Producing Interactive Audio
I try to use off-the-shelf tools whenever I
can. When I evaluate commercial tools, I look for unique functionality,
efficiency, reliability, and cost-effectiveness. Our main control room at
Crystal Dynamics is based around a Macintosh Power PC running Digidesign's
Pro Tools III 4.0, Digital Audio workstation hardware and software, and Opcode's
Studio Vision Pro 3.5 MIDI plus digital audio sequencer. Pro Tools was an
easy choice for me because of the TDM (time domain multiplexing) real-time
plug-in architecture. This allows me to use Pro Tools as a general purpose
DSP platform. In addition, version 4.0 is native PowerPC software and is
much faster than the previous version . The upgrade includes extensive real-time
automation, rivaling or surpassing that of most high-end mixing consoles.
The value of Pro Tools as a platform really shines when you get into the
plug-ins from K.S. Waves. With L1 digital limiter and C1 digital compressor,
Pro Tools turns into a rack of super high-quality dynamics gear that can
be used to control unwieldy audio volume levels and minimize noise. These
two plug-ins are excellent for maximizing dynamic range and are essential
for anyone who needs to work in low bit rates or just needs to be loud. Wave's
Q10 is the most flexible and best sounding equalizer that I have used, and
their Truverb reverb is warm, clear, and very programmable.
In addition to handling all of our the MIDI
composition chores, the recently upgraded StudioVision Pro 3.5 has some essential
digital audio features. Like Pro Tools, the recent update "went native" and
is therefore much faster. Still, the most unique feature of StudioVision
Pro is the ability to convert digital audio to MIDI and then back again.
The best way to describe this is to give an example of how we use it. As
you know, there is nothing like a live guitar track to "humanize" a MIDI
composition. Unfortunately, it's seldom possible for us to record such a
track and have any way to play it back as a digital audio stream. MIDI guitar
tracks, which are recorded with a keyboard and played with a guitar sample,
are more realistic, but tend to lack all of the subtle pitch gestures and
tonal variations that make the track sound "real." Our solution is to record
a live guitar track into StudioVision Pro. We convert that track to MIDI,
which yields a stream of notes and pitch bend data that matches the performance.
Next, we move all of the pitch bend data to another track and reconvert the
MIDI data back into the digital audio track. This gives us a less interesting,
but more easily looped set of guitar samples.
Choosing the individual notes (samples) that have the most tumbrel variation, we build a compact, but varied guitar instrument . Finally, we play this instrument with the full MIDI plus pitch bend track and use program changes or velocity to switch between the different guitar samples, thus recreating (approximately) the original performance.
Audio Batch Conversion Tools
Wave's WaveConvert Pro is the latest update to
WaveConvert, a batch converter that I often refer to as "the third member
of my staff." The new version of the product is as easy to use and as solid
as the old version, but it adds some much desired features. For one thing,
it now allows you to use all of Wave's high-end plug-ins. You can also save
job lists in order to keep track of and reload your files and settings from
previous jobs. The job list is exported as a text file, which is great because
you can get in and edit it by hand if you want to make a small change to
a big job. If all of that this isn't enough, they even include their own
Waves IMA ADPCM (Adaptive Pulse Code Modulation) compressor, which simply
Synthesizers & Digital Audio Processing Software
I rely on four main units: Digidesign's SampleCell
II, Kurzweil's K2500, my Oberheim Matrix 1000s, and the new Yamaha VL-70m.
SampleCell is great because, as a NuBus board, it is integrated into the
Mac's file system. There is no need to transfer files over SCSI or (God forbid)
MIDI. I like to make my own samples, but I recently got a some great disks
from ILIO's Heart of Africa and Supreme Beats series, which I'm using extensively
on ENTER THE GECKO.
On the software side, I spend a lot of time in Digidesign's Turbosynth and Antares Infinity. Turbosynth, though aging without much support, is a great sound effects program. It works like a modular digital synthesizer, allowing you to set up custom patches in the old patch cord paradigm. What I like about it is that you have flexibility in how you route things and that you can have very precise control over filter, amplitude, and pitch envelopes. You can even extract the amplitude envelope off of a sample and then use it as you wish.
Digital Looping Tools
Infinity is the definitive set of digital audio
looping tools. The term "looping a sample" refers to defining a section of
the sound data to repeat as many times as necessary to last a specified duration,
as opposed to writing all of those repeats out longhand. When you have 512K
of sound RAM to work with, compressing your instrument and sound effects
data with looping technology may be your best and only option. Looping is
a very tricky business, however, and there's nothing even close to Infinity's
set of advanced tools.