some daw notes: mixing in qtractor, and testing ardour 3

So far, I’ve been using Qtractor for all of the recording and sequencing on the track I’m working on. As an exercise, I’m going to try to stick with Qtractor throughout the mixing process, too. I’ve used different synths and sequencers on different tracks over the last 18 months, but everything has been recorded in to Ardour at some point, so I think it’ll be good to put it aside for one track to see how the other half live.

I’m certainly happy recording MIDI in Qtractor, but it doesn’t yet feel as robust as Ardour for recording audio. It’s working fine, though, so I might get over that initial feeling once I’ve used it a bit and built some confidence in the fact that it’s not going to keel over at random. One thing I haven’t found a way to do, though, is to use a shared reverb bus, as I do in Ardour (as discussed in my last tutorial). It hasn’t been a problem yet, since I’m not using much ‘verb yet, but it will definitely be a problem if I decide to use a convolution reverb later.

Qtractor's new quantise dialog, with percentage options

One very nice thing that’s landed in Qtractor SVN is percentage quantisation, which lets you bring your MIDI notes just part of the way towards being perfectly quantised; it’s a great way to tighten up the timing of a recorded MIDI part without completely eliminating those nice, human timing variations. I described it to Rui on the LinuxMusicians forum the other day, and to my surprise, he had it written, working, and committed to SVN by the very next day. Now that’s service!

Ardour 3’s non-MIDI improvements

I’ve also been testing Ardour 3 from SVN, and I’m very, very happy with how it’s coming along; both its stability (ie: its ability to run for more than five minutes without crashing) and its reliability (its ability to do what you tell it to do in a consistent, repeatable manner) have increased dramatically over the last few months. My good friend (and guitar/drum extraordinaire) Stuzz gave me a link to a list of Ardour 3’s new features, which is an excellent read — going through the new features, which are all described in great detail, it quickly becomes clear that there’s a lot more to Ardour 3 than just MIDI sequencing.

Internal sends to aux buses make shared reverbs even easier in Ardour 3

One thing I noticed quickly is that it handles reverb buses very well. Setting up the bus is much the same as it is in Ardour 2, but once it’s there, adding sends to your tracks takes just a few clicks, and each send has a tiny gain slider next to it in the track’s effects list, so you can adjust your send gain straight from the mixer. The sends are also given meaningful names, now, so you know which bus they’re sending to at-a-glance.

Another nice change is what’s being called the matrix router, which is used whenver you need to connect Ardour’s inputs and outputs (audio or MIDI) to external apps or devices. The dialog for this in Ardour 2 was a bit cumbersome, and I know more than a few users that used an external tool like Patchage to connect things to Ardour. The matrix router, while initially a bit of a confusing sight, makes it much easier both to see what’s connected to where, and to change those connections.

…and the MIDI stuff, too

MIDI editing is done a little differently than in some other apps, but it’s not totally dissimilar to apps like Qtractor, and it follows Ardour’s audio editing model very closely. MIDI regions work much like audio regions — you can copy and drag them around and trim them to length with ease. By default, copying a region makes a “linked” copy, so editing a region changes every copy of that region; if you do need to edit one specific copy of a region, you can “fork” it to create a duplicate that can be edited independently. Speaking of editing, it happens inline — that is, within the main Ardour timelilne window, rather than in a pop-up — which seems odd at first, but it works well enough once you expand your track vertically.

Editing the contents of a MIDI region in Ardour 3 SVN

You can use instrument plugins, too. When you create a MIDI track, it starts with just a MIDI input and output, but if you add an instrument plugin it spawns a matching set of audio outputs, which can be routed just like the outputs of a standard audio track. It also has the best automation implementation I’ve seen on Linux; Ardour’s traditional plugin automation works on instrument plugins on MIDI tracks, and you can also draw automation curves for MIDI CCs. One catch right now is the lack of DSSI support — Ardour only supports LV2 plugins for now, along with VSTi plugins in VST-enabled builds, and AudioUnits on OS X.

Paul Davis wisely warns in his description of Ardour 3’s MIDI features that since this is Ardour’s first attempt at MIDI sequencing, we shouldn’t expect Ardour to necessarily to everything as good as, or better than, other apps that have been working with MIDI for years, and I think that’s very fair. I don’t expect people to dump Rosegarden and Qtractor en masse just yet, since there are certainly features that Ardour 3 lacks. Overall, though, I think he and his team have done a brilliant job, and I think Ardour 3 will have more than enough MIDI functionality to cover most of my projects.

approximating realism: drumming with linuxsampler

It may be the silly season, but I’ve still had plenty of time to work on a new track. It’s coming along well I think, but it’s been quite a challenge, mainly beacuse it’s a very “back to basics” track, with a minimal, piano-based arrangement. You’d think that would make things easy, but it’s quite the opposite! With just a few instruments in the mix, the quality of the performances and mixing, and the authenticty of the sounds, will be paramount. With Pianoteq taking care of the piano, the drums have been my main focus so far.

My first instinct was to load up Hydrogen, sequenced from Qtractor, with one of the few big Hydrogen kits around. The Big Mono kit from Analogue Drums sat nicely with the feel of the track, but they’re recorded in mono (as the name suggests), and they have a lot of room sound, too. They also push Hydrogen hard — with 210MB of samples loaded, it needs 400-500MB of RAM to run. If I wanted to go with even better sounds, Hydrogen wasn’t going to work.

The answer, then, was LinuxSampler, which laughs heartily at gigabyte-sized sound sets. I took the plunge and spent a whole $25 on another Analogue Drums kit, called RockStock — it has more drums than Big Mono, and they’re all recorded in stereo, with separate close mic and room mic recordings of each. Thanks to some third-party SFZ mappings, it works beautifully in LinuxSampler, and despite having 870MB of samples, it uses just 200-300MB.

One question in using LinuxSampler that I haven’t quite answered yet is how I’m going to mix it, since there’s no way to get separate per-drum JACK outputs from it. You can load the same sound set in to LinuxSampler multiple times, though, with little additional overhead, so there’s nothing stopping me from loading RockStock five or six times for each of the different drums I want to use. Those separate instances can then be routed to separate JACK outputs. I just need to make sure that I split my MIDI drum tracks up in the same way.

I have some basic drum parts written, using just two groups of drums (kick/snare/toms, and hats/cymbals) routed to two instances of RockStock in LinuxSampler, and it’s sounding pretty good — not quite there, but hopefully not too far off. With more attention to detail in the programming (it feels like I’m slowly learning the drums, just without the drums!), and some appropriate treatment in the mixdown (EQ, compression, etc.), I think I’ll be able to produce some solid, convincing drum parts.

jconvolver, inserts, and sends: a triple-header tutorial

Earlier today, when I was setting up another quick impulse response recording that I made, it occured to me that some of this stuff is really non-obvious — setting up Jconvolver takes some work, and using sends to share a single reverb within Ardour instead of using a separate reverb on each track can be a bit of a leap, too. Here, then, is a three-part tutorial that covers:

  • Setting up Jconvolver
  • Connecting Jconvolver in to Ardour as an insert effect
  • Using sends effects within Ardour

There’s a lot to get through, so let’s get cracking!
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blag updates

Over the last few months I’ve been trying hard to add more detailed and interesting content to this site, beyond personal opinions and the usual ramblings; essentially, I’ve been trying to treat this whole blogging thing with a bit more professionalism, and I hope that comes through in my writing. With that in mind, I’ve been making some changes to the site itself as well. Most of the changes are minor, such as adding a “related posts” feature, and the “recent posts” box over on the right, but there’s another, more significant addition to that right panel: ads.

I’m just serving some Google ads, as you’d see on a lot of other sites — I hope they’re subtle enough not to be annoying, and I hope they’ll be relevant and interesting, but given the various niches this site inhabits, I’m not completely convinced of that yet. You can consider this a trial, since if they haven’t done a lot after a month or so of being on the site, I’ll likely ditch them. I’m also looking at Amazon’s affiliate program, which might be a better fit for me given how often I discuss audio hardware.

Ultimately, I write this content because I want to, not because I think it’ll make me rich. It’d be nice to make a few bucks here and there to help with hosting costs, but I don’t want to do it at the expense of my readership or my credibility. If anyone has any thoughts on what they do and don’t find acceptable, or any experience in working with either Google or Amazon, I’d love to hear it!