This month we’re taking a look inside the engine, where I will explain my setup and how I go about creating my music. Indeed, the computer software is complex and requires some focus, but I’ll try to make it as simple as possible. Click images for legible enlargements.
I use Digital Performer as my main program on an iMac 27″ Core 2 Duo with 16GB of RAM. This screen shows the primary interface. At the top left is the main transport, stop, go, etc. and in the center is the timeline and instrument list. I have over 300 instruments ready to play at any given time because it’s much easier to work with a big template than configuring instruments every time I want to use one.
The instruments are kept in folders of 4-8, so when they are not being used they can be kept closed to save space. The blocks in the timeline are double-clicked to reveal the note view. In this case, the brown blocks are showing a low string bass progression. Below the notes are the controllers, and you can clearly see from the orange line how each note swells as it is played.
I keep all my audio at the top of the center timeline. There is a long black band across the top, and that is the audio. I work entirely with MIDI data and when I’m ready to record I create the main audio track. On the right and left sides are monitoring and tracking devices such as markers to designate sections and complete details of each note, showing duration, strength, pitch, and control data.
Still in Digital Performer, this is next screen, the mixer. Mac OS has a feature called Mission Control that allows the user to generate several workspaces. It’s perfect for complex programs like this. The mixer shown here contains all of the inputs from the MIDI modules or virtual instruments, where the sound actually comes from. I use a reverb product called Aether which is applied to every instrument in the mixer. I do not use the mixer very much, preferring to set dynamics within each instrument, so this screen is not accessed very often.
This screen shows the instruments that are loaded in Digital Performer directly. All other instruments are loaded in a program called Vienna Ensemble Pro on separate computers. It’s important to keep CPU free on the main computer to drive the MIDI signals. I primarily use Native Instruments Kontakt sampled instruments, and you can see here from left to right how I have the instruments divided into similar families, struck percussion, tuned percussion, and pianos.
This final Digital Performer screen shows the Vienna Ensemble Pro connections. This is like a switching station for connecting other computers to Digital Performer. There is one instrument instance here running a 32-bit version of Miroslav Philharmonik, a very old but useful orchestral component. Everything else in this computing environment runs in a more efficient 64-bit mode.
On a separate iMac 27″ Quad Core i5 with 16GB of RAM I run two separate instances of Vienna Ensemble Pro, shown on this screen. One of them is devoted entirely to Omnisphere, a very advanced synthesizer that can emulate many of the classic electronic instruments of the past and is extremely powerful. The other Vienna Ensemble Pro instance is running a number of Kontakt instruments that require high CPU usages, such as the Sonokinetics orchestral phrase libraries.
This screen shows an additional computer, an iMac 27″ Quad Core i7 with 32GB of RAM running two more instances of Vienna Ensemble Pro with Kontakt instruments and the MOTU sampler MachFive, a very clearly laid out sampler that is easy to use and control. All of my own original samples are created and modified with the MachFive. The rest of the Kontakt instruments here require the very high level of processing that the Quad Core i7 computer allows. All of the strings, woodwinds and brass are loaded here.