Play with Gig Performer Piano VST: host software in live use

Play with Gig Performer Piano VST: host software in live use

(This is an English translation of a German article written by Lukas Ruschitzka that first appeared on July 23rd, 2019 in Pianoo.de)

Play with Gig Performer Piano VST: host software in live use

  • Gig Performer is a cross platform software application for Windows and MacOS.
  • Gig Performer makes it easy to combine and organize VST instruments (such as piano, e-piano, strings).
  • Software instruments or effect plug-ins can be wired virtually, similar to what is known from a DAW, but with the focus on assembling, playing and switching instruments.

Gig Performer, audio plugin host software in live use, Piano VST plugin

Why use a DAW just to play a piano VST? And what can you do if a software piano is not available as a stand-alone application? In order to be able to play simply a VST or AU instrument, slimmer programs are available, which focus on the essentials: Host programs like Gig Performer make the loading, switching and of course the playing of software instruments very simple.

Of course, this is not just about playing piano VSTs. Gig Performer is ideal for combining several different VST instruments or developing complex sound setups. Playing a piano library with a string library on a keyboard is the simplest of all – in practice, the ability to easily retrieve combinations of instruments is particularly convenient.

The software comes from the American company Deskew Technologies. The two developers themselves are musicians who have always wanted a reliable performance tool to play their software instruments. Since they could not find a product that met their expectations, in 2016 they decided to bring their own software to the market.

Software Instruments and Rackspaces

Each instrument setup takes place in a rackspace. If different instruments are needed for different songs, then you create your own rack space for each song. Between these rackspaces, you can then switch quickly and without interruption, important for live, but practically also for the home. If you just want to play your favorite instruments, simply name the rackspaces after the corresponding instrument, e.g. “Keyscape Rhodes” or “Native Instruments NOIRE”.

Each instrument setup takes place in a Gig Performer rackspace
Gig Performer organizes software instruments in rack spaces.

The big advantage is that you can always grasp the structure of your instruments and effects at a glance. So you can easily build more complicated routings. Assuming you want to create a layer, that is, put two instruments on top of each other (for example, a piano with strings), you simply connect the MIDI block to two different instruments.

Then one can consider whether to add more blocks for effects, e.g. Hall or Delay. Of course, splits can also be implemented, i.e. dividing the keyboard, so that you can play a bass in the lower register, in the middle a piano and above an organ. The possibilities are endless and the clear visualization ensures that it remains clear even with more complicated arrangements.

Gig performer and Native Instruments Noire Plugin

Virtual cabling

Unlike other audio programs, GP uses a highly visual approach: All instruments, effects, or the MIDI input keyboard are displayed as so-called “blocks”. To make an instrument playable, simply connect the MIDI input block to the instrument and then connect the instrument to the audio output of the sound card.

Virtual cabling in Gig Performer, a highly visual approach, to make an instrument playable, simply connect the MIDI input block to the instrument and then connect the instrument to the audio output of the sound card.

Differences to Apple’s MainStage

The best-known and oldest performance software for playing software instruments is Apple’s MainStage. I also worked with MainStage for a few years before discovering Gig Performer. The biggest advantages of Gig Performer over MainStage are for me:

  • Available for Windows and MacOS: While MainStage is for Mac users only, Gig Performer is available for both MacOS and Windows. You can even exchange files between both systems. Gig Performer recognizes which instruments are installed on the system and automatically loads the right one.
  • Stability: Gig Performer was developed with a focus on stability and reliability and is extremely stable. Before the release of each update, there is a very long trial period to ensure that everything runs smoothly. While MainStage periodically crashes when I load or switch sounds, I have not had a single crash with GP at a concert.
  • Easy to use: With Gig Performer, you can start right away without having to deal with complex set-up procedures. Start the program, load the instrument, wire it and off you go! Even more complex structures are still manageable in Gig Performer.
  • Community support: The developers of Deskew Technologies are in constant communication with their users, so that ideas and suggestions for improvement are regularly included in new versions. Even with questions or problems you get in the forum usually within a few hours an answer.

Everything at a click

If you play piano VSTs and other software instruments, you can not ignore host software like Gig Performer. The program is aimed primarily at professional musicians on the stage. But even those who want to play software instruments at home in the living room or in the home studio will not want to miss the practical benefits of Gig Performer. Although the host software is simple, very complex routing is possible.



The Global Rackspace can receive audio from whatever rackspace is currently active. Instead of inserting effects in every rackspace, simply insert them once in the Global Rackspace and all your local rackspaces will have access to them. The Global Rackspace can also send audio to the currently active rackspace. So you can insert a looper that receives audio directly from your guitar (say) and then send the looped audio to different effects in different rackspaces. If a particular instrument such as a piano or organ is needed everywhere (or almost everywhere), put it in the Global Rackspace.

 

Gig Performer 4 provides a virtual view allowing you to spread out your blocks and connections to make them easier to see and manage, even if you have a very small screen. You can zoom in or out and you can use the Auto-Fit option to position your blocks to fit in the available space.

Scaling curves allow you to control the shape of the output of a widget or convert an incoming note velocity to a new velocity. Various predefined curves are available and they can be tweaked as necessary. You can also just draw your own curve as well to achieve the effect you require.

You can load up to 128 MIDI song files in a single plugin instance. Switch from one song to another, mute tracks and/or change their channel numbers. Tempo can be controlled by individual songs or you can use the global tempo and tap tempo to control the BPM interactively.

Create a sound by placing and interconnecting your desired plugins, such as a synth, some effects and perhaps a mixer. Select them all and then save the selection as a named favorite. The favorite will subsequently show up in all plugin insert menus, making it easy for you to recreate that configuration whenever you need it again. This feature is also very powerful for creating your needed sounds on your studio computer and then transferring them to your touring laptop.

Parameters you select in an open plugin are captured into the Probabilistic Sound Designer dialog window. When you click Randomize, you're only adjusting those selected parameters. Each entry in the PSD dialog has a curve but unlike widgets where the curve controls scaling, in the PSD the curves are used to define the probability of particular values being selected. Make sure the filter cutoff never gets too slow so as to block all sound. Perhaps adjust the max range of the VCA attack parameter so that the sound doesn't have too much delay. Constrain the octave ranges of the oscillators, perhaps ensuring that 1/3rd of the time we select 8' and 2/3rds of the time we select 4'. The possibilities are endless.

Numerous new widgets are included in Gig Performer - a new sustain pedal, plastic knobs, drum pads and more colored sliders. Shapes can be colored with different borders and fill colors and morphed from rectangular to circular. Your creativity is now the limit to creating fabulous front panels in Gig Performer.

Select MIDI devices by name. Choose the MIDI message type and adjust the appropriate parameters for the specific type

 

Gig Performer supports arbitrary resizing. Layout your widgets the way you want - resize the main window and the widgets will grow or shrink as necessary to maintain the same interrelationships. No matter what size screen you have, your front panels will still be neat and usable.

If you move your widgets around and/or resize them, or even delete them by mistake, the Undo facility will correct your mistake. Minor moves to a widget by mistake will no longer spoil your design

Some plugins support a large number of outputs and they depend on the traditional channel strip to control how many ports should be available.   When you only need a stereo pair, it is convenient not to have a large horizontal block. In Gig Performer, the number of available ports  is controlled by the channel count override, which can be applied to individual plugins and will be remembered when the gigfile is reloaded or if the plugin is saved as a favorite.

Rather than a single audio length tail, Gig Performer 4 gives you the ability to control input muting and output fading separately. Input muting controls how much time it takes for audio input to be silenced when you leave the rackspace. Output fading controls how much time will be taken for audio to fade out when you leave the rackspace.

Instead of searching through menus of perhaps hundreds of plugins (you know who you are!), the Quick Plugin Finder makes it easy to find the plugin you need by simply typing partial strings. For example, as shown here, to find the Modartt Pianoteq 7 plugins, it's enough to type pia mod 7 (in any order, by the way)  to restrict the list of available plugins to those matching your query. The Quick Plugin Finder also knows about manufacturers, presets and favorites.

Any entry field can be changed by either dragging your mouse (or finger) up or down, or by using the large popup touchpad where you can just tap on the squares to enter a value. The large popup keypad also does validation so you can't enter an invalid value. You can also just tap the BPM field to pop up a larger view where you can quickly change tempo, tranpose, trigger Tap Tempo and enable Ableton Link, the last allowing you to synchronize Gig Performer with any other application that also supports Ableton Link.

The tuner view makes it easy for guitarists to quickly check and adjust their tuning. You can toggle into the tuner view from any other view and toggle right back as soon as you're done. All output will be silenced automatically while you're in tuning mode. You can adjust the concert reference pitch from its default of 440 Hz to suit your own needs. The tuner view fills the entire screen so you can easily see it from a distance.