Friday, June 27, 2014

But Soft, What Ware Through Yonder Window...

I come today to sing praises to a few bits of useful software. At least, useful to a Mac-oriented, very much budget, sound designer and technician.

Wireless Workbench As of version 6, this has become fabulously useful software regardless of what brand of microphone you use. No longer do you have to use the nearest approximate Shure range; it has the profiles of every major line already programmed in. It has been redesigned in other ways, too; it is now vastly easier to fix one bad frequency, or generate a couple new compatible frequencies within an existing line.

If there is a downside, it is that it is too well supportive of systems I can only dream about; much of the software is oriented around automated scanning, remote updating and monitoring, and so forth. And that makes parts of the software a steeper learning curve than they might be.

Oh, yeah; what is it? It is free software from Shure that lets you coordinate frequencies of all of your wireless microphones, including mapping around interference sources, and checking for potential interference between microphones (the dreaded intermods).

Reaper With a price so low as to be practically free, and an incredibly open, transparent, and manipulable framework, this is now the preferred sequencer/DAW for the creating of complex sound effects. The downside to Reaper is that it is so new in how it thinks, the learning curve is -- again -- rather steep.

Like PhotoShop, there are usually several different ways of doing things. It is also optimized towards being very, very fast to work, and that can be a downside if you can't hold all the gestural commands and contextual options in your head, or lose concentration. It is rather like driving a sports car, in that it is so fast and responsive it can also get away from you if you don't pay attention.

There are still ways it has of organizing things that I quibble with, but I quibble silently; because it has been my experience that there is probably an alternate to each method already in the program and I just have to keep searching for it.

Audacity Open-source, extensible, freeware. Seeing a trend yet? You can create a whole cue in Audacity, but where it shines for me is in quickly trimming and normalizing samples, also in clean import and export in the variety of formats sometimes necessary (including but in no way limited to exporting mp3's with a fine degree of control over the encoding, and multi-track WAV files that can be used for massive multitrack effects in QLab.)

Audacity ships with so many tools it is easy to get lost in them. I've lately been using the noise reduction tool. One issue I have with Audacity, and why so much of my real sound manipulation is being done in Reaper, is that Audacity comes out of a more command-line approach. You punch in numbers and run an effect off-line. I prefer to apply an effect in real time and play with the knobs while I listen.

Qlab Okay, I'm a bit on the fence here. It used to be an extremely affordable, low-profile program that did one thing very well. Now it is adding bells and whistles to justify a price that is climbing all the time. It is still the most efficient and flexible multi-track multiple-polyphony playback engine there, capable of running a complex linear sequence as well as presenting non-linear material (and integrating in various ways with other equipment.) But for the latter, Max/MSP is vastly more flexible, and costs no more.

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