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Stabilizing a laptop rig and more: Bome's Midi Translator


Ashville.Guru

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Recently discovered this software tool (Bome's Midi Translator). It's a swiss-army knife that can do a bunch of eclectic things, and it's made a huge difference to my live laptop-based rig. Thought I'd share my (happy) learnings.

Background:

Although I haven't had any issues with stability for quite a while, I'm a bit paranoid about it, and am always on the lookout for weak links. There are really two major things you need to worry about using softsynths live:

  1. The host losing communication from MIDI controllers/keyboards, and
  2. The host losing communication with the audio interface.

1. MIDI connection:

I've tried this with many hosts, like Forte, Cantabile, Ableton and Bidule. Disconnect/unplug a USB device after the host is started up, and re-connecting the device doesn't makes things work automagically. There are different things you need to do the host, or re-start it altogether.

 

Basically, you don't want this happening on stage... :P

 

That's where the Translator can help. It provides upto 4 'virtual midi devices' inside your OS. Instead of connecting the physical controller -> host, you connect controller -> virtual device-> host. Now even if your physical controller disconnects, the host always sees the virtual device as present. The virtual device itself instantly rescans for new physical controllers.

 

What this means, is that I can now disconnect and reconnect my physical controllers (all 3 of them!) and can start playing, instantly...! :cool: Bonus: I don't have to worry about the sequence of connecting the controllers/starting up the host, during setup. Either way, it always works.

 

2. Audio connection:

Same goes with those of us using external audio interfaces. Especially firewire ones, which need DC power (downside of enhanced performance over USB... :mad:). You're in trouble if the interface power cycles in the middle of a gig; all hosts I've used fail to detect my FW interface upon re-connection.

 

Brainspawn Forte (my favourite) is the best of the lot, thanks to a simple workaround: merely bringing up the 'Options' menu somehow causes the device to be detected...! And thankfully, there are keyboard shortcuts. Alt-O, AltP, and everything's hunky-dory again. Quite reassuring, actually, but still...

 

I play with the laptop lid closed, and I need to open the lid, and use the QWERTY keyboard. Happily, Bome's utility can actually translate MIDI events to a sequence of QWERTY keyboard actions...! So I've mapped a button on one of my controllers to the sequence, and it works like a charm. Tested by power cycling the interface, and it is a pleasure to see that blue indicator light glow the moment I hit the 'interface reconnect' button. My laptop lid stays closed.

 

Put together, I have a lot more confidence in my live laptop rig now. Just discovered this few hours ago, and the missus observed that I've been grinning from ear to ear since.

 

Note that this stability enhancement isn't an 'advertised' feature of the Bome's Midi Translator, it's just something I found that works. Also, disclaimer: I have no idea whether my experiences would translate on a Macbook.

 

Hope this is useful info to somebody.

 

- Guru

This is really what MIDI was originally about encouraging cooperation between companies that make the world a more creative place." - Dave Smith
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I can tell you that on a Mac, Bidule will let you disconnect and reconnect USB midi devices without ill effect (unlike the Windows version). Not so audio interfaces, unfortunately. There is a pref in the Mac version of Bidule to "remember devices" which overrides the default behavior of substituting a different midi device when the one saved with the setup is not found. This lets you run Bidule & load your setup before hitting the stage and connecting your controller. Very useful for those "festival gigs" with no sound or line checks and mad scrambles between bands.

 

I would think that audio interfaces accidentally disconnecting is not as much a concern as a midi connection from a controller. In the latter case you have a cable going across a stage, in the former case the audio interface would most likely be cabled within the confines of a case such as the SKB Studio Flyer.

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I'm curious if there is any noticeable increase in latency,. It seems from key press to audio out, you're adding at least 2 additional steps in the path. Of course the advantages may outweigh disadvantages either way, just curious.

Dan

 

Acoustic/Electric stringed instruments ranging from 4 to 230 strings, hammered, picked, fingered, slapped, and plucked. Analog and Digital Electronic instruments, reeds, and throat/mouth.

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I can tell you that on a Mac, Bidule will let you disconnect and reconnect USB midi devices without ill effect (unlike the Windows version).

Yeah, I was kinda expecting the Macs to be way better in this regard. Bummer. Win USB device detection/management is the pits. Which is why I'm happy I've found this workaround...

 

I would think that audio interfaces accidentally disconnecting is not as much a concern as a midi connection from a controller. In the latter case you have a cable going across a stage, in the former case the audio interface would most likely be cabled within the confines of a case such as the SKB Studio Flyer.

A simpler hardware solution: don't use long USB cables. Use an interface with DIN MIDI inputs, and make sure it's securely velcroed to the Studio Flyer. Connect your keyboards with standard MIDI. That way, even if the cable is physically disconnected, the host always 'sees' the interface ports. Downside: no USB bus power for your controller, which usually means a wall wart.

 

I'm curious if there is any noticeable increase in latency,. It seems from key press to audio out, you're adding at least 2 additional steps in the path. Of course the advantages may outweigh disadvantages either way, just curious.

Good point, and quick answer - no noticeable increase at all.

 

There are other virtual midi devices/ports for Win, like MidiYoke and LoopBe. I've used them both in the past, and they do add that tiny bit of latency (one of them was terrible, actually, I cant remember which). Which is why I wouldn't recommend them for live work.

 

MTPro is the first one that feels as tight as a direct connection. From the manual:

 

"Unlike "loopback" virtual MIDI ports which function as both IN and OUT ports simultaneously, Bome's virtual MIDI ports only pass through the Windows API once rather than twice to route MIDI data. This added efficiency makes Bome's Midi Translator faster and more reliable, with the end result of reduced latency and jitter when operating with MIDI data. Bome's Midi Translator also benefits from a high-speed MIDI data processing engine at it's core, delivering MIDI and translator action data at near realtime speeds."

 

- Guru

This is really what MIDI was originally about encouraging cooperation between companies that make the world a more creative place." - Dave Smith
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I would think that audio interfaces accidentally disconnecting is not as much a concern as a midi connection from a controller. In the latter case you have a cable going across a stage, in the former case the audio interface would most likely be cabled within the confines of a case such as the SKB Studio Flyer.

A simpler hardware solution: don't use long USB cables. Use an interface with DIN MIDI inputs, and make sure it's securely velcroed to the Studio Flyer. Connect your keyboards with standard MIDI. That way, even if the cable is physically disconnected, the host always 'sees' the interface ports. Downside: no USB bus power for your controller, which usually means a wall wart.

For my local gigs, given the choice between an extra hardware piece (midi interface) and a wall wart for my controller, vs a single USB cable with an added risk of it being disconnected accidentally, I'm gonna have to go with the USB cable. Especially since on the Mac & Bidule, a disconnected USB midi connection is non-fatal. It's happened to me maybe twice in the past six years and the consequences were minor. When I tour, I get a rented keyboard and I do use a midi interface with a nanoKontrol. Of course, I have a USB cable going from my nanoKontrol to the laptop! :) Haven't had any accidental disconnections there (yet)!

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For my local gigs, given the choice between an extra hardware piece (midi interface) and a wall wart for my controller, vs a single USB cable with an added risk of it being disconnected accidentally, I'm gonna have to go with the USB cable.

Sums it up for me, too.

 

Re: audio connection, it's less about getting disconnected, and more about re-connecting after waking up from sleep mode. That's a huge advantage for me: zero load time. Fire up everything at home, put the laptop to sleep, wake it up on stage. My rig is ready to play faster than a Kronos. Which is perhaps not saying a lot :P. Still...

 

Curious: do Mac hosts auto-reconnect to an external interface upon wakeup from sleep/suspend mode? Both firewire/USB?

 

- Guru

 

EDIT: btw, @ReezeKeys: since you're using Bidule, have you tried the midiPCGUI plugin? I found it indispensable while I was using Bidule. Assign PC program/bank numbers and names to patches which are displayed prominently and can be mapped to a knob/button on the NanoKontrol.

This is really what MIDI was originally about encouraging cooperation between companies that make the world a more creative place." - Dave Smith
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I'm curious if there is any noticeable increase in latency,. It seems from key press to audio out, you're adding at least 2 additional steps in the path. Of course the advantages may outweigh disadvantages either way, just curious.
Good question. If implemented ideally, the added latency should be too small to measure. I spent a large part of my career implementing somewhat similar "glue layers" for communications protocols. They can definitely decrease performance, when data transfer is significant enough to be a CPU hog (as it often is for data communications, but is not the case for audio on the hardware of this millennium). Ideally they shouldn't affect latency, but I can imagine cases where it's unavoidable due to an OS's inability to schedule things the way we'd want.

 

In about 5 years of using a laptop live, I never lost MIDI connection. Most of the time I used the internal sound, but the roughly 20% where I used my MOTU, I didn't lose Firewire connection either. Of course, just because it didn't happen doesn't mean it wouldn't.

 

On the other hand, I've often fired up my DAW or live host only to realize I haven't yet plugged in the MIDI or audio, and had to restart the application. Assuming the utility here is lightweight (and I'm guessing it is likely to be), it's a great tool to have in the kit, so thanks for posting!

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Re: audio connection, it's less about getting disconnected, and more about re-connecting after waking up from sleep mode

 

[...]

 

Curious: do Mac hosts auto-reconnect to an external interface upon wakeup from sleep/suspend mode? Both firewire/USB?

I'd like to say yes but I'm not sure. I use my built-in output - it's a combined 3.5mm stereo minijack and optical output. I use the optical part going to a small d-to-a box. Never a ground-loop issue now. The only other external interface I own is a very old Emagic 2|6. When I get a little time I'll hook it up and see if it survives a sleep & wake.

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btw, @ReezeKeys: since you're using Bidule, have you tried the midiPCGUI plugin? I found it indispensable while I was using Bidule. Assign PC program/bank numbers and names to patches which are displayed prominently and can be mapped to a knob/button on the NanoKontrol.

Thank you!! I can definitely use that. Right now I use a knob on the nanoKontrol to select from six presets I have part of Bidule's layout magnified on my laptop's screen so I can see them change; workable but clunky. I'm thinking of using my iPhone with a wifi connection and TouchOSC to change presets but that's another layer of technology that carries some risks out on the road.

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Re: audio connection, it's less about getting disconnected, and more about re-connecting after waking up from sleep mode

[...]

Curious: do Mac hosts auto-reconnect to an external interface upon wakeup from sleep/suspend mode? Both firewire/USB?

The only other external interface I own is a very old Emagic 2|6. When I get a little time I'll hook it up and see if it survives a sleep & wake.

Thanks, looking forward to that. Any inputs from Macbook users with a USB/Firewire interface would be quite welcome.

 

My guess is an external interface would just work after a sleep/wake cycle. Actually, it works on Windoze, too - when no host has 'taken over' the audio connection. But when a host has 'taken over' an audio connection, and then the interface power cycles, or the laptop goes through sleep/wake cycles, *thats* when it takes the tiny bit of prodding to re-establish the connection. And I'm loving the fact that this 'prodding' is now just a button push on a MIDI controller... :)

 

- Guru

This is really what MIDI was originally about encouraging cooperation between companies that make the world a more creative place." - Dave Smith
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