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Digidesign Session Multitrack Recording Software (part 4)

There is no doubt that Digidesign can make good software. But for the reasons I outlined earlier there is reason to suspect that not every feature you might possibly wish for is actually included...


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There is no doubt that Digidesign can make good software. But for the reasons I outlined earlier there is reason to suspect that not every feature you might possibly wish for is actually included. And perhaps they have put a couple of red herrings in there that make the job more difficult. Fortunately, except for one point, the latter is not the case. The only thing that makes the job harder is the on-screen display. I can’t deny that it is a very beautiful piece of software. The artist that designed this mimic of a real piece of audio hardware deserves an award. The only problem is, as you can see from Figure 1, the windows are the wrong shape to tile neatly on the screen. I use a 17” monitor which is a good compromise between seeing enough information on the screen and being able to project an X-ray picture of my head on the opposite wall. I doubt that many potential Session owners have a 20” screen, so they will inevitably end up endlessly swapping from one window to another. Fortunately the transport bar (Figure 2) ‘floats’ so it is always visible, as does the QuickTime window if you want it to. But there is no satisfactory way to arrange the others so you can get at everything you need instantly all the time without wasting valuable screen real estate. Recommendation: Digidesign should provide an alternative mixer window where everything is shrunk down to a manageable width, and to hell with the aesthetics.

Once the software is installed and the hardware is configured, you are ready to record. Recording is very simple and the only new thing you will need to get used to is that the mixer window’s faders are actually two sets of faders, one for input and one for playback, which position themselves automatically according to whether a track is in record mode or not. This isn’t any kind of problem after the first five minutes. When you have recorded some audio, then the fun begins. I think I can explain the good and not so good points better using an example. Suppose you had a had a backing track already recorded and a singer came in at short notice to do a vocal. She laid down a couple of takes before flying off to another engagement. Both takes were a bit dodgy in places and she had an annoying habit of dragging behind the beat.

Your first step would be to choose the overall better of the two takes and decide which parts of the other you would edit in. If you look again at Figure 1 you’ll see that Session automatically draws an overview of the waveform to make finding your way around easier. Inevitably, drawing waveforms takes time, so it is possible only to have the ones you are interested in drawn for you, which is a good point. As you play the recording you will find that you can have the display stand still or you can have it scroll continuously, which is probably more useful. There is also a page scroll mode, as is commonly found in sequencers. Cutting out a short portion of audio isn’t too difficult. Simply play up to the bit that you want, stop playback and judge from the waveform where the likely start and end points are. With the selector tool (the icon to the left of the grabber hand) sweep across the waveform to highlight it, then hit the space bar to audition your selection. If it’s not right, adjust the start and end points using your existing Mac mousing skills. This is where my point about not providing every useful feature comes in. What you can’t do in this software is scrub. There is no way you can slide the mouse back and forth and hear audio playing in proportion to the direction and speed of the mouse. Okay, in some systems the scrub function works so badly it is practically useless. But I know for a fact that this software/hardware combination could have had an excellent scrub facility, taking into account that it is mouse driven, but it has been left out for some reason. Seeing as there is no scrub, I would have thought that there would have options to play up to the start, play up to the end, and play from the end, all of which are present in Sound Designer and which I use all the time. No, I’m afraid. If you have a long selection, the only way to check the end is to audition the whole thing. Yawn.

By David Mellor Thursday January 1, 2004