Boston AES Chapter Hosts Computer Networking Lecture


Tony Lecture

The Boston AES chapter held its monthly meeting in Devlin Hall at Boston College on October 23, 2007. Keynote speaker, Anthony Schultz, presented his lecture, “Computer Networking Techniques for Audio & MIDI Applications” addressing the “no limitation” concept of a multi-computer environment and the benefits that it brings to computer music production. The presentation was based on his research for a Masters Degree in Music Technology that Anthony received in the Spring of 2007 from the University of Newcastle in Callaghan, Australia.

Before exploring the specific networking techniques, Anthony reviewed the various types of connections available on current computers. He presented an overview of the hardware interfaces used for audio and MIDI communication and explained the roles of the different types of software being used for computer music production; Digital Audio Workstations (DAW’s), virtual instruments and plug-ins.

Using multiple software applications simultaneously within a single computer can quickly max out even the most robust computers. Networking has recently become a more practical solution given the common availability of multiple computers in a single location. In addition, networking resolves some of the platform issues between Macs and Windows based PC’s.

There are two distinctly different uses for networking computers for music production: MIDI and audio. Although most of the techniques presented focused on a Mac based setup, techniques were discussed that also apply to Windows based PC’s and, more importantly, techniques to bridge the gap between Macs and PCs.

It is common for multiple applications to be “virtually connected” within one computer by using either the built-in Mac based IAC Bus (Interapplication Communication) or the universal Rewire 2.0, created by Propellerheads Software. Rewire was originally created to allow for communication between Steinberg’s Rebirth and Cubase software and version 2.0 offers real-time streaming of up to 256 individual audio channels and 4080 individual MIDI channels between applications.

The built-in Core Audio and Core MIDI features of Mac OSX 10.4 allow for MIDI and audio networking over an Ethernet connection without the need for additional software. The MIDI networking features can be accessed by going to the Audio MIDI Setup application found in the Utilities folder within the Applications folder. Clicking the MIDI Devices tab lets you configure the MIDI setup being used and can toggle between different setups as needed. Within the MIDI Devices window is the Network icon, which is used to setup and recognize another computer on the Ethernet network. Although the built-in MIDI networking features are only applicable to a Mac/Mac network, there is an application called MIDI Over LAN (MolCp3) by MusicLab that allows for communication between Macs and Windows based PCs.

AUNetSend and AUNetReceive are a pair of built-in Audio Units plug-ins for Mac OSX that enable audio networking. Once the networking configuration mentioned above has been has properly been set up, insert the AUNetSend plug-in to divert a channels’ audio to the node computer through the Ethernet connection. Add a new Aux track on the node computer and select AUNetReceive as the input source. After prompting you to select the desired AUNetSend bus to receive from, audio will be transferred between the two computers.

AUNetSend and AUNetReceive are exclusively Mac based, but fortunately, there is also Plasq’s Wormhole2 plug-in (AU & VST formats) that can be used on both Macs and Windows based PC’s. This plug-in helps bridge the gap between the Mac and Windows platforms. Unfortunately, with the success of Plasq’s Comic Life application, Wormhole2 has been discontinued, but it may resurface as a free open-source plug-in.

FX Teleport by FX-Max is a unique PC-only VST plug-in that allows a computer to access plug-ins on another computer. The company has indicated that they are in the process of creating a Mac version to be used with OSX 10.5 (Leopard).

Additionally, there is an interesting and very useful feature of Apple’s Logic application called Logic Nodes which allows for the host computer to tap into the CPU energy of other computers when necessary to assist with the processing duties required of the host project. Film composers seem to benefit most from this technology – they have been using a stack of Mac Minis with Logic/Logic Nodes to handle the intense production needs of film scores.

Anthony’s presentation concluded with insight as to why computer networking would experience large growth in the next few years and access to weblinks of the software and hardware discussed in presentation.

Before receiving his Master’s in Music Technology, Anthony started a music production company, Big T Productions, after graduating from Berklee College of Music in 1988 with a degree in Music Production & Engineering. He has taught classes in Audio Recording, Audio Technology and Computer Music at the New England Institute of Art for the past ten years.