Of Masters And Slaves

The technical side of composing music for media has become ever more complicated. Never before have the options to choose from been so rich.
Music technology allows composers to create very realistic renditions of their tracks that only a few years back would have been plain impossible in this level of quality.
This blog post sets out to explain how here at Novatlan Sound we have set up all this technology to provide for a stable and versatile working environment. In the future, more post like this will follow to explain other aspects of studio work.


When dealing with huge sample libraries, there are three major obstacles:
- CPU Speed
- Harddrive Speed
- RAM Allocation

The first is less a problem today than it used to be. Modern computers have a lot of processing power and if a project happens to tax the system a bit too much, you can always freeze tracks (i.e. render their output to an audio file).

Harddrive Speed is indeed sometimes a bit tricky, but can be conquered easily by distributing samples across several physical disks and using fast hard drives.

The third one is the big problem. Most sequencers still are 32bit, which means that they can only access about 4 GB of Ram. That is not enough for huge libraries. Some Virtual Instruments like Kontakt 3.5 and Omnisphere offer a memory server, which accesses Ram outside the host sequencer. This works very well and forms the basis of how we use sample libraries on our MacPro main DAW.
Added to this RAM problem is that most Virtual Instruments are not 64 bit. This means that even if one is using a 64bit sequencer, one still is limited by the 4GB limit.

But there is a solution: Hosting VIs outside the sequencer allows the user to use 4 GB of Ram inside the sequencer and 4 GB outside it! There are several application which allow you to do this, the one we are using is Vienna Ensemble Pro. VE Pro is created by the same company that brought us the Vienna Symphonic Library and is used to host all our instruments.

On the MacPro, we have three instances of VE Pro running. Inside Logic Pro 9, a plugin accesses these instances and distributes its contents to various tracks. In a future blog post I will describe how our current template is set up and what it contains, so stay tuned for more info!

But that’s where it gets really interesting. VE Pro does not only allow one to host samples on the same computer, but also on other computers on the network. These are called slaves. The really great thing about this is that no audio interface is required, only a single ethernet cable! VE Pro computes everything on the slave and sends it to the master. On the master there is no visible or audible difference between tracks rendered on the master or on a slave, providing a seamless workflow. VE Pro even works cross-platform, which means that you can use Macs and PCs side by side. This what we have done. Or main DAW is a MacPro with Logic Pro, while the slave is a Dell Studio XPS with Windows 7. This slave hosts another three instances of VE Pro.

Inside Logic on the MacPro there are only these VE Pro plugins loaded! As this plugin is 64bit, we can by this use 32bit instruments without using the Logic 32bit bridge (which makes things slower and less stable) by loading them into VE Pro. The various VE Pro instances contain all the „usual“ instruments, i.e. instruments that we use in almost every project. Since half of the template is computed outside Logic and the other half on a totally different computer, Logic stays snappy and responsive. If additional instruments are needed we can either load them into a new VE Pro instance or directly in Logic.

Having a PC slave has the added bonus of being able to use Windows-only plugins, again by loading them into VE Pro. Since VE Pro is able to load VST plugins cross-platform, by this we can also use VST plugins „within Logic“ (Logic only supports Apple’s native Audio Unit format).
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