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Harness the Power of Apple Logic Studio's Environment

March 1, 2009
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Most Apple Logic users know of its strong MIDI-sequencing implementation, endless potential for track count, its stability and smart user interface. However, many Logic users don't know much about the vast potential of the program's Environment. The behind-the-scenes machinery that makes Logic tick, the Environment was designed to place large amounts of control of both internal and external MIDI instruments and devices into your hands. You could happily go about your productions without ever laying a finger on the deep, modular Environment. Yet for the adventurous, the Environment unlocks the massive, “hidden” potential of Logic Pro 8. (This article assumes you already know the basics of Logic.)

LAYERS UPON LAYERS

When you create new external MIDI, internal software instrument or audio tracks in the Arrange screen, a few things happen: corresponding “objects” are created in the Environment as needed (in one of several obviously named layers), and mixer channel strips are created to host each track in the Mixer window. For example, if you click on the New Tracks button in the Arrange window and select the External MIDI option, open the Environment (choose Window > Environment) and then select the MIDI Instr. Layer (from the drop-down menu on the left), then you see an icon for this new track — a box with 16 “buttons” (corresponding to MIDI channels). In this sense, Logic is modular right out of the box; the Environment and Mixer will grow with you as needed.

Here''s a basic, “pre-built” Mixer layer without any customization.

For both internal and external MIDI instruments and modules, customizing your Environment lets you do all types of real-time data manipulation and generation to add life to your tracks. Open one or more Environment windows with the keyboard shortcut, Command-8. The Environment is laid out in layers that group related objects together, such as Mixer items (track channel strips, buses, and so on), MIDI Instruments, Clicks & Ports and so on. You can also create and name new layers. For example, if you have a rack of outboard sound modules, you could create a layer specifically for them and name it Rack Instruments. Layers are designed to make things easier to locate and view — you don't have to look at hundreds or thousands of objects at once — but they are not mutually exclusive. You connect different objects in the Environment with “virtual cables,” and in Logic, you can connect objects that exist in different layers.

You'll see Create and Delete Layer commands in the menu in the Environment's upper-left corner; however, by deleting a layer, you also delete all objects in that layer (and accordingly in the All Objects layer). Note also that the two most important layers to Logic's core functionality, All Objects and Global Objects, cannot be deleted. Global Objects represents objects that appear in all layers.

This is a basic, yet customized, MIDI setup, with cables showing. The Access and Akai MPC icons represent multi-timbral hardware MIDI modules. Note the “unseen” connection on the output (right side) of the Akai MPC: That indicates a connection to an object on a different layer than this—the MIDI Instruments layer.

OBJECT-ORIENTED

You can view objects within any layer in text list or graphical format (icons, channel strips and so on). For customization, particularly in the Mixer layer, the graphical view is best. You can switch between the two via the View menu. When in graphical view, you can show/hide and lock/unlock cables or custom-color individual objects and view cables in color, all from the View menu.

Logic's Environment contains a variety of virtual signal paths among various objects, which can be (or represent) faders, instruments and mapped instruments, MIDI interfaces, arpeggiators, delay lines, channel splitters and much more. Every object includes an input on the left and scalable outputs on the right, shown as triangular arrows. When an output arrow appears solid, it is already routed somewhere; when it's hollow, you can route where you please. Anytime you make a connection from an object's output, another available output automatically shows up. An object can receive any number of inputs, as well.

Part of this highly customized Audio layer includes pre-built channels of audio, 24 stereo-paired channel strips for audio being piped in via ReWire and the requisite Audio Instrument channels (note the highlighted channel strips). Layers can become very full!

You can make an unlimited number of connections between objects by clicking-and-dragging from any output to the left side of another object and releasing the mouse when the receptor object is highlighted. Or Option-click on any output to open a hierarchical drop-down menu that includes all objects in the Environment, grouped by layer.

MAKE IT MUSICAL

The Physical Input object — all incoming MIDI signals (such as MIDI interface inputs, controllers, QWERTY keyboard and so forth) — is cabled to the Sequencer Input, which represents the currently selected Arrange window track.

Now consider inserting an Arpeggiator in the middle of that signal path: Any MIDI Input will arpeggiate all software instruments you play, until you remove the Arpeggiator. Or you could connect one instrument simultaneously to four others to create a massive layered pad. Place a Delay Line between one of those connections, and place the aforementioned Arpeggiator in line on another to see what flavor results. One of my favorite Environment tricks is to connect a bunch of faders to an instrument (or an external hardware synth object), assign different MIDI controller numbers to the various faders and then tweak away as the sequencer plays back prerecorded notes.

Endless options exist in the Environment. You can create custom project templates that specify the exact number of audio tracks, aux buses, instrument tracks and such that you need and physically rearrange your mixer layout in order to streamline your work while increasing your creativity.

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