My goal in the following example session is to demonstrate how Ardour functions as a multitrack recording system. I've tried to keep technical terminology to a minimum, but this article does not intend to be a primer for digital recording. Basic information on the subject can be found at www.homerecording.com, while more advanced topics are covered at www.prorec.com. Many other on-line and hard-copy resources can be found with relevant searches on Google and Amazon.
Session hardware included an M-Audio Delta 66 digital audio interface, a system that includes a PCI card and a breakout box that together provide 4×4 analog I/O and 2×2 digital I/O. The digital ports can be configured for either S/PDIF, a high-quality consumer-grade digital I/O or AES/EBU, a standard for the recording industry. Each input point is a stereo port, effectively giving me a possible total of 12 input channels, with far more flexible routing than is possible with a consumer-grade, stereo-only sound card.
I employed two external mixers for the session. A Yamaha DMP11 was used as a submixer for external synthesizers, and I used a Tascam TM-D1000 for mixing vocal, guitar and harmonica performances before sending them to the Delta 66. The Tascam mixer provides S/PDIF digital output, so I routed its feed to the digital ports of the Delta card.
My plan was to use Ardour to record an original song, with multiple instrumental and vocal tracks, and mix it to recreate the sound of a small group playing live. However, in this session the small group is only me, with some imported WAV files and some multitracking in Ardour. I also planned to use a few LADSPA plugins to add effects to some of the tracks and to use Ardour's pan controls to position my tracks across the stereo audio panorama, as players would be positioned on a stage.
I used a MIDI sequencer to create parts for piano, bass, guitar and drums. I saved each part as a MIDI file and converted them all to WAV audio files with the popular TiMidity MIDI utility. The drum track was converted to a stereo file, the others were converted to monaural files and all the files were created in 16-bit 44.1kHz WAV format. At that point they were ready for importing to Ardour.
When you open Ardour for the first time, you see an empty track display complete with a kindly reminder that you need to create an Ardour session by using the Session/New dialog. Session templates are available, but I knew my immediate track needs and created a custom track layout—one stereo and four mono tracks. I imported my WAV files into those tracks, and there was my backing band.
Next, I recorded three more tracks in Ardour itself, adding a rhythm guitar part, the vocal track and a harmonica solo. Recording in Ardour is simple: click on the R button in your selected track to arm it for recording and then set your inputs and levels in the track's mixer strip. Next, click on the main display's big red Record button, click on the transport play control and record at will. You can monitor some or all other tracks, muting and soloing tracks and groups of tracks in real time for testing different ensembles.
When I was happy with the recorded performances, I started working on the mix. Many aspects of the raw mix were in need of attention: the rhythm guitar track needed a volume fade-out at the end and equalization (EQ) throughout, the MIDI instruments weren't bright enough in the mix and everything needed to be normalized and balanced. Fortunately, Ardour handled these tasks with the greatest of ease. I used LADSPA plugins for equalization and amplification, and I employed Ardour's own internal normalization routine when it was needed. I also added reverb to the vocal and harmonica parts, again by using a LADSPA plugin.
Adding the fade-out to my rhythm guitar track proved to be an interesting task. First, I clicked on the track's automation button to set the automation curve display, and then with the mouse on the Gain mode button I could draw the amplitude curve. Then, I discovered that I could use Ardour's control automation in the mixer as well. I set the automation state to write, and then I played the section to be faded out and reduced the fader level. Ardour recorded my adjustments to the fader, I reset the automation status to play, and the fader moved downward automatically on playback. By the way, faders can be ganged together as a mix group for simultaneous operation, including the recording of simultaneous automation curves.
Similis sum folio de quo ludunt venti.
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