School All Over Again

I’ve had a couple days with my new software, and it’s been a blast learning everything. Omnisphere has this incredible depth to it. I don’t think I’ll ever reach the limit of what it can do, and I’m okay with that. It will always be there to do what I need it to do. I’ll be working on a short film in the coming weeks, so it will give me the perfect chance to put Omnisphere through its paces, and I can’t wait.

Vienna has been the learning challenge, as it is changing my whole workflow. As I mentioned in my last post, Vienna keeps all my sounds loaded and routes them to Logic so I don’t have to reload instruments every time I switch projects, and I can easily spread my library on instruments over multiple computers with ease. The challenge has been learning how to do all this routing. Things are about to get very technical in here, so read with caution.

To explain why routing things with Vienna is a challenge, we first need a history lesson, and it all starts with MIDI. MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, and it is the programming language that we use to write music on a computer. The language also allows you to connect real hardware like piano keyboards, synthesizers and the like to a computer so that the computer can understand it. MIDI is a wonderful language because it is used universally by everyone, so it makes writing music with it very easy, but it has some limitations. MIDI was developed in 1983 when digital musical interfaces started to get more common. It was developed as a musical standard between all the competing audio companies so that they could all use the same language for all the devices and software they were developing to be used with a computer. MIDI has barely changed since its introduction, and because the language is a bit dated, software manufacturers need to come up with some clever workarounds to make it all still work. You might ask, why don’t they just come up with a new MIDI language? To answer that, you don’t need to look any further than the gas in your car. There are plenty of alternate fuel sources far superior to gas, like electric and hydrogen, but in order for them to become a global standard, you’d need to change every engine in every car and every fuel station in the world. No small feat. The same goes for MIDI. The digital music industry is built around MIDI, so everything would need to change if we adopted a new musical programming language. It may happen someday, but I don’t think it will happen anytime soon. So why does that make Vienna hard?

MIDI allows you to send signals over 16 virtual channels to your composing software, like a television that only gets 16 stations (which at one point was true, imagine that!). That means that Vienna (because it uses MIDI to communicate with Logic) can only send 16 instruments to Logic. Not nearly enough. My film scores, which are by no means huge use an average of 30-50 instruments, so I need more than that, and I’ve seen some larger projects that use 100 or more instruments. Vienna uses a trick to increase the number of tracks you can load at once. When I say that MIDI has 16 channels, those are output channels, meaning signals that are going from Vienna to Logic. But, MIDI also has 8 input channels, meaning 8 unique devices could be sending signals through MIDI at the same time. Because of these inputs, once I need instrument ’17’ and so on, I can switch over to input 2, and then 3, up until 8, giving me a total of 128 instruments that Vienna can route to Logic. So what happens in the event that I need more than 128 instruments? Because Vienna is a server software, I can load another instance of Vienna, which gives me another 128 instruments.

Now that I’ve got my head around the idea of how Vienna works, I think with time, the whole setup process will become second nature to me. I’m also going to build templates of common instrument setups that I use all the time so I can get a baseline going, but all in all, I’m excited to have this new workflow up and running.

In other news, I got in touch with a very talented programmer I know, Ansel Santosa who is going to be constructing a website for my music. I want to have a one stop shop for all things music related with a nice portfolio of my past and current projects. So within the upcoming weeks and months you can expect to see a lot of changes. I do plan on keeping this blog going, but it may move to the website once it is completed, but I’ll be sure to let you all know when that time comes.

Leave a Reply