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Using Acoustic Drums with InTime™
Here are some notes on using InTime™ with a live drummer. Some of the notes are specific to Ableton Live, but the ideas are the same for any software you'd like to sync to InTime™.
InTime™ tracks MIDI instruments, so if you want to use acoustic drums with InTime™, you'll need to have them setup to get MIDI information out of them.
There are two methods you can use:
Drum triggers (aka MIDI triggers) are simple piezo-electric devices that send signals to a trigger-to-MIDI "converter" or "interface", also called "drum trigger interfaces".
A trigger gets attached/taped on to each drum head that your drummer plays regularly. Often, just the snare and kick drums are sufficient, but if you play a style that uses a good amount of toms or cymbals, you can add triggers to those drums too. Each trigger is plugged into a trigger-to-MIDI unit. This unit then sends out MIDI events to your computer whenever you hit one of the drums.
InTime™ does not need high quality MIDI triggers to work well. All it needs is to know when the drummer hits a drum, so response sensitivity is irrelevant as long as the lower threshold responds correctly to the softest hit you want to track.
Clean Results - VERY IMPORTANT
Test your setup for clean results from the trigger-to-MIDI hardware before you use it with InTime™. Here's a checklist:
- To check for clean results, send the output from the trigger-to-MIDI hardware to a MIDI software monitoring program like MidiOx (www.midiox.com) and watch the events as they come in, or (less ideally) send it to a sound module and turn it up loud so you can hear whenever events are generated.
- Check that you're not getting extraneous notes from "crosstalk" or "retriggering" errors. The manual for your trigger-to-MIDI unit should talk about these issues.
- Check the trigger "thresholds". The idea here is to make sure there's no snare rattle, bass drum vibration, or other secondary drum head motion that's creating MIDI events when there shouldn't be any. This can easily happen when you're playing with other loud instruments or monitors, and the music, usually the bass, is vibrating the snares or other drum heads. Your triggers can interpret this as you hitting the drum and will send a MIDI event when they shouldn't. Usually these events will be out of time and screw up InTime™. With most MIDI-to-trigger units, you'll be able to cut out these erroneous events by setting the trigger "threshold" value high enough so that no MIDI events are generated when the drum heads are vibrating. If the unit does not have a threshold setting (or something similar with a different name), you can experiment with the trigger sensitivity settings on the unit.
It's much better to err on the side of fewer notes recognized by the hardware than to have extraneous notes that happen out of time (they'll start to confuse InTime™). In addition, enable the "Rate Filter" feature in InTime™ to help with drum fills and ghost notes.
Triggers and Trigger units to try
We've setup an acoustic drum kit using
- DR-1 MIDI triggers from Pulse Percussion (packs of 5 for ~$30)
And we're using the
- Roland TMC-6 trigger-to-MIDI converter unit.
The TMC-6 is a newer model, and it does alot more (like handling fancy, new-fangled drum triggers) than you need to just get a kit hooked up for use with InTime™.
You can use an inexpensive, older trigger-to-MIDI interface. I've also tried the Roland PM-16 (made in ca. 1991, ca. $75 on eBay). If you get an older unit, it might have bad enough latency in its trigger response, that it makes it more difficult to use with InTime™. If this happens, you'll probably be able to adjust InTime™'s "Tracking Bias" setting and get it to work. However, I don't need to make such adjustments when using the Roland PM-16.
Here are some other trigger-to-MIDI units that should work, with very approximate street price, but we haven't tested them yet, unless noted. There are more out there that should work. You can also look for trigger pad units that accept trigger inputs, like the Kat drumKat.
- Roland PM-16 ($75-100 on ebay) *** Tested with InTime™, works well.
- "MIDI K.I.T.I" by Kat ($80 on ebay)
- Kat drumKat (Pad unit with sounds that also accepts trigger inputs)
- Yamaha DTS-70 ($100 on ebay)
- Yamaha DTXPRESS ($170 floor model on ebay)
- Aphex Impulse trigger-to-MIDI converter ($85)
- Akai ME35T Audio Trigger To MIDI Interface (street price ???)
You can use a software audio-to-MIDI setup to trigger InTime™. Especially when using an audio trigger, be SURE to test for clean and quick response from the audio-to-MIDI software before you use it with InTime™. Check that you're not getting extraneous notes. It's better to err on the side of fewer notes recognized by the software than to have extraneous notes that happen out of time (they'll start to confuse InTime™).
NOTE: With some audio-to-MIDI software, there's an unavoidable latency (delay) in processing audio to generate MIDI events (triggers), so you might have to adjust InTime™'s Tracking Bias (in the Advanced Tracking window) to account for the latency.
We've had great results using "TS AudioToMIDI", version 3.20. We close-mic the snare and kick drums, and fed the audio into TS AudioToMIDI, where we use the "Beat Detection" algorithm for fast conversion to MIDI. AudioToMIDI's MIDI output goes into InTime™ via a virtual MIDI device (e.g. MIDI Yoke or Maple MIDI Tools).
Here's some software that's designed in particular for drums, but could be used on other things too. We haven't tested it with InTime™:
To get this to work reliably, you might do well to close-mic each drum that you want to track. Often it's enough to track the kick and snare. Get the mics as close to each drum as possible to avoid bleed from other drums.
Hooking it all up
Here's how we're using InTime™ with Ableton Live and a live drummer:
- The drum kit has a MIDI trigger on the snare drum and the kick drum.
- The triggers plug into the trigger-to-MIDI unit. (Be sure to check for clean MIDI trigger output, as discussed above. Especially check that when a bass guitar and other instruments are playing, you're not getting spurious trigger events—check the trigger-to-MIDI unit's threshold settings so that things like snare rattle and bass head vibrations won't make the triggers generate events.)
- The trigger-to-MIDI unit sends its MIDI output to a laptop.
- InTime™'s Input Device is set to receive MIDI from trigger-to-MIDI unit.
- InTime™'s Beat Clocks (Sync Master) MIDI output device is set to a virtual MIDI port (see also the discussion in the InTime™ Help file about Virtual MIDI Devices):
- Mac OS X 10.2.x—you need a 3rd party virtual device like "MIDI Patchbay".
- Mac OS X 10.3.x—you can use Apple's built-in IAC Bus (inter-application virtual MIDI device). NOTE: this needs intial setup in the OS X "AudioMIDI Setup" utility
- Windows—we use MIDI Yoke (get the most recent version for XP) or Maple MIDI Tools
- Ableton Live's MIDI sync input is set to the same virtual MIDI port as InTime™'s Beat Clocks output (see step 5 for virtual device's). To set Ableton's MIDI sync input:
- go to Preferences | MIDI/Sync,
- choose an input device for the "Input" item in the "Sync" section
- in the same window, set the "Input sync type" to "MIDI Clocks" (the default is MIDI Timecode).
- Set Ableton's tempo to your approximate starting tempo (to avoid possible startup glitches).
- Put Ableton Live into external sync mode - click on the button in the upper left labeled "EXT". Ableton will now wait for a start message from InTime™.
- Start InTime™ and Ableton will follow! We use InTime™'s auto-countoff or manual countoff modes to get the cleanest startup from Ableton.
Getting started suggestions
Before you jump into everything with Ableton and InTime™, have your drummer get the feel for playing with InTime™ on its own by playing a simple MIDI file loop in InTime™ as the drummer plays along. There's a folder with some simple drum loops that comes with the InTime™ installation, or you could load up a bass line, for example. Most drummers get it right away, but some take a bit to get used to the idea and feel of the computer following them!
Remember, the drummer has to be able to hear InTime™'s idea of the tempo to get correct feedback. It's like playing with live musicians: if you can't hear each other on stage, you'll never stay in sync. If your audio i/o setup allows it, have a dedicated monitor output for the drummer and play him a simple rhythmic loop from Ableton Live (like a more friendly click track) so he can always make sure that InTime™ is sync'ed (it's a subconscious process once you're used to it). Even if all the loops in Ableton drop out at a certain point in the song, or all the loops are textural without clear rhythm and pulse, he'll be able to stay sync'ed with InTime™, and vice versa.
I recommend enabling "Rate Filter" in InTime™'s "Advanced Tracking" window when you get started. Rate Filter filters out things like ghosts notes that you can get with snare drum playing, kick pedal rebounds, and trigger crosstalk.
InTime™ uses very little CPU, but if your system is overloaded, disable disruptive system processes like networking (especially wireless networking), file sharing (and Appletalk on Mac), firewalls, etc.