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Digital Performer is a full-featured Digital Audio Workstation/Sequencer software package published by Mark of the Unicorn (MOTU) of Cambridge, Massachusetts. It runs on the Apple Macintosh platform, and was designed to utilize the MIDI and audio interfaces manufactured by MOTU.
Digital Performer's ancestry:
Mark of the Unicorn released Professional Composer in 1984. It was one of the first application programs for the Macintosh. The program used the Macintosh's high-resolution graphics and printing to allow the user to publish scores that appeared professionally engraved.
In 1985, the company released a music sequencer which they named Performer. Performer took advantage of the Macintosh's crisp graphic interface for arranging and performing with various synthesizers and other devices which recognized the relatively new standard called Musical Instrument Digital Interface, or MIDI. Sending a series electronic hexadecimal codes, such a sequencer could direct many instruments, commanding which notes to play, at what loudness, and for how long to sustain them. There are many deep features in MIDI protocol, such as controllers which can be assigned by the user or instrument manufacturer to vary the pitch or other parameters of the sound. MOTU developed extended capabilities in Digital Performer for handling these controllers and other actions (even remote operation of the software itself) through user-customizable graphical consoles, allowing the operator direct access to deeper features of instruments, stage lighting and various types of machines, all via MIDI interfaces and custom graphic buttons and sliders. This opened up enormous potential for even non-technical users, fulfilling the goal of offering programming skills to musicians, rather than just musical skills for programmers.
Another top-notch Macintosh sequencer, Opcode's Vision , challenged MOTU's Performer in what was for years a neck-and-neck race for more sophisticated features. The most important of those features was the introduction of the Graphic Editor window, which MOTU added to Performer in late 1991, some months after it appeared in Vision. This editor displayed music graphically on what resembled a horizontally scrolling "piano roll", with lines or bars representing notes. One could drag the bars around on the page and change their pitch, their timing, and their length. Arrangements or edits could be made very quickly, since it was no longer necessary to type the coordinates of each note manually.
While Vision's interface catered more toward the songwriter's working technique, Performer was more aligned with the ethics and methods of composers of larger works, and is often found in use by composers of film scores, and other professional composers and arrangers. Both were very popular, but Vision's parent company, Opcode, unfortunately was bought by the Gibson company, and development on it ceased. Orphaned Vision users changed to other popular sequencers, including Performer, Cakewalk, Cubase, and eMagic's Logic, which would eventually become a property of Apple Computer.
the native Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) arrives
In 1990, MOTU added digital audio capability to Performer and released it as "Digital Performer," months after Opcode added this capability to Vision. Digital Performer was originally designed as a front-end to Digidesign's Audiomedia hard disk recording system, which later became Pro Tools. Digital Performer's specific appeal was its MIDI environment, which was fitted seamlessly into the same transport system as the audio environment. This enabled users to record their MIDI instruments and mix the results with other live audio recorded in the studio (or vice versa). Personal computers of this time were too slow to handle high quality recording via their own CPU, so the addition of DSP co-processor cards was necessary to create a functioning audio recording studio. As the Mac's CPU became powerful enough to record the digitized audio directly to hard disk, the DSP cards were gradually rendered unnecessary. Foreseeing this, MOTU created its own Motu Audio System (MAS) which turned Digital Performer into one of the few applications which tapped the Macintosh's native power to record music directly to its own hard drive without the need for external co-processing and dedicated drives. This concept continues to have far-reaching effects on the industry, because it enables multi-tracked audio at full 24-bit, 192 KHz quality, but at a fraction of the cost of external hardware-based systems like Pro Tools. By 2000, Digital Performer was a mature, independent audio recording platform on which one could record, mix, and master sophisticated audio for commercial release on CD. (Optionally, one can still use Digital Performer as the front end user interface for Pro Tools' DAE audio system.)
Digital Performer in Mac OS X – Present Day and the Future:
Version 3 of Digital Performer was the last to run on OS 9, the Classic Macintosh operating system. After a long and tenuous rewrite, MOTU finally released Digital Performer 4.0 in May of 2003, which ran exclusively on Mac OS X. Early releases were not as stable as those to which the Digital Performer community was accustomed, a temporary shortcoming which at first seemed typical of all applications that had to be released for Mac OS X, including graphics, word processing, video editing, and others. By early 2004, however, most of the bugs had been worked out to a tolerable level, and many people were achieving stability in Digital Performer on Mac OS X. Now up to version 4.51 at the time of this writing (December, 2004), Digital Performer is among the most stable of audio workstations, and fast Apple CPUs continue to increase its capacity and performance to the highest professional standards. Chief among its competition on the Macintosh platform are Pro Tools and Apple's Logic. Pro Tools still uses the external DSP processors which free up CPU space, but which add tremendously to the cost of the platform, and for diminishing returns. Apple's Logic is "native based" like Digital Performer, using the Mac's CPU for everything. All platforms are extremely powerful, each has its advantages, and each has its weaknesses, though over time those differences have become more academic than practical. Aside from its simple interface, Digital Performer's advantage often is its price, which tends to be lower than that of other platforms.
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