Get Trigger-Happy With Digital Performer

Jun 1, 2003 12:00 PM, BY MICHAEL COOPER


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MOTU's proprietary MAS plug-in Trigger is a handy tool to layer or replace acoustic drum tracks with drum samples in Digital Performer (DP). Trigger converts audio pulses, such as kick drum hits, into MIDI Note-On messages that can be routed to a sampler (or any other MIDI device). Using Trigger with virtual instruments such as BitHeadz Unity Session and Native Instruments Kon-takt, you won't even have to leave the digital domain in pursuit of the big bang.

You'll need to open Kontakt and load an instrument (or multi-instrument) into the program's rack before you can trigger any Kontakt samples in DP; Unity Session does not need to be open in order for DP to find and trigger its samples.

Let's examine the basic setup to trigger samples and record them to a new audio track. First, instantiate Trigger on a mixer insert for the audio track (e.g., kick drum) that you wish to layer or replace with samples. Record-enable a new MIDI track and choose Trigger as its input and your virtual instrument as its output. If your virtual instrument offers presets (as Unity Session does), then choose a suitable one in the Default Patch column of your record-enabled MIDI track. Kontakt does not offer presets because it is purely a sampler; the (multi-) instrument currently in Kontakt's rack will automatically receive input when Kontakt is chosen as an output destination for your record-enabled MIDI track.

Now, select your virtual instrument's output(s) as the input source for a new audio track and make that track record-ready. With DP's input-monitoring mode set to monitor source signals and MIDI Patch Thru enabled, put DP into Play mode. As you begin to adjust Trigger's parameters to suitable values, you should hear drum samples triggered in your virtual instrument.


Use Trigger's MIDI note control to select the MIDI note that you want to generate with each trigger pulse. For example, choose C1 to generate a kick drum sound in GM-compatible MIDI instruments. Then, set Trigger's threshold control high enough so that only deliberate drum hits produce a MIDI Note-On message and mic bleed and other extraneous noises get weeded out. The length of the generated MIDI note can be set with Trigger's duration control.

Dialing in a retrigger delay time of approximately 200 ms will usually eliminate double strikes caused by, for example, a sloppy drummer's kick drum beater bouncing off of the drum's head a second time. If that doesn't do the trick, try inserting a gate plug-in before Trigger and gating the bejeezus out of the audio track so that only a very short attack gets through. (If you need to preserve the original track in the mix, then duplicate it and apply this technique to the duplicate and mute Trigger's output as explained later in this article.) The errant second strike is usually lower in level than the intended hit, making it relatively easy to eliminate with the gate. MOTU's MasterWorks Gate usually performs this task well.

If you'd like to layer the original track with the triggered sample, then you'll want to preserve its entire envelope (subject to creative whims). In this case, make a copy of the original track, gate the copy and send the processed result on to Trigger (via an insert, as detailed above). You might not want to hear the short blip of gated audio that's used to feed Trigger. To mute the blip, click on the black button above Trigger's numeric threshold readout so that the virtual red LED to the right of the button lights up. Doing so mutes the audio track's output while preserving its signal feed to Trigger.

When replacing drum tracks with samples, I usually mute Trigger's audio input early on in the process so that I can more effectively audition prospective replacement samples. But once I've chosen the sound I want, I'll temporarily turn off Trigger's Mute button while I'm tweaking the plug-in's parameters. I'll pan the original drum track a bit to one side of the stereo spectrum and the triggered sample to the other side so I can hear both sounds more discretely. I'll then listen for dropped Note-Ons, double triggers and/or latency.

To reduce latency, move Trigger's horizontal slider labeled “faster trigger/more accurate velocities” to the left. Unfortunately, as you increase Trigger's reaction time, the velocities of the generated MIDI Note-Ons track the dynamics of the plug-in's audio input less accurately. And even with the fastest trigger time set, you're still likely to have unacceptable latency. The solution, of course, is to nudge the recorded drum sample's track forward (earlier) in time to align it with the original audio track.

One last point: If you're replacing (rather than layering) well-isolated trap-drum tracks with triggered samples and the drummer's original performance wasn't in the groove, then apply some moderate quantization to the recorded MIDI track that was generated by Trigger. Make sure the quantized track is routed to your soft sampler, and route your soft sampler's output to an aux track in DP to listen to the tidied-up results. Once the drum track is groovin' to your liking, record your soft sampler's triggered output to a blank audio track.

Mix contributing editor Michael Cooper owns Michael Cooper Recording in beautiful Sisters, Ore.

This tip was excerpted from the June “Cool Tip of the Month” pages from our sister magazine, Electronic Musician. For more of this month’s great tips, visit

Tracking with Plug-Ins

You need to lay down a bass part, and you would like to use a plug-in to compress the track. Do you realize that when you record a track in most digital audio workstation software, the plug-in inserts are post — hard disk? For example, if you create a track in MOTU Digital Performer 3 (DP3) and insert a compressor, you are not compressing to hard disk when you record. When you listen back, the unaffected bass part streams from the hard drive and through the plug-in on its way to your audio interface.

If you're familiar with analog mixing consoles, it's like inserting a compressor in the monitor section versus the input section. The advantage is that you can edit the plug-in parameters later. A work-around is available, however, and with a sufficiently powerful computer and the right settings, latency isn't an issue.

1. First, in order to minimize monitor latency, adjust the Samples Per Buffer in DP3's Configure Hardware Drivers window from the default of 1,024 to 256 (or lower if possible). The lowest value that you can set will depend on what your hardware configuration is.

2. Next, open the Mixing Board from the Windows menu (Shift + M). Add an aux track (Control + Command + A), an audio track (Shift + Command + A), and a master track (Control + Command + M) from the Mixing Board's mini-menu.

3. Insert a compressor plug-in on the aux track. Configure its input to the hardware input that your bass is plugged into, and set the output to bus 1.

4. On the audio track, set the input to bus 1 and the output to out 1-2, and then arm the track.

5. Adjust the compressor to your taste and record a bass part.

In this configuration, the bass part is first being compressed and then routed to the mono track and recorded. Some lesser systems may experience latency, but with newer, faster computers, that will be less of an issue.

Steve Albanese

Take a tour of Digital Performer on MOTU's Web site.

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