Detective Beat System Manual

It's probably old-fashioned now to talk about how much Pro Tools and other non-linear systems have affected the music recording and production process. Recently, there's been lots of interest in the White Stripes' use of no-nonsense 'capture the performance' eight-track recording. However, the norm now is to see extensive use of multiple-take compiling, vocal tuning and drum editing, made viable even for low-budget productions by the speed of Pro Tools, Logic, and other DAWs. In particular, it's common to see the meticulous chopping of drum tracks into multiple slices so that the timing can be adjusted or corrected. Pro Tools's TDM-only Beat Detective facility, accessed from the Windows menu, automates much of the drum editing process, thereby saving studio time and assistant engineers' sore backs.

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Beat Detective can automatically detect transients and cut up recordings accordingly, move the new slices around on the basis of various quantisation options to adjust the performance to a different feel or tempo, and automatically fill any gaps that appear afterwards. Another, almost inverse application of Beat Detective is to detect the timing and tempo of a recording, to use either as a groove template or the tempo map for a Session. This month we'll be looking at quantising audio to fix timing problems, and save some of the more complicated tempo and groove extraction functions for next time. Beat Detective is a actually a collection of several separate functions, listed on the left of the Beat Detective window as five 'mode' buttons in PT6, or four in PT5.

To start at a simple point we're going to pass over the first two options (Bar/Beat Marker Generation and Groove Template Extraction), and jump straight in at automatically cutting up drum recordings and 'tightening' the timing. Once you've mastered this you should be able to perform several other tricks, such as using Beat Detective like Propellerhead's Recycle to replay drums at different tempos and match the feel of different loops. Using Beat Detective to analyse the transients in a two-bar drum loop.In order to jump in at 'drum tightening' we need to look at the situation where the drums were recorded in accordance with the tempo and meter of your Pro Tools Session. This is because we are going to quantise the recording to the Bars and Beats grid in the Session (as you would with MIDI quantising). There's no problem here so long as the drums were recorded into Pro Tools with the drummer using a click; if not, you can use the Identify Beat command to match the Session's tempo and meter roughly to the recording. The first step is to select across the area of drums that you wish to adjust. If you are just working with a single mono or stereo track, things are pretty simple.

The important thing is to select from the point that represents the first beat of the first bar that you want up to the end of the passage, so you have an exact number of bars. Now open the Beat Detective window, and click the Capture Selection button in the central Selection section. This should then automatically fill in the start and end point fields by referencing the Session's bars grid. In the screen shot below I've done this with two bars of recorded percussion. The next step is to hit the Analyze button, whereupon Beat Detective will attempt to figure out where the transients, or hits, are located within the recording. You need to find a combination of the Sensitivity, Resolution and Contains settings that produces only the cuts you want to appear in the track.

Use the Bars, Beats and Sub Beats settings to choose how finely you want to chop. As you adjust the Sensitivity upwards, Beat Detective will start to draw coloured lines over the waveform, starting with the most distinct hits, to show where cuts will fall. Notice that the cuts that Pro Tools assumes to be on the bar are thick, those on beats are medium, and inbetweens (sub-beats) are thin. The Sensitivity slider allows you to ignore quiet peaks that may just be background noise or spill from other mics. The Contains settings define how small a 'sub-beat' is.

For example, in the screen shot, I needed to set this to 16ths for all the hits to be included. Just as in Recycle, you can add hits that aren't detected (by clicking with the Grabber), or delete spurious ones by Option-clicking on the Mac or Alt-clicking on a PC.

Once you're happy with the settings, hit the Separate button and the selection will be cut into separate regions. Conforming the drum loop with 100 percent strength moves every hit precisely onto the beat.

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Edit Smoothing mode uses crossfades to mask any obvious gaps created by moving the slices around. Clean & Tidy Now that the section has been sliced, it's time to shift everything about to tighten up the timing. This is achieved by switching to Region Conform mode in Beat Detective. Over on the right you'll see a number of quantise settings. In Standard mode you set up the options manually, while in Groove mode you pick from your list of groove quantisation templates, just as with MIDI note quantising. The most basic option would be to use Standard mode with Strength set to 100 percent and the other options disabled. This will shift everything exactly into time and achieve a Krautrock-style machine-like performance.

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Using a lower Strength setting will tighten everything up while leaving some hint of the original timing variation or 'feel'. Additionally, the Exclude slider lets you leave stuff alone that was already pretty close, only moving hits that were noticably off. Finally, the Swing setting lets you introduce some new swing or shuffle to the performance by shifting the regions that were defined as sub-beats. Combining these gives you a number of options, such as using a straight 100 percent Conform first to remove any of the original feel (or just bad timing), then doing a subsequent Swing quantise to create feel from scratch. In fact the Groove mode has an option to do just this, by ticking the 'pre-process' box. In the screen shot (top) my percussion track is now conformed with 100 percent strength (I like Krautrock), and you might be able to see that there are now obvious gaps between some of the regions. This can cause problems if you can hear obvious dropouts in the background room sound, and a good manual editor would sit and trim back the start of each region so that everything is joined up, possibly using fades to stop clicks or glitches.

This is automated in Beat Detective in the Edit Smoothing mode. There's no great science to using this section: the next screen (bottom of previous page) shows a close-up after I hit Smooth with 'Fill and Crossfade' selected. Ingeniously, this function thinks to add Sync Point arrows at the point of the original cut, so if you go back and change the quantising the hits will be referenced, rather than the starts of the newly trimmed regions. If you're using Logic 6.1 with Digidesign hardware, you should download an updated DAE (Digidesign Audio Engine) file from. This fixes a couple of problems, including Audiosuite plug-in compatibility. The download is just the single DAE file, which you must manually drop in the right place, replacing the old version.

The correct directory is Macintosh HD/Library/Application Support/Digidesign/. Pro Tools TDM software has an 'auto-fades' feature, otherwise known as the 'lazy editing' option. This is activated in the Preferences (Operation pane) by specifying an auto-fade length of up to 10ms (0ms is 'Off').

Pro Tools will automatically fade in and out of regions during playback, hopefully eliminating any clicks or thumps that might exist after you've been hacking and moving stuff around. Be aware that this only occurs on playback, so if you Consolidate or Audiosuite something, or move to a system with auto-fades switched off, you might hear problems that weren't there before. When arranging it's common to repeat and loop regions using the Command+D (Ctrl+D on Windows) Duplicate command. What you might not be aware of is that this doesn't only work on whole regions. For example if you have a particular short sound at the start of the bar, and you want to repeat it across several bars, switch to Grid mode, and drag a selection across the region and the blank space to the end of the bar. Duplicate will include the empty space when it loops your selection, rather than butting each copy of the region up to the original.

Things get a little more complicated when you have recorded drums across a number of tracks. First off, it's important that you treat everything as one, because if you start moving tracks around with respect to one another you will introduce phasing or flamming between the spill on different mics. If you just select across a number of tracks and start playing with the hit detection, Beat Detective analyses all tracks at once, and then always applies all cuts across all tracks. This is probably not going to work, as you might get the same hits detected twice across different tracks due to delays between the mics. There are a couple of options here. The simplest is to just use one track to detect your transients, and then apply the results to all the other tracks.

For example, you can select the kick drum track and set your sensitivity to just pick up the kicks, then extend your selection across the other tracks (by shift-clicking or using the selection cursors shortcuts) for separation. All tracks will now get quantised by the same amount, avoiding some possible problems. Collection mode allows you to amalgamate the transient information from several multitracked parts.However, if moving everything at the kick points is not enough to tidy up the overall performance, it's possible to do some fine-tuning. On a small selection it would be feasible to select across all the tracks, make sure everything you need is detected, then manually remove any cut markers that are doubled up before you Separate. It's important that you always keep only the earliest detection marker for any given hit (which will be on the closest mic) as this ensures the hit will get moved the same on all tracks without being cut in half on some tracks.

In fact Beat Detective has yet another automated process for performing something like this: the Collection Mode option. When using Collection mode, you analyse and detect each drum track one at a time, adjusting your detection settings each time. After each detection you add the cut markers to a pool which will later be applied to all tracks. To do this, select just one track at a time, switch Beat Detective's Separate page into Normal detection mode and make your detections. Then switch to Collection mode and choose Add Unique Triggers. Switch back to Normal mode, select just the next track and repeat for each drum channel.

Finally, stay in Collection mode and select all the tracks concerned. You'll see all your cut markers across all tracks, colour-coded according to which track generated them (see screen shot above). Crucially, Beat Detective will discard cuts that are very close together, assuming they are caused by spill, keeping only the earliest one in each case. You can now hit Separate to slice up the whole performance in the most safe and optimal way. All contents copyright © SOS Publications Group and/or its licensors, 1985-2018. All rights reserved.

The contents of this article are subject to worldwide copyright protection and reproduction in whole or part, whether mechanical or electronic, is expressly forbidden without the prior written consent of the Publishers. Great care has been taken to ensure accuracy in the preparation of this article but neither Sound On Sound Limited nor the publishers can be held responsible for its contents. The views expressed are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of the publishers. Web site designed & maintained by PB Associates & SOS.

Many long‑term Pro Tools users still rely on Beat Detective, but the newer Elastic Audio often produces better results in half the time. Two years ago, back in January 2008, I wrote about Elastic Audio when it was bright and shiny new. In that article I outlined what Elastic Audio could do, so if you need an introduction, look up the article in your old issues or surf to. In this month's workshop, we're going to look in more detail at some of the applications for this technology. If you work a lot with loops, Elastic Audio is really useful. It enables you to import loops into a Session and allow Pro Tools to adjust their tempos to match the Session tempo.

Create a new Session but don't add any tracks. Go to the Processing tab in the Preferences window and tick 'Enable Elastic Audio on New Tracks', and in the Editing tab make sure 'New Tracks Default to Tick Timebase'. For loop‑based work, you'll want your tracks to use the tick‑based timebase and the Polyphonic Elastic Audio algorithm. Now go into your Workspace Browser and find your first loop. (Don't forget you can adjust the audition volume in the Workspace Browser, so that you don't end up with your speaker cones splattered against the back wall!) Once you have found your first loop, drag it into the Edit window where the tracks would normally be and let go. Because this is the first file to be brought into the Session, Pro Tools will ask if you want to import the tempo from the file as well. Click on Import and now you will have your first loop in place and the Session tempo will match its tempo.

Now you can bring in more loops and Pro Tools will use Elastic Audio to conform the new loops to the Session tempo irrespective of the loops' original tempo. You can also audition the loops in the Browser in time with the session if the 'Audio Files Conform To Session Tempo' icon is highlighted at the top of the Browser window. Also check the other settings at the bottom of the Workspace Browser drop‑down menu, which is accessed in Pro Tools 8 using the arrow icon in the top right‑hand corner.

Loop Preview, Spacebar Toggles File Preview and the Conform option should all be ticked. Now, with the Session in Loop Playback mode, select a loop in the Browser and hit the space bar. Once Pro Tools has analysed the loop, it will play it at Session tempo and in time.

Once you are happy, drag the new loop into the Edit window and Pro Tools will automatically create a new track for you. You can then build up your track as I have in the screenshot below. Here, Elastic Audio is conforming three different loops to the same Session tempo — which itself is varying. You can then vary the tempo of the Session afterwards to suit.

In the screen, I have drawn a manual tempo change with the Pencil tool so that the tempo increases over the last two bars, quite severely, from 85 up to 197 bpm! Notice how the beats get closer together as Pro Tools speeds up the loops; all this is done in real time, non‑destructively, so one click of the Undo button puts everything back to normal.


There was a lot of discussion in the early days about how good, or not, Elastic Audio was for handling multitrack drums, and whether it could keep everything in sync with no flamming. There are a number of threads in the Digidesign User Conference about it (see, for instance, and ). In v7.4cs2, Digidesign tweaked the way in which Elastic Audio works, so that it puts the first transient across a set of grouped tracks onto the grid. Let's look at how we might use Elastic Audio to tidy up a drum session where, although the drummer played to a click, the timing in places was not as tight as it should have been, and he and the bassist weren't always together. A real‑world situation if ever there was one! First, make sure you set up an Edit & Mix group for all your drum kit tracks. This is essential if you don't want to end up with phasing or, worse still, flamming in your corrected drum parts.

Then make sure that all your tracks are in tick‑based mode, by clicking on the clock icon in one of the tracks' title sections and changing it to the metronome icon (doing this to one will change all the tracks in the group to tick‑based). Now click on the Elastic Audio plug‑in box and select the Rhythmic algorithm, as these are rhythm parts we will be working on. (Monophonic is best for instruments that play single notes, like bass guitars and vocals, while Polyphonic is best for pre-mixed loops, piano and keyboard tracks, and so on). Don't worry if your tracks go grey when you do this for the first time: Pro Tools takes the regions off‑line to analyse them ready for the real‑time time compression and expansion that is Elastic Audio. With the groundwork done, we can begin. Take a look at the screen to the right: the snare drum should be on the second beat of the bar, but it is a little late.

The snare hit in the centre of this screen is so late that Pro Tools attempts to move it to the wrong place entirely! Using Elastic Audio we can quantise these drum tracks just as if they were MIDI. Highlight the tracks, go into the Event menu and choose Event Operations / Quantise In the Quantise window, make sure you have Elastic Audio Events selected, choose appropriate settings for the style and timing of the music you are working on, then hit Apply. You will see the waveforms move as Pro Tools quantises your audio for you, just as if it was MIDI. Now play the track against the click and check to make sure Pro Tools has got it right.

In this case, the snare was so far off the beat that Pro Tools quantised it the wrong way! When this happens, you will need to go in and give Pro Tools a helping hand. Select Warp view (one up from Waveform in the track drop‑down menu) and you will see where Pro Tools has put the warp markers on the transients.

By creating our own warp markers, we can move the snare to the right place manually. You will notice that there are two sets of warp markers, one on the beat and one on the snare hit. Delete the warp marker on the beat by double‑clicking on it. Once it is gone, drag the warp marker on the snare and drop it on the correct beat (you can, of course, choose to do this with Grid edit mode engaged if you want it bang on the beat). Work your way through the track fixing the other markers that Pro Tools doesn't get right and you are done.

If you don't want a strict metronomic drummer, you can chose to re‑quantise the kit using a groove, by selecting one from the Quantise Grid menu in the Quantise window. Remember, this is all done in real time and non‑destructively, so you can always go back and have another go, which is really great when you're learning how to do this. I managed to sort this particular track out in a few minutes, where previously, in Beat Detective, it took several hours, working along in four‑bar sections and then manually fixing the bits that didn't work properly. In the December 2005 issue of SOS I mentioned a problem that, at the time, required advanced timing correction in Beat Detective.

I had a track that had been recorded without a click, in which the client decided they wanted to replace the keyboard part with a piano part. The pianist understandably found it hard to play exactly in time with the original, but we worked hard to get the best match possible, and then I set about using Beat Detective to analyse the track, produce a tempo map of the piece and cut up the new piano part to match the song's tempo map.

It took hours and hours, but the result was pretty amazing: although there were loads of edits in the piano part, in context you couldn't hear them. I wondered what Elastic Audio would make of the same challenge, so I imported the 'non‑Beat Detectived' piano track to a tick‑based stereo audio track and activated the Polyphonic Elastic Audio algorithm. In Warp view, when you slide a warp marker, the two either side of it act as anchors; because they were all so far out, I found I was pulling the piano part all over the place.

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To reduce this, I went through and removed most of the automatically generated warp markers, then placed new ones in strategic positions. As I created them, I slid each one to the correct position to bring the next section of the piano part into time. In this fashion, I worked my way through the piano part in about 30 minutes, creating and moving warp markers where I wanted them, until the piano and keyboard parts looked very similar in the waveform view. Using the Polyphonic Elastic Audio plug‑in, the sound of the piano was significantly compromised in places. Once I was happy that I had got the new piano part in time with the piece, I changed from Polyphonic to X‑Form (Rendered Only). Pro Tools then went away and used the excellent X‑Form time compression and expansion plug‑in to create a rendered version of my piano part. Hey presto: one excellent piano part that, when soloed, sounds so much better than the Beat Detective version.

Chalk another one up to Elastic Audio. (The screen below shows the Beat Detective track on top and the completed Elastic Audio track below.) A piano part, corrected using laborious work in Beat Detective (top lane) and much more quickly in Elastic Audio (bottom).

I hope this has been helpful and encouraged you to have a go with Elastic Audio. Once you have got to grips with it, you won't be disappointed! All contents copyright © SOS Publications Group and/or its licensors, 1985-2018. All rights reserved. The contents of this article are subject to worldwide copyright protection and reproduction in whole or part, whether mechanical or electronic, is expressly forbidden without the prior written consent of the Publishers. Great care has been taken to ensure accuracy in the preparation of this article but neither Sound On Sound Limited nor the publishers can be held responsible for its contents. The views expressed are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of the publishers.

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