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IDProjectCategoryView StatusLast Update
0005400ardourfeaturespublic2013-03-21 19:31
Reporterdon3 Assigned To 
Status newResolutionopen 
Summary0005400: A possible workflow for playing sound sound segments in simple theatre productions (and similar performance contexts)
DescriptionBackground: In a performance situation like a theatre production, one
often needs to play certain pieces of sound -- a short sound effect or
music for a song, for example -- on cue, quickly (without perceptible
delay) and reliably. These requirements have implications for the
hardware and software that is used, and for the attention and reaction
time of the operator. For the operator, the user interface of the
player is a key factor. In simpler situations, the person playing sound
cues may have other duties -- such as operating a front-of-house mixer
-- which require most of his/her attention, so a clear and
straightforward UI (for playing) that minimizes distractions and manual
"fiddling" is essential. In cases where a separate person is available
to operate just the sound player, a slightly more complicated UI might
be tolerable.

On that criterion alone, a DAW such a Ardour is probably not the most
appropriate tool for this task [Note 1]. However, it turns out that
Ardour can be used successfully for performances whose sound needs meet
certain constraints [Note 2]. I believe that it could be even more
useful in this role with a couple minor modifications.

Here is a possible general workflow:

  - Audio (or in a3, MIDI?) segments (sound effects, music, etc) would
    be created or imported into Ardour regions in the usual way -- that
    is, in one or more tracks, allowing the usual editing, plugin
    effects, automation, signal routings, etc.

  - Range markers would be added covering spans of time to form "sound
    cues". These would most often coincide with single regions, but
    could just as well span multiple regions on multiple tracks. Names
    could be assigned to the ranges that are meaningful for the content
    of the cues. Alternatively, loop ranges could be used instead, if
    there was a way to define how many times a loop should be played.
    (For this use case, the default should be 1, however the more
    generally useful default of infinite could be acceptable.)

  - Keyboard keys or other hardware (MIDI controller?) buttons could be
    bound to these functions:

      - move playhead to start of next range
      - move playhead to start of previous range
      - play current range (ie, the one the playhead is positioned
        on/in) once, OR play current loop range the defined number of
      - stop/start (currently bound to space-bar)

    (Some thought should be given to how to handle a "move" command
    received while playing a range is in progress. It probably makes
    sense to immediately play the new range in that case, but that might
    be debatable.)

  - The operator would use the "next range" and/or "previous range"
    buttons to position to the beginning of a "cue". A quick visual
    check of the playhead location could verify that Ardour is ready to
    play the correct cue next. The operator would simply hit the "play
    current range" button to play the range at the desired time.

Possible enhancements:

  - An option to automatically advance to the next range when the end of
    the current one is reached. In this case the operator would
    typically only need to use one button to launch each cue.

  - A simpler (less general) application of the same principles to
    regions, for situations where all sound cues were contained within a
    single region. The following additional functions could be
    available for binding:

      - move playhead to start of next region
      - move playhead to start of previous region
      - play current region

    This would be similar to what's provided with "audition mode", but
    using buttons instead of a pointing device.

  - Highlight the range (or possibly select regions) arrived at with
    "next range" or "previous range" functions.

  - It occurs to me that a tabular presentation of cues -- basically
    what appears to be at the core of software built for this purpose --
    is not too different in concept from Ardour's Locations window. (I
    should say that I've only used Locations for making CD's in the past
    so maybe I'm stretching things a bit too much.) It could be helpful
    for users to be able to navigate and play ranges from the Locations
    window, as an alternative to using the main Editor window. (Or
    highlight the current range in the Locations window but still
    navigate and play from the Editor window.)

  - Allow moving markers, including range markers, and/or loop markers
    along with regions as they are slid in time. (a3 may already have
    this capability..?) It is not un-typical to have to insert or move
    cues pretty late in the game, so this would help a lot. (This need
    is not unique to this workflow -- I've needed it for editing
    recordings as well.)

  - Allow binding keys from an external device - mobile device app, for
    example. This could apply to any key binding, so it is also not
    specific to this use case.
Additional Information[Note 1]
Indeed, it's been pointed out[1] that commercial tools have been
developed for this specific purpose, such as QLab (MacOS) and SFX
(MS-Windows). I have no experience with either of these; from a quick
skim of features on their web sites, I would say that there's no danger
of Ardour competing with them head-to-head, with or without this
proposal. It has also been suggested that a sampler and MIDI keyboard
could provide a more suitable solution[2]. At the other end of the
spectrum, there are numerous general-purpose sound and "media" players
available that have been used successfully -- however, those that I've
tried have all suffered from functional and/or UI issues that limit
their usefulness to only the most simplistic of theatrical situations,
at best. I think with a few (hopefully minor) tweaks, Ardour could fill
a role that's way beyond what a simple player could do, especially for
people that are already familiar with Ardour from other contexts.

[Note 2]
In its current form, Ardour 2 (and presumably Ardour 3) has an "audition
mode" that allows playing a region with a single mouse click. This
works, with a few caveats[2], if the sound cues can be loaded into
separate regions (in my experience is fairly typical of small
productions at least) and if the operator can afford some amount of
fiddling with a pointing device -- possibly including zooming and
scrolling, as well as clicking on a region to play.

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Issue History

Date Modified Username Field Change
2013-03-21 19:31 don3 New Issue