LeafDigital Performer
(Click on the image to see the full version)

"Take a Bow" was drawn in isolated bits and pieces on white paper with a medium lead pencil, and then these components were scanned into Photoshop, and there edited and assembled into the final illustration. The whole thing is part of a "round of applause" I wanted to send to my friends at Mark of the Unicorn when they had just introduced a gorgeous and significantly exhanced version of Digital Performer, my (not so) "secret weapon" in making and shaping all my music and audio...

LeafMy "Secret Weapon"

The time is way past due to salute the staff at Mark of the Unicorn for their "Insanely Great" tool for music and audio: Digital Performer. Pardon if I now embarrass them a little on this single page. I've been a user and soon after a beta tester since the time I first heard of "Performer" (no "digital"), in the mid-80's. The product's goal was rather modest at first: to provide a convenient way to record, store, and edit MIDI performances, using a Macintosh computer (had one of the first of those, too.)

During the fifteen or so years that have elapsed, this music tool has grown and expanded to include just about any manipulation to audio or musical theme you might conceive of, while forever trying to present the musician with a smooth and elegant user interface, that hides what you don't need, until you really NEED it! This is a company that does listen to its beta testers and user-base. Ideas and suggestions are seldom tossed into a black hole. Given a bit of time, and repeats of similar needs or modifications from a few others, you suddenly discover the very annoying "feature" you most dreaded has transmogrified (that's one "o", as in Moog -- NOT... ;-) into a pretty fair representation of the very concept you were trying to introduce. There are always several ways to accomplish any task, leaving the exact method up to you. All these are the marks not so much of unicorns but professional human tools.
For digital HD audio, I find I'm using DP more and more just for its audio side, MIDI and notes and such don't always need be considered. It has become my most common package for manipulating streams of audio. Editing single elements I still find Sound Designer II indispensable (will DP's new pencil and destructive editing replace SD II? -- stay tuned...!) That and the cornucopia of goodies inside the Arboretum family of plug-ins (Ionizer and Ray Gun -- wow) and snappy stand-alone audio editing/manipulating software are not leaving this studio anytime soon. Ditto the wonderful Waves audio refining and optimizing products. I'll comment on these other neat packages more on another page at another time, when I've had more time to work with them, and know them in greater depth.
There are two reasons to explain some of this to you. The first is the very simple fact that some of you ASK me what I use, what I recommend, for either beginning, or more experienced composers and sound engineers and designers. Not much of a surprise to those of you who have read any of the many interviews I've given in the trades, like Keyboard magazine, Mix, EM, and several others. Since I was cursed with having a chatterbox "big mouth", and seldom try to hide my methods from anyone, you'll get a frank answer from me about such stuff, with no motive except that it's only right to spread the good word, and if your art actually depends on some bit of biz or another, it's a fairly thin thing to start out with. It's what you do with and how you do with that counts. We all ought at least have the chance to use the best tool works available.
The other reason is just to thank a great group of people, who only incidently make somethnig I use all the time. For me, Digital Performer is the one essential piece of software "equipment", as it has been ever since my first big Performer project, the Peter and the Wolf parody with my Carnival of the Animals, Part II. done with Al Yankovic in 1988. That experience convinced me this was the wave of the future, even when there was no graphics note editing, no score views, no unified control panels, a minimum of editing smart-tools, and certainly no Midi Timepieces with lotsa polyphonic channels (I used a JamBox), or digital audio to spoil you from ever going back to those "good old days"...
Good Old Days?! (Sorry, I already used the "not" joke above...) In some ways it hurts to think of the 80's, editing on the teensy screen of my old MacPlus, with the Levco accelerator card that initially crashed Performer every two minutes or less (yikes, it happened again, and all I did was open a file...), which drove the MotU staff bonkers -- until they solved it a couple of months later, and learned a lot that benefited later versions in that process, a synergistic (pardon me, Larry!) process. I got to tackle the newer versions and sync with the MotU Digital TimePiece just a year ago, on the "Woundings" score. The program was rock solid then, showing that those trials of using an early version to compose "Clockwork Black" were behind me. A lotta RAM and a fast Mac also help, as ought be no surprise.
Just so this doesn't seem all one-sided, I do have reservations about the notation side of DP, and will continue to use Coda's massive Finale for scores and initial composing for some time to come. Several icons and the new cursors seem to have been designed to confuse the mind on the former, and to hide from old eyes using big monitors, for the latter. Somehow those items have not yet gotten improvements. Must be with all the heavy code that must go into such magic as Pure DSP, and the interactive multi windowed environment. The audio graphics window also is now too much a clone of ProTools, the very things composers like me cringe about in that program are now, alas, to be found in DP. But with the many alternative ways you have to work, this is no real hardship.
If I mention the bad, let me not forget the head programmer, Bennett, flying here into the city at his own expense, just to spend an entire day reworking DP 1.6 into something that was essential to complete Clockwork Black, a few years back (all work had ground to a halt and I was paralyzed, before he helped me.) Jim and more recently Les have bailed me out of more absurd binds than I dare recount, to you or to myself! Robert has been a brick in supporting my often insouciant requests of him and his company. I'm tickled to have slightly aided Matthew (the Matthew mentioned at the bottom of all our pages!) in becoming a part of MotU, and that's worked out so damn well for both sides. (It also provides me with an inside peek at tidbits of what goes on behind the scenes, where a lot of interesting stuff is to be found.) How could I not be a fan of this team? And now you certainly know this is a prejudiced review, for many excellent reasons.
Thank you, good people, and carry on what you're doing. I'd hate to work in this field without you, and hope after reading this, some other musicians will be curious enough to try it out for themselves. Of course by now there will be much new to learn, but it all (mostly) makes sense, it sure does work, and is a lot easier than those clumsy ways we used to do things in that hazy, crazy, distant memory of... 1968... 1975... 1981... pick your "favorite" year...

--Wendy Carlos

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Wendy Carlos on MotU's DP