11/11/09 – Mac as software synth

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11/11/09 – Mac as software synth

My musical experiments with the Macbook have been limited for two reasons. The first problem is my crazy schedule, which doesn’t show signs of letting up until after the Spring semester is over and I graduate. Even when I’ve had time, the physical layout of my studio has not made it convenient to work with my controller keyboard (Korg Triton). With a little rearranging, I was able to juggle things to make this work in a more ergonomic fashion.

A few years ago I installed a wall-mount TV stand as a shelf for a DAT recorder and mixer. The DAT recorder is now used much less and doesn’t warrant a prominent place in my setup, so I tried using the shelf for the Mac instead. It fits perfectly. I still have little time right now to compose, but at least when I do, I have a more comfortable space.

Running the MacBook as a software synth, through the Edirol soundcard output to my FirePod/PC has really given me the best of both worlds. Not only can I still work within the familiar Sonar paradigm and retain all of my projects there, I can allow the Mac to be dedicated to sound generation and manipulation. This helps spread out the processing control. And while this method meant I had to take a quick detour into the analog domain, due to the quality of today’s sounds, this doesn’t warrant much concern. Luckily the Mac/Edirol output is low-noise, and the FirePod input signal-to-noise ratio is very good, even at high volumes.

This approach worked flawlessly when running Kontakt 3, Analog Factory and KORE as samplers, and gave me a whole new appreciation for the newest generation of software synths. The Korg is designed as an all-in-one workstation, but never really hit it off with me in terms of ease of use. The sounds are great, and they’re good for writing and idea generation, but the lack of knobs and faders to control parameters (except for four manually-assignable knobs that don’t automap consistently to softsynths) is certainly behind the times. So a more flexible controller keyboard – with lots of knobs and sliders, but no sounds of its own – is probably in order.

Probably the most interesting thing I tried was running a direct guitar channel through the Edirol/Mac, into a KORE time-based effect setting, then out to Sonar for recording with other PC-only plugins and tracks. By setting the tempo of the effect to the Sonar track tempo, I was able to keep things synced manually, even without a hard-wired MIDI sync between the machines. …

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