Using Cubase

Cubase is a full-blown music-production application, including a sequence-editor, providing a variety of low-latency, quality VST instruments. If you like the FluidR3_GM soundfont we supply and use with the Java Sound Synthesizer, you can use the BS-16 soundfont-player with it. You can also use a host of other VST plug-ins it supplies for effects.

Most importantly (particularly on Windows), it solves the latency problem, and there is no perceptible latency.

It has the full set of General MIDI sounds, up to 16 MIDI channels per track, and will switch instruments by way of MIDI Program-Change messages. So you don't need to purchase the bs-16 sound-font player.

Though Cubase is primarily designed for music recording, it also works well for live-performance. It's easy to export an audio file from a recorded MIDI sequence too.

It works on both Windows, and Mac OS X.

I currently use it on an Acer Aspire laptop, having a 2-gigahertz dual core processor, and 6 gigabytes of RAM.

One disappointment I had with it, is that it doesn't seem to be able to use my IO2 USB sound mixer, and only the internal sound-card of the laptop appeared in the list of audio devices I could configure for use.

As with any full-featured software package, there are a lot of features to configure and learn. Fortunately, Cubase has done a good job of supplying video tutorials and help information.

At a minimum, to use it with the KeyMusician Keyboard, you will have to first install an ASIO device driver for your sound-card (see Installing ASIO4ALL). Also, you will either have to connect a hardware MIDI interface (see Connecting A Hardware MIDI Interface), or install a software MIDI interface (see Installing LoopBe1).

There are a few tricks I learned in using it with the KeyMusician Keyboard, and in this article, I'm passing those tricks along to you.

Setting-Up Cubase

Although Cubase will probably work with your sound-card, with an ordinary Windows device driver, it has more latency (delay between hitting a key and hearing a note) that way. So you'll need to follow the instructions for installing an ASIO device driver (such as ASIO4ALL) in the “Improving Your System” section of the KeyMusician member-pages.

Cubase provides detailed instructions for configuring your audio and MIDI interfaces, and using that information is a good thing. Those instructions included a good explanation of how the buffer sizes you use affect audio performance, and in particular, can be used to avoid audio drop-outs. It also points out that using too large a buffer size can increase latency, which would cause difficulties in playing the instrument.

Switching Instruments Using The KeyMusician Keyboard Performance Panes

Unlike most VST instruments, the Halion Sonic SE2 instrument plug-in can switch instrument sounds using a MIDI Program Change command. It supports up to 16 MIDI channels per track, so everything you play on the KeyMusician Keyboard can be played (and recorded) on just one track.

I initially ran into problems because I assumed I had to do only one MIDI channel per track. When I configured all 16 MIDI channels going to the one track having the Halion Sonic SE2 VST instrument, it finally worked the way I wanted it to, including having a different instrument sound for the chords than the melody.

Cubase allows you to instantly change instruments with the touch of a function key, as you are used to doing with the Java Sound Synthesizer.

A big bonus with Cubase (and the Halion Sonic SE2 VST instrument), is that we are able to easily configure composite-voices, just by adding an additional track, again using a single instance of the Halion Sonic SE2 VST instrument, provided you configure each performance pane to use its own MIDI channel.

A KMK Configuration For Cubase

I have supplied a KeyMusician Keyboard configuration file, optimized for using Cubase with the Halion Sonic SE2 VST instrument.

You can download it by right-clicking the link below, and choosing “Save Link As” (or something similar your browser presents) from the pop-up menu that appears.

Cubase-0.kmk

This configuration for the most part uses the set of instruments I like to use with the FluidR3_GM sound-font. I use MIDI channel 1 for the Chords performance pane, MIDI channel 10 for the Drums performance pane, and separate MIDI channels for each of the other performance panes.

For the most part, the MIDI channel number corresponds to the function-key number. The only exception is the F10 pane, which uses channel 11, because MIDI channel 10 is reserved for percussion in the General MIDI standard.

The “Instrument” drop-box works just like with the Java Sound Synthesizer, but the only “Bank” available is “Bank0”, which is the General MIDI bank. I specified “Bank128” for the percussion bank, but it appears only the standard percussion bank is available, regardless which drum-kit you specify in the “Instrument” drop-box.

Here are screen-shots of all of the performance panes in the configuration you downloaded above:





































Configuring Cubase For The KeyMusician Keyboard

I have provided a Cubase Project file that works with the KMK configuration (and screen-shots) above. It is set up pretty-much like what you are used to using with the Java Sound Synthesizer (and the FluidR3_GM sound-font).

But in addition to that, it provides composite-voices, similar to what I use on Linux (see the Composite-Voices newsletter article). But in this case, no MIDI router is required.

This project also has a MIDI recording I created using it, recording both the primary and secondary voice tracks, for composite voices.

You can download this Cubase Project File by right-clicking the link below, and choosing “Save Link As” (or something similar your browser presents) from the pop-up menu that appears.

Cubase Project File KMK-1.kmk

Here is a screen-shot of that project, when loaded into Cubase:


The KMK-1 Project, with both tracks selected for recording and monitoring, and the 2 recorded MIDI tracks to the right

in the middle-left pane, both the primary and secondary tracks are selected. Notice that in each track, the audio-speaker icon is highlighted in yellow, indicating it is being monitored (which means you can hear it), and allows recording because the “record” icon is highlighted in pink.

If you don't want composite voices, simply left-click on the “Record” and “Monitor” icons of the Secondary track, thereby de-selecting them.

If you click the “Play” button of the Cubase Project window, when the KMK-1 project is loaded, it will play the demo-piece I improvised using it.

In that piece, I improvised chords and melody, working my way through all the performance panes (except the “Drums” pane), and finally improvised with both hands on the melody section of the keyboard using the F12 performance pane, for a 'big finish'.

You can hear that piece here in your browser, by clicking the link below:

Cubase Demo Music, by Aere

The next screen-shot shows you the details of the Primary voices track. The HALion Sonic SE VST editor window (covering the right 2/3 of the picture) was activated by clicking the blue-highlighted icon of the primary track's middle pane (to the left of the VST editor window):


The leftmost pane of the screen-shot above, is the “Inspector” pane. It shows that the volume of this track is set to +4.06, and that all MIDI input devices may be used for input. It also shows the HALion Sonic SE instrument is used, and that any MIDI channel (1 thru 16) may be used for input.

The middle-left pane of the HALion Sonic SE Primary window (the right 2/3 of the screen-shot), shows what instrument sound is initially used for each of the MIDI channels (1 thru 16), shown at the left. Note that GM (General MIDI) sounds are used. There is a drop-box for each MIDI channel.

Since General MIDI Program Change messages are acted on (enabled by the “GM Mode” value of the “Program Changes” drop-box option, shown in light-blue at the middle-right), these initially-selected sounds can be changed by the setting of the “Instrument” drop-box of the current KMK performance pane.

You can left-click on the piano keyboard diagram at the bottom, to hear what the selected instrument sounds like for the selected MIDI channel in the HALion window's left pane.



The next screen-shot shows you the details of the Secondary voices track, used for producing composite voices. The HALion Sonic SE VST editor window (covering the right 2/3 of the picture) was activated by clicking the blue-highlighted icon of the secondary track's middle pane (to the left of the VST editor window):


The leftmost pane of the screen-shot above, is the “Inspector” pane. It shows that the volume of this track is set to -6.55 (so it less loud than the primary track), and that all MIDI input devices may be used for input. It also shows the HALion Sonic SE instrument is used, and that any MIDI channel (1 thru 16) may be used for input.

The middle-left pane of the HALion Sonic SE Secondary window (the right 2/3 of the screen-shot), shows what instrument sound is initially used for each of the MIDI channels (1 thru 16), shown at the left. Note that GM (General MIDI) sounds are used. There is a drop-box for each MIDI channel.

Notice that there is no instrument sound selected for MIDI channel 10 (used by the Drums pane). If I had a melodic instrument here, you would hear chromatic scale notes along with the drum-sound assigned to the particular notes, which to me, was not a pleasing effect.

Since General MIDI Program Change messages are disabled (by the “Off” value of the “Program Changes” drop-box option, shown in light-blue at the middle-right), these initially-selected sounds cannot be changed by the setting of the “Instrument” drop-box of the KMK window.

This lets you have a single, predictable, background-sound for each MIDI channel used by the various performance panes of the KMK window.

You can left-click on the piano keyboard diagram at the bottom, to hear what the selected instrument sounds like for the selected MIDI channel in the HALion window's left pane.

If you don't want to use composite voices, simply de-select this track's Record and Monitor buttons in the Secondary track.

Make Sure The KeyMusician Keyboard Has Control Before Playing Notes

If you press keyboard keys to play notes when some other window (such as the Cubase window) has keyboard-focus, you are sending those key-strokes to that window, instead. The KeyMusician Keyboard window needs to have keyboard-focus in order to properly play music.

I usually minimize (iconify) the Cubase window once I've got it set up the way I want it. You can restore it by clicking on it in the task-bar.

My Impressions On Using Cubase

I really liked that it provides a full General MIDI sound set, and lets you have a single track for recording everything the KeyMusician Keyboard can play. I also liked how easy it was to configure the use of composite voices.

It also has a lot of audio sound and mixing capabilities I didn't even know existed – despite my years of experience producing MIDI music.

I liked that it supported MIDI Program-Change messages, so it can be totally controlled from the KeyMusician Keyboard. So you could use this VST instrument without ever needing to buy the Bismark bs-16 sound-font player VST instrument. Yet I personally like some of the instrument sounds from the FluidR3_GM sound-font better.

The entry-level version of Cubase is about the same price as DimensionPro (which, I think, has better sounds, and more of them, than Cubase). Yet DimensionPro doesn't include the extensive music production software and sequence-editor that Cubase has. Also, DimensionPro doesn't support the General MIDI sound set.

I was pleased it performed well on a 2 gigahertz dual-processor laptop, which is barely able to run Ableton Live.

Cubase has decent wordless choir sounds, which both Ableton Live 9 Suite, and DimensionPro lack. Its Cello sound is usable, though I like the wordless choir sounds (and Cello and French Horn, and Oboe sounds) of the FluidR3_GM sound-font better.

It was a problem for me that it didn't support my USB Audio interface.

I had a problem exporting an audio file that took me a long time to figure out. The problem came from my mistaking the “End of Range” marker for the “Beginning of Range” marker. It took a long time figuring out that was causing the problem.

Cubase is definitely a good option to consider for improving your system, and it does work on Mac OS X as well as Windows. I can personally recommend it.



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