Tracktion DAW Software From Mackie

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All New Software
Tracktion, (pronounced traction), is a new software DAW from Raw Material Software in the U.K. It's for recording audio and MIDI in the most direct and intuitive way within a single GUI page. Mackie has assumed worldwide distribution and marketing efforts for Tracktion and will be bundling it along with the Spike XD-2 USB 24/96k Audio/MIDI Interface. Additionally, it can be used with the new Onyx consoles. At $80 MSRP, Tracktion is an alternative for the person not quite ready to commit kilo bucks to software/hardware systems like Pro Tools or Steinberg's Nuendo or Cubase SX. Tracktion is compatible with Windows 98, 2000, ME and XP (P3 chip at least 500mHz) and Mac OSX 10.2 or higher. Tracktion supports VST 2.0 and ReWire protocols as well as ASIO and DirectSound audio devices on the PC and CoreAudio on the MAC. I had the opportunity to download and take Tracktion (ver 1.5.0.254) for a test drive on my garden-variety HP PC that uses a Celeron chip at 800mHz with 512MB of RAM and running Windows XP Pro and a two-input/output Intel soundcard running Microsoft's GS Wavetable SW Synth.

Standard Install
Tracktion is sold as a download only and it installed using a company supplied registration number like any other software. There is also a demo you can download at: http://my.mackie.com/products/tracktion/demo.asp. You should get the demo that includes a few pre-recorded songs to grab a collection of samples you can use in your own compositions. The pre-recorded songs come ready to play depending on your computer's power. However my computer didn't play them without glitching. I understand, at this time, Raw Material is readying a set of demo songs with far less effects and/or track count that'll fly even on the oldest and slowest of machines. Tracktion's aim is to get you making music from the moment you install. Tracktion is only limited by the power and speed of your particular machine and your soundcard, which should include and play General MIDI sounds.

I also think it important for your computer to have Internet Explorer (or any other browser) - clicking on the Help button in Tracktion takes you right to a very helpful Quick Start Guide arranged on a local, mini Web site.

All Business All Organized
Tracktion constantly reserves precious CPU resources in a variety of ways. One way is the somewhat austere-looking (compared to say Digital Performer) screen interface does not rely on Windows-style pull-downs etc. and consists of just three pages: Settings, Projects, and the main or Edit page. All three of these windows have a great, common architectural feature that uses a specially reserved space at the bottom center of each page I'll call the "contextual window." Whenever you click on certain sections or feature within any of these three pages, a complete dossier of that section's options and settings is displayed in this window--cool beans! Other DAW programs use multiple pull-down menus do accomplish this and leave it to you to remember which pull-down to drill into to change what you want. This method is better because it also alerts you to many options and sub features you may never discover otherwise.

Settings Page
The Settings page takes care of: audio I/O, ASIO setup, monitoring modes, MIDI devices, VST Plug-in management, miscellaneous internal settings like cache size or levels of undo, and Key Mapping--where every key of your QWERTY keyboard and nearly every possible CTRL+ command performs a sub function.

Projects Page
The Projects page comes up first when you launch Tracktion. Projects has a folder tree design on the left side and shows all song session files or Projects (in Tracktion parlance) along with their associated audio clips on the right side. Audio clips from any project can be made available to any other project by putting them in the Library folder.

I liked this feature for using a signature snare drum sample for two or three different songs without making a separate audio copy for each song. The Projects page also organizes all audio and provides a "finder" for lost or orphaned audio files.

Tracktion will import digital audio of any bit depth or sample rate and make it fly within your song--an important consideration if you like to construct audio 'pastiche' from disparate audio clips at different rates and word lengths. Later on, audio files can be compressed losslessly for archival using built-in FLAC compression. You can also data compress your audio using Ogg-Vorbis compression for small files (with some quality loss) and better for exchange over the Internet.

Double-clicking on an audio file in the folder plays it immediately and shows its waveform and all clip Meta data in the contextual window at the bottom of this page. You can assemble a collection of clips in the clipboard area for either a new "edit," (more Tracktion-speak for a new version of a song) using the same audio or for a new project that might use audio clips from many other sources. Once you have either picked a Project or made a new one, double clicking on its file opens it in the Edit page.

Edit Page
The Edit page is the main page where all sequencing, playback, recording, editing, mixing, file exportation--everything is done. There is no separate audio mixer page. Like most DAWs, audio clips are presented as a vertical stack of tracks starting from beginning to end from left to right. A familiar moving cursor line, analogous to a tape recorder playback head, shows you where you are in your song. At the top of the screen, there is a time line indicating your current position in the song in your choice of either bar numbers or time code. Also at the top of the screen is a very helpful single line "help" window. Tracktion has an extensive set of big help pop up windows that nearly cover the working area when they're triggered so I elected to turn these off and rely on the top help window.

Effects Are Called Filters
Any track can be either a MIDI track, a sequence of audio clips, or contiguous audio like a lead vocal. You'll know by an icon at the far left of the track. Each of these tracks has a complete mixer channel at the right side where (by default) you get a VU meter, pan/level fader, and a mute/solo button "filters." Filters? This mixer channel, graphically represented as a chain of processors, is where you can insert anywhere in any order processors, effects, VSTi synths, or samplers all called "filters" in Tracktion lingo. Inserting, disabling, removing filters is handled brilliantly--you just click New Filter, drag towards the track and up pops your VST folder of plugs and you pick and drag to the channel in the exact order you want them to work. Or use the Racks button to assemble a group of filters (called Rack Filters), connect them together in anyway you like with little virtual patch cables, save it to the VST folder and insert it like any other single filter. Very handy! Traction comes with its own set of processors: four-band EQ, reverb, delay, chorus, pitch shifter, compressor/limiter, and low/high pass filter but the program also found my own collection of VST effects and they worked just fine too.

You can save a little CPU resources (like I did) by removing the VU meter and the Fader filters--the track plays at full volume which I found fine for things like kicks and lead vocals. You can also save CPU by setting up auxiliary sends to send to common effects like reverbs or a delay by using a Rack Filter and a stereo return track. This is a cool little inside trick I didn't find in the manual and not hard to learn.

Making music in Tracktion is straight-ahead once you master the system's methodology (so true for any sequencer). You assign MIDI channels to the instruments listed in the Setting folders and play. There is also a Sampler module you can insert like a filter and assign and play, any audio clips in your computer (including the ones that came with the demo tracks), to specific keys and ranges on a small MIDI keyboard that comes up in the contextual window or from your external MIDI keyboard. So, depending on your computer's horsepower, you can have any number of these samplers running at the same time.

Recording audio is the same, just enable a track by sliding the audio icon towards it, make sure you've routed an audio input to it in the Settings page, click record and you'll automatically get the click track and start making "red" across that track. You can record stereo pairs or mono tracks.

In the Session
I quickly built a new track from audio clips that came with the demos. There is a normal learning curve when it comes to copying and pasting clips down a song. Clicking on any clip will give you a complete editing menu in the contextual window space of tasks possible--some having quick keys already set up. You can drag and drop clips on the "grid" and then adjust their timing individually if you require.

Tracktion does things on a "clip by clip" basis. So any clip can be changed in length, pitch, volume and any of the VST effects can be applied to just single, isolated clips. I could phase one cymbal crash clip and reverb the next crash clip all on the same track. This is all in addition to insert effects you can place on the entire cymbal track. Clip by clip editing can get you the most interesting productions going quickly because it is all so visual.

Another way Tracktion conserves CPU resources is the "freeze" function where any track or tracks can be frozen in their current state. This process "bounces to disk" those track(s) to your hard drive as an audio recording. The catch is you can unfreeze later if you want to make changes. I liked this function as a way to extend my modest computer's power however freezing also freezes the mixer settings of the track as well so there was no way to change the track's level or even mute it while it is frozen. Too bad since freezing/unfreezing (on my 800 mHz computer) takes time and breaks creative flow. It would be better to have this function without affecting the mixer section. I'd also like to see the ability to freeze one set of track(s) and unfreeze others in one operation.

Automation Too!
In a small "A" box next to each track's mixer, I selected what parameters I wanted to automate, be it volume, panning, any effect parameter etc. or just dragged that box on to that track's appropriate filter. I then clicked on a special Automation record button and the song played and recorded my every move of that filter's parameter. That's it until you undo or change the moves, they'll continue to always playback.

Lastly, when you've recorded, assembled, and mixed your song to perfection you can burn a CD directly from the Edit page. You can put any filter or pre-configured filter rack on the master stereo fader and then automate a fade. You can choose Export > create audio file and render a stereo recording of your edit as an audio .wav file that shows up back in the Projects page—ready to be burn with any CD burner program. You have options like normalization and remove silence at the beginning and end. Totally slick!

Surprise Package
Tracktion was a surprise package for me. After a bumpy start and as I got used to the program's different architecture and nomenclature, I was off to making music and most importantly having fun! For the novice and any computer, Tracktion is a great way to get into the whole world of computer recording and editing in a modern new way.

Check out: www.rawmaterialsoftware.com



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