer (see Fig. 3).
VSL’s approach VSL’s studio, the Silent Stage, was designed to sound like the stage in a concert hall, but without the hall’s long reverb tail. It isn’t a dead room and the instruments aren’t close-miked, but VSL recordings have a short reverb. The idea is to make their recorded legato interval transitions work—you don’t want source notes reverbing away while the transition sample is sounding—and also to allow maximum flexibility. So you must add reverb to VSL instruments to make them sound good. Now, it’s well established that VSL is a top-notch sampled orchestra, but every library has its relative strengths. Subjectively, VLS’s recording technique works especially well for woodwinds. But in my experience you need to tweak the reverb carefully and use as many articulations as possible to make the higher registers of their strings sound the best they can. Why is that? Who knows. But its sets the plot for the Appassionata Strings. Heat of appassion Appassionata Strings could function as the only string library in your repertoire,
r e v i e w VI
Fig. 3: The Vienna Ensemble plug-in streams the output of the stand-alone VE host into the DAW mixer. Until the 64-bit version is available, each program in Mac OS X can access a maximum of about 3GB of memory; by making the VE host a separate program from the DAW, VSL was able to give it its own 3GB of memory access. Then you can load an additional 2.5GB in the plug-in version.
and it can work in pretty much any style. But I personally would want to have another string library for a more intimate sound and for more biting string parts; chances are good that I’m not alone. The Standard set is good at playing soaring, lush string parts. Of course it has some short articulations and you can play standard string parts with it, but its main strength is being…appassionate. Then the Extended set adds some interesting material in addition to the more common articulations. I especially like its sus_tune articulations, which start off with out of tune attacks, and then the players arrive together in tune over the course of about a second; a few of those notes thrown in strategically add a lot of realism and life to a part. In addition to a greater variety of short attacks, especially in the violins, the Extended set includes half-step clusters, grace notes, and random pizz. It also has some recorded dynamic swells and diminuendos of different lengths, which can be very effective if you take the time to use them. Different sound If you were wondering, the Appassionata
Strings really do sound radically different from VSL’s Orchestral Strings, which really do sound different from their Chamber Strings. They may be recorded in the same studio, but the difference between for example 6, 10, and 20 violins is immediately obvious; all the libraries have a legitimate role in the world. The sound of 56 players going in Appassionata Strings I is quite arresting, and the sordinos in Appassionata II sound really nice. These strings are lush—smoother and darker than the others (which actually want to be filtered a little to remove some brightness), and due to their nature they have less rosin and therefore less bite. Their sound is, well, as intended: rich, warm, and round. With so many players, even the top of the violin register doesn’t get harsh. One of the pitfalls that can make the smaller
homogenous and it doesn’t evolve the way smaller sections do; that makes the sound especially synthy if you just sit on a note without doing anything. Combos? An obvious question is whether combinations of other sized VSL string sections can do the same thing as the Appassionata Strings, and the answer is Not really. Solo strings layered low on top of the Appassionata strings with a short track delay do add some bite to the sound, but it’s probably better to use Orchestral or Chamber strings when you want more bite, if you have them available. However, the Appassionata violins especially aren’t widely spread out, both leftright and front-back, than one might expect—or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that out of the box, they don’t have the exaggerated stereo effect that often accompanies huge string sections. So while layered combinations of the Chamber and Orchestral strings aren’t quite appassionate, you can get two sections to float in space a little more by positioning them strategically. Interestingly, it’s often possible to get away with switching between Orchestral and Appassionata strings for different phrases, especially if you need more biting, rosiny, short articulations from the smaller section recordings; the transition isn’t usu-
The sound of ten double basses is really something. VSL string sections and especially the solo strings sound synthy is using too much of the same articulation; the vibrato tends to match too closely. But with the big sections you don’t hear the individual instruments’ vibrato, so that’s not really an issue. Yet you do still want to use as many articulations as possible to get the most out of the library, because it is still capable of sounding synthy if you don’t pick the right one for the moment. One thing that can tip your hand that these are sampled strings is that the releases are all synchronized very tighly, so you really want to give Appassionata Strings a healthy dose of reverb. You’ll also probably want to ride the strings’ expression with a MIDI fader or other control. That’s something most musicians are going to do anyway, but it’s really important here, because with so many players the sound is more
ally obvious at all. And divisi passages are going to be more realistic if you switch from Appassionatas to Orchestral strings to divide the sections into smaller ones. So There really isn’t anything else quite like these two libraries on the market, especially the sordino strings in Appassionata II. The sound of ten double basses is really something, and the high violins don’t get nasty even at the top (D6—three octaves above middle D). VSL has succeeded in capturing the lush string sound of a gigantic section, and as with all their libraries they’ve sampled it methodically and in great detail. These are pretty spectacular libraries. VI
r e v i e w VI LITTLE REVIEWS (CONTINUED FROM PAGE 54)
trol room window. In other words, this some lovely and atypical stuff. While having a little reverb burned into snare or claps can be fun on the main drum mix loops for effortless arranging in Garage Band, I would have appreciated the partedout drum loops being left dry and void of compression in order to leave those decisions for mix time. The instrument phrases are very inspiring, going far beyond the tired pizzicato string and thinned piano hooks of other hip-hop libraries. There are several kits featuring big piano, synthetic or altered-samples of orchestral and brass hits, acoustic and electric guitars (i.e. the growingly popular rock-hip-hop format), but the hook line is almost always performed by a signature synth sound. Whether a high-energy hollow square wave lead with lots of tasty squizzle in its modulation or the syncopated delay line of synth steel drums ringing out a beautiful melody with ethereal vocal washes in the background, the phrase loops are what make this library radio-friendly. One particularly inventive program (Touch) uses
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Down the center mono-ish mixes are boring. However, I’m not a fan of hard panned elements—that just doesn’t sound natural with orchestral material. The mastering process is where you should concern yourself with ultimate loudness of a track. That’s where you punch it up and decide the final character of the music. The process usually takes a couple rounds of experimentation to settle on the sound we want. It’s actually very fun. It’s that exciting final step that brings all your effort to fruition. Hehe…there really is nothing subtle about high-impact trailer music. Sometimes it’s less art and more of a science experiment to see how loud you can make something and keep it sounding good. What made you start your own production house? I’ve been involved with music libraries for almost 15 years—as a client, as a composer, and now as an owner. Over the years I had composed several work-for-hire library projects that were successful, and it made me think….I compose the music,
phrases of telephone-like tones and beeps alternating in time to create a highly engaging melodic and polyrhythmic bed beneath minimal 808-style drums, claps, and finger snap percussion, while tubby tubas bellow out heavily reverberated accents. Another uses what sounds like it might be physical modeling synthesis to emulate an Eastern brasswind instrument or possibly e’raqyeh oboe. Not every kit contains vocals, but probably nine out of ten do. All parts are reported as being performed by the same female vocalist, though some takes have been pitched and formant processed to alter her timbre slightly. About half are solo vox with the rest featuring her in completely natural sounding chorus, à la Destiny’s Child. Her voice is a contemporary one: sexy and playful at times, other times haunting, soulful, and demure. The vocals aren’t overly wet, but are processed to fit the theme of each kit. These are often no longer than a bar or two in length. Their lyrical extent is kept fairly minimal with phrases such as “Call my name,” “Voila, la la la, voila,” “Everytime you look at me,” “Get up on me,” and “You keepin’ it real.” There’s only a minimum of vocal runs,
and some hooks are catchier than others, but none are stinkers or overly cheesy. I see them being used mostly to back up rappers, as any vocalist-heavy project would likely call for customized parts that you’d make yourself. While it doesn’t necessarily bring anything totally new to the artform, this library has to be commended for not copying the overworked production styles that are out there (Timbaland, Swizz Beats, Just Blaze, Scott Storch, etc.).No top-tier producer would use essentially complete tracks from a construction library, but Radio Waves’ professional sounding results might make the deed a little too hard to resist, for some. Whether you’re a DJ heading into a remix, a television or video game composer who needs contemporary sounding music, or a songwriter/artist looking to roll your own radio-ready tracks on the cheap, you’ll have a killer tune built in no time. Literally, all you have to do with these tracks is add your own melody, lyric, or rhyme, and perhaps mash up vocal hooks from different kits to make things even more interesting. Up-and-coming producers should also get great mileage by using these tracks as jumping-off points for developing their own style. VI
produce it, mix it, master it, I name the cues, suggest track orders for the CDs, and provide disc artwork. The only thing I wasn’t doing was retaining ownership of it. So Epic Score was the result of wanting to control the intellectual property as well. The big problem, as most musicians know, is distribution. You could own the intellectual property of the best music on earth, but if no one is distributing it, you’re stuck. My years dealing with many large library distributors were instrumental in securing solid distribution for Epic Score. Plus the distributors were excited about the music, so I was hopeful that it would receive the attention it needed to gain traction. Let’s face it—the world of music is a crowded marketplace. It’s not easy gaining name recognition these days. Another serious consideration for me was markets outside the USA. Since I had written music for international libraries, I saw the value there too. I’ve set up distribution for Epic Score in more than 25 countries, and the list continues to grow. Of course, the USA is the single most lucrative market. But the rest of the world combined can also add significantly to the bottom line. The key to all of this though, is patience—especially overseas.
Where did you study music? I started piano lessons when I was 4 years old and took lessons for 14 years. Basically, I don’t remember learning how to play the piano, just like I don’t remember learning how to speak English. I listened mostly to classical music growing up, so it’s always been in the back of my head. As I was ending my piano lessons, I found myself not really wanting to play the notes on the page anymore. I heard stuff in my head that I didn’t have enough hands to play, so I finally got an 8track midi sequencer (QX-21) and a Roland D-10 and wrote some really awful music. Boy I had no idea what I was doing back then. But all that exposure to classical music has been really helpful now that I compose music. Listening to all that live music makes me critical of my samples. I always try to work within the abilities of the samples I have. Often times you hear people pushing samples into passages they can’t handle. That always makes me cringe. It ends up sounding cheesy. And if it’s cheesy it’s out. VI
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other shwag also available. www.VirtualInstrumentsMag.com/shwag
ELEMENTS (CONTINUED FROM PAGE 41)
except that some of the sounds are so great. Sounds like the Zawinul-esque Illogic 1 from the Distorted Bass sub-category just make you go “ooh that’s nice.” There’s also a collection of bass loops for those so inclined; in general these loops are more flexible than the Harmony ones (which makes sense since a bass note doesn’t dictate the entire chord structure above it). Then the Melody category has a lot of interesting sounds and loops, and these are some fresh sounds in this group. These guys at Sample Logic are obviously very talented developers.
And finally we get to the Rhythms. These are divided into Rhythmic Kits and Loops. There are a few drum sets, but these are mostly percussion kits made out of interesting instruments created by smacking stuff and then sampling and processing it. As in the Impacts, these kits and loops tend to have lighter sounds—there aren’t any solid thuds—which generally lends them toward playing auxiliary roles rather than being the fundamental groove. That’s not a dis, however, because there’s not shortage of excellent groove libraries and heavy percussion instruments on the market. And it’s not like these are just shakers and triangles—the Rhythms contain things that sound like brake drums,
big wooden objects, scraped things, and on and on. Thus The Elements is a huge library of fresh, current sounds that would be right at home in any contemporary scoring project or song. It’s one of those collections that you can play around with for hours and hours without getting bored—it’s constantly inspiring new ideas. Sample Logic’s first library, AIR, is so useful that around these parts it’s become a go-to library for knick-knack processed sounds. Given that The Elements continues in the same vein, I expect it to fill the same role. VI
r e v i e w VI BREVERB (CONTINUED FROM PAGE 43)
known $2k+ hardware unit. Andrew has been tweaking his main hall program for years, so we neither expected to get nor actually got quite as refined a sound right away. Well, both our first impressions were that there’s not a lot of difference between the two reverbs. Both our second impressions
someone who wasn’t really into reverb would be likely not to notice or perhaps not to care about the difference. Breverb’s convenience could easily sway someone in its direction; again, it would be perfectly at home as a studio hardware unit. The other thing is that when you make comparisons like this there’s a tendency to treat the reference product as being “correct” and anything else “incorrect,” which isn’t necessarily the best way to evaluate
Breverb puts a firm end to the idea that reverb plug-ins aren't as good as hardware units.
were that the Lexicon is a little more round and dense, and it has a nice bloom—three attributes Lexicons (and some wines) are known for. But Breverb still sounded very credible, and it’s certainly realistic. While I’d have to stop close but slightly short of calling Breverb a high-end Lexicon on the cheap, both Andrew and I felt that
anything. Breverb passes all the standard reverb tests easily: the ability to do small spaces with a fast reverb build-up; a smooth tail without grain; lack of nasty high end metallic sparkles in the sound; lack of metallic sound, especially when you run loud pianos or brass through it… And then there are obvious intangible
Remember, we’ve only been talking about the audio. There’s a whole lot more going on for television. After seeing all this, we reporters were led into a room where heavyweight record producer Phil Ramone, who was the musical director for the Grammys, answered questions patiently and diplomatically. I asked him a question just because I was interested to hear what he’d say; at the time it wasn’t intended for an article: Now that the album as an art form is almost dead, how do you approach working with artists differently? His answer was that he just concentrates on the individual songs, just as he did before the album was invented. He held up his iPhone and said that he’d been through a few format changes; this was just what people were listening to now. And it was a positive thing, not a negative. Well, I guess that’s what a working producer would have to say (not to doubt his sincerity). But I still think it’s sad, because individual songs don’t tell a larger story that can be told in an album—any more than an individual movement is the same as a symphony.
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Their athleticism and energy are truly inspiring, and you don’t quite get that from watching them on a TV screen. An equal amount of choreography is involved in running this show. Inside the arena are two mixers. One handles the sound of the bands for the arena, the other guy combines the audio feeds from various places, including the music mix. It also includes the output from a station with a huge Pro Tools set-up in the arena’s basement, dedicated to playing backing tracks. That’s manned by a few people. Elsewhere, just the intercom set-up is huge, to say nothing of the wireless mics—another station. Then there are lots of trailers outside for all kinds of things. One is for the announcer (“this is So-and-so’s second nomination and her first award…”). Another two trailers house identical mixing rooms, which is where the Waves plug-ins are used. These very well designed mobile studios have Digidesign Icon consoles and the mothers of all Pro Tools rigs. They’re able to do quick and not all that dirty mixes there for release; the reason for the two rooms is that it’s too much music for one guy to handle.
questions: does it sound good/pleasant, and does it stick to the sounds being run through it? How good are the factory programs (after all, a lot of us rely on presets a lot more than we care to admit)? Is it versatile—does it work on a lot of different things? Breverb acquits itself very well in all those areas. After working with it for a few weeks, this reverb has become a standard part of the sequencer templates around here (alongside the convolution reverbs). One would also have to call it a good value, but you can download a 14-day demo and confirm that yourself. So If there was still any doubt, Breverb puts a firm end to the idea that reverb plug-ins aren’t as good as hardware units. This is an excellent sounding, studio-grade, flexible, processor-efficient reverb that works well on everything we ran through it. VI
So what does all this have to do with virtual instruments? Not very much. Except that one of the trailers we visited was where all 35 or so audience mics are mixed. There’s an engineer, Klaus Landesberg, whose entire job is mixing audience reactions; this is obviously taken very seriously, because it’s quite important to the broadcast. And now comes the tie-in to VI mag you were waiting for so desperately: Klaus Landesberg was using Ableton Live to record surround mixes of the ambience for sweetening. So never let it be said that there’s no music software at the Grammys. VI
VI t r e n d s My Field Trip to the Grammies Rehearsal by Nick Batzdorf
he phone rang: would VI be interested in joining a crew of paparazzi at a rehearsal for the Grammy Awards Show. (But what on earth does that have to do with virtual instruments?!) “Do you think it would be appropriate for VI mag?” I asked. “They’re using lots of Waves plug-ins!” was the answer. (OMG...THE Waves plug-ins?) “I see…” “And you’ll have an opportunity to interview the engineers!” (He-llo-oh. Like I totally want to bother someone who’s in the middle of working…) “Won’t they be a little busy?” “You’re very sweet to be so concerned, but they encourage people like you to come by and ask questions!” And that actually turned out to be true of almost all of them—not that I had any questions that were appropriate for this magazine, but they were very personable. Yes, the unnamed PR person (PR people like to stay out of stories about things they promote) had been so enthusiastic that resistance was futile.
And I’m glad, because it turned out to be very interesting indeed. So on a fine Saturday afternoon the day before the Grammies, I drove down to Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, normally home to the Lakers, Clippers, and Kings. The first thing to strike you when you enter the underbelly of the arena is just how major this event is. It’s quite overwhelming. Every act has its own riser all set up ready to go onto one of the four or five stages they had set up. The drums and amps are miked, everything is in position, and everything feeds a single multi-connector plug. There’s no time to start setting up drums in the middle of a live TV show, of course, so they just wheel it out. The massive crew had already been inside the arena for four days, and the place was fully decked out. In addition to the sets, they’d put up some absorption around the entire arena, and of course they had the place wired. There were big banana speaker arrays, subwoofers…it sounded amazing, actually. One of the songs was a duo with singer Fergie being accompanied by John Legend on an undersized grand piano; hopefully it wasn’t a digital piano and I haven’t been fooled. He played the heck out of that piano—very musical, and he really got the instrument ringing. And the sound system reproduced the piano in incredible detail, complete with hammer thuds and all the intimate subtleties you wouldn’t expect to hear from an instrument 40 yards away. Just before that Rihanna had run through her performance, with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis leading into it. She’s an absolutely effortless performer, but what really stood out was the hip-hop dancers. (CONTINUED ON PAGE 63)
Magazine about Computer Music