|Persona Digital |
Music Studio Technology
Persona Digital Studio
Recording studios are moving toward computers and software mixers. Computers with fast dual core processors, large amounts of RAM and SATA hard drives are now common and inexpensive. With the right software, they can do multitrack audio mixing and editing; as well as professional equipment. Old obstacles to computer-based recording have disappeared. Digital audio workstation (DAW) refers to a variety of hardware and software combinations that create a virtual studio, including an; audio multitrack mixer and recorder, MIDI recording and playback, usually incorporated in a host computer with audio/midi interface hardware. A professional DAW must have; high quality ADC-DAC hardware, professional audio software and a fully empowered midi sequencers. Home studio versions of DAWs are increasingly common and affordable but have limited capabilities. Computer Hardware and software continues to advance remarkably, making my studio equipment previous generation, vintage stuff that still produces great music but lags behind the quick and facile equipment of 2017. New electronics, however, are mostly based on older designs that evolved for over 3 decades.
Persona Studio History
In 1985, Persona began adding computers and state of keyboards to the studio. For example, a Yahama DX7 Synthesizer arrived with a new mixing board, an analogue tape recorder and a PC that ran a DOS based sequencer, Textures. Eventually this equipment was replaced with better MIDI software, sound processing modules, DAT recorder, and sound models from Yamaha and Roland. The 1990's saw an explosion of performance and recording electronics with evolving sophistication in sound production and modification. Big companies (Yahama, Korg, Roland and many others) marketed a succession of keyboards. The new market for all the products was home recording and small studios. INDIE music production became possible and somewhat affordable.
At Persona, hardware and software sound production achieves excellent sounds and continues to offer abundant opportunities to create instruments, explore psychoacoustics and develop and understanding of sound physics. All composing, editing and mixing are done with software; in two computers with multicore CPUs, 8 GB RAM and fast SATA hard drives; >1000 GB.; At least 2 drives are required: the boot drive should contain the operating system, programs and data; the second drive is committed to audio recording. The only software sound module I use routinely is the EMU X3.
The temptation for most studio musicians is to keep adding to a collection of aging synthesizers, mixers and sound processors until the studio begins to look like a museum of electronica. Sometimes the bond between a musician and an an old keyboard or mixing console is so strong that no natural force can part the two. This is good. The opposing tendency is to seek novelty and buy the latest gear hoping for an advantage over the competition. Both tendencies have been at work in my mind but I found that simplicity is best. Some hardware, especially mixers and effects modules, can now be retired in favor of computer based music composition and recording.
Sound Modules, Workstations
The; Korg Trinity is a synthesizer, music station, first available in 1996. The Trinity became a highly regarded professional instrument. The Trinity workstation features sound samples combined with filters and a versatile set of sound processing effects to create diversified orchestration. Programming is done through a graphic touchscreen. Song composition; is available with a built-in 16-track sequencer. The Trinity synthesizer was a descendant of the original Korg OASYS synthesizer, an acronym for Open Architecture Synthesis System that Korg previewed in 1994 but did not market until it released the Trinity. Korg has introduced a prolific series of synthesizers/keyboards with the basic elements of the Trinity. They first changed the name to Triton. A new buyer may chose from a variety of Korg creations. I am staying with my venerable Trinity and added a Korg M3 in 2010.
Korg described a recent contribution: "The Pa4X Professional Arranger is more than a keyboard. It’s your backup band; your accompanist; and your musical director. It’s your soundman; your effects engineer; and your always in-tune background singers. Best of all—you’re always in charge! Ideal for composing, recording, and combo use, the intuitive Pa4X really comes to life in the hands of the solo keyboard performer and entertainer. And nowhere else is the flawless operation and superior sound of one keyboard instrument more in the spotlight"
EMU Proteus 2500
The EMU Proteus 2500 music synthesizer, workstation without keyboard. The P2500 represents a highly evolved, excellent example of electronic engineering, sound sampling and musical sophistication. Our current configuration has 2200 instrument samples, 512 programmable user presents ( programs) and and additional 1024 presets in ROM. Its high speed processor handles dense MIDI data without dropouts or distortion. The module is highly programmable with an array of 4 layered sounds 50 filters and 2 sets of effects. The synthesis architecture is the same as the software sampler-synthesizer, Emulator X3, so that familiarity with either allows you to program both. Often an instrument requires modification to fit into the mix. The 16 knobs on the left are programmable and provide quick access to 64 programming parameters. I have always enjoyed turning knobs to adjust sound... one of the sensual pleasures of early analog synthesizers that EMU; resurrected in this synth. This is a module for sophisticated professionals; beginners probably should avoid. EMU was bought by the sound card company, Creative, and the EMU professional products that I value are no longer available.
EMU X3 Emulator & Sampling Software
The EMU X3 Software is a software sampler and performance module. Over 30 years of sampler development at EMU has been packaged into a program that turns a PC into a sophisticated sampler and a band or orchestra. Best results are achieved having a fast computer with a professional sound/MIDI card and then you can produce exquisite sound quality, using powerful sampling, synthesis and filters. We dedicate one computer for the X3 to run without competition from other programs and use the EMU Audio/Midi interface 1820M. We have accumulated a planet-wide sound-sample collection. The X3 enables a composer to select and program sounds to fit special and often the unique needs of a composition.
EMU Digital Audio & MIDI Interface
Over the years, we have used a number of sound cards, digital audio converters, amplifiers, mixing boards and sound processors. We are very happy to have had two EMU interfaces hard at work. Each module is controlled by software mixing boards in; two computers. The sound of the 1820M is excellent.; Each unit receives a total of 8 analogue inputs and the digital to audio converters are hi grade with a dynamic range of 120dBA. The EMU X3 resides on its own computer and shares one 1820m with the Trinity. A second 1820 inputs to a 64x4 core computer that handles the Proteus 2500 and other optional modules we might use. Both 1820s together provide an additional 4 microphone inputs. Most of the mixing is done in computer. Each 1820 has two sets of MIDI in and outs. The net effect is that we have up to 64; MIDI channels to work with. The Proteus 2500 will send and receive on 32 channels. Sad to say, both interfaces began to fail in 2016 after several years of reliable function and needed some new capacitors to continue service. There is no support for hardware malfunction so that enterprising users buy the capacitors and solder them in place themselves. The are newer versions if the interfaces using the PCIe connector, but they also appear to be unsupported for recent Microsoft operating systems and list drivers for Windows XP, not WIN 7 or 10. EMU disappeared into Creative, a sound card company that has no plans to continue this excellent line of professional gear.
Below is a 4 channel version of the EMU software mixer. Any number of channels can be added as needed. On the right you can see an input and output patch bay above the output controls. There are a host of effects that can be inserted in the channel strips or as side chain auxiliary effects. The mixer is displayed on its own LCD monitor; a 1440 x 900 24" display is perfect for a 16 channel setup. The complexity and versatility of the mixer can confuse and deter inexperienced users, but makes perfect sense to experienced sound engineers,
In 2010, the Korg M3 sound module was added to the Persona Digital Studio. This is a descendent of the Korg Trinity and Triton series of workstations that evolved in the past 15 years. Some familiar features of the Trinity/Triton series persist -- banks of programs and combinations, a touch screen with progressive menus, and a 16 track sequencer. All the features appear in layered collections of menus; the overall complexity of the M3 compared with the Trinity has been increased. The M3 looks promising but the learning curve is steep, even for old pros. I have concerns that a new, inexperienced user will face some obstacles. One problem with the Korg M3 and Karma is that the setup is complex and not intuitive. By 2015 the M3 was no longer in production. One interesting feature is a version of Stephen Kay's Karma, an algorithmic composition/performance program that advanced students of music can study and enjoy. The M3 comes with a computer based editor. The programs (patches) are designed to be played alone and some, at least, are wonderful creations by experienced programmer-musicians. Each program utilizes several effects to achieve the final result; however, when you mix these magnificent voices you have to guard against music mush (aka noise).
Here is an edited description from the M3 manual of this complex and potentially expressive instrument: "Rich and vivid sound produced by a new Enhanced Definition Synthesis sound generator based on PCM sources.; Each voice has two oscillators allowing four-stage velocity; switching, cross fading, layering, using up to eight (stereo) multisamples, four filters,; two amps, five LFOs, and five EGs, all available simultaneously. The oscillator selection is; 1,032 multisamples sampled at 48 kHz, as well as 1,606 drum samples. The amp section includes a driver circuit that adds edge and character to the sound. The key tracking generator allows the filtering to vary according to the keyboard range; you can apply subtle filtering for convincing simulation sounds, or aggressive filtering that produces drastic changes in filtering as you play up or down the keyboard.;; Envelope generators; allow you to specify how the sound develops over time. The each EG stage (attack, decay, slope, and release) allows you to create accurately simulated acoustic sounds. 50 different modulation sources provides complex expression; control over the; performance. AMS Mixers let you create even more detailed modulation designs, such as mixing two modulation sources together, multiplying; one modulation source by another, or modifying the shape of the modulation source in various ways."
Ableton LiveAbleton live is a different approach to music creation with a special ability to support live performance with an associated controller. The software comes from a clever group of musician-programmers in Berlin. They describe their DAW: ”Live is software for creating musical ideas, turning them into finished songs, and even taking them onto the stage. With two views - the classic Arrangement View, where musical ideas are laid out along a timeline, and the unique Session View, where you can improvise and quickly experiment with musical ideas. Live is a fast, fun, intuitive way to make music. No matter how you start your music, Live offers a workflow that will help you get going. Record audio or MIDI from any source. Mix and match loops and samples from any tempo. Work with a huge range of included sounds, instruments, and effects. You can even move seamlessly from audio to MIDI; using Live’s unique audio-to-MIDI conversion tools, turn drum breaks, guitar lines, or even harmony parts into MIDI patterns that you can edit and reuse with your own sounds.”
This software can turn a laptop computer into a complete music studio. I have finally in 2017 devoted hours to learning Live, a complex program. The program really becomes powerful using looping audio samples and an array of sound processing effects. MIDI can control plug in software synthesizers so that an entire studio can be housed in one computer. There are many video tutorials and performances on YouTube. The video courses are free and some are lowcost.