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Camelot Tutorial 3: Layers and Items
In this tutorial, we take a deep dive into the beating heart of Camelot: Layers and Items, but before we do, you should be familiar with Camelot’s foundations.
If you haven’t already, take the time to look at these two articles:
The heart of Camelot is its Layers. Layers are complete signal paths made up of audio and/or MIDI Items. An Item is a functional block. The Add Item menu breaks Items into three application groups, partly on the basis of their functions, but also based on where they appear in the signal flow:
Pre-Processors are MIDI items, including:
- MIDI Processors - MIDI processing plugins such as arpeggiators.
- MIDI Programs - Items that send a program change when a Layer is loaded, send multiple program changes on different channels, or when a Layer is loaded, or send other MIDI messages or strings of messages, including System Exclusive (sysex),
- MIDI Layer Connectors - Items that route MIDI data between Layers.
Instruments & Devices, which includes:
- Hardware Devices - Items that manage MIDI hardware, including the use of Smart Maps and custom maps.
- Software Instruments - Items such as Virtual Instruments, samplers, and so forth.
- MIDI Devices, which offer the same single program change or MIDI message string capabilities as are offered in the Pre-Processors group. The difference between the two is that a Pre-Processor MIDI Program Item affects the Layer’s MIDI data stream, while a MIDI Device Item in the Instruments & Devices group affects only that Item’s MIDI data stream, which is sent exclusively to the target instrument or device set in the Item’s Audio & MIDI Settings>MIDI Connections>Send MIDI to parameter.
Figure 1 - Some MIDI Items from both the Pre-Processors and Instruments & Devices application groups. Presets for the Kronos hardware device Item are shown when you open the MIDI Item above it.
- Audio FX Plugins - These are any kind of audio processing plugin.
- Audio Layer Connectors - These route audio between Layers.
Figure 2 - A small selection of audio Items from the Instruments & Devices and Post-Processors application groups. The bottom row shows the plugin user interface windows that can be accessed from the Items above them.
Signal flow in a Layer is generally left to right, but advanced applications can produce variations and exceptions to that.
Figure 3 - Signal flow through a Layer, showing the three classes of Items: Pre-Processors, Instruments & Devices, and Post-Processors.
Seeing Layers As Self-Contained Objects
If Items are thought of as building blocks, then the Layer is the frame that contains a group of these blocks and routes their data. This notion of encapsulation is seen in the way that Camelot treats a Layer as a self-contained object, which:
- has its own properties, like MIDI and audio inputs and audio outputs, MIDI key range, and velocity range,
- has a master fader that acts like a VCA fader that scales the level of each individual Item in the Layer, whether it is adjusting audio level or a MIDI level parameter,
- can be copied as a single entity from one Scene to another,
- can be saved as a template that can be loaded whole into another Song,
Most of all, a Layer can be thought of in terms of its function. For example, you might have one Layer that is a lead synthesizer sound, with all of its compression, delay, and other audio processing, and another Layer that is a Hammond organ sound with Leslie processing, as shown in Figure 5 below. A Layer could be a simple channel strip for microphone input, or it could be several channel strips in one to process a few audio inputs, or some combination of audio inputs and software instruments, with common MIDI inputs and using a common audio output.
Using more advanced MIDI functions (some of which we will touch on here, others of which will be covered in a separate tutorial) you could set up a Layer for a brass section made up of SWAM brass instruments which can each be addressed separately. Being able to think of each Layer in terms of its function (lead synth, B3/Leslie, brass section) is not only convenient, but invites reuse in other Scenes or Songs. In short, the Layer is a very versatile structure.
Layers can theoretically contain nearly any number of Items, but the practical reality is that having a large number of Items in a single Layer can defeat the convenience of Layers as encapsulating a particular signal chain. If you have a lot of Items in a Layer, consider breaking them into several Layers, unless there is a particular reason for them all being in one Layer.
Figure 4 - The Layer on top has many Items. Technically, there is no problem, but it can be confusing to manage. On the bottom, the Items have been divided into two Layers for better clarity and simpler operation.
Where Layers Live
There are three areas that can hold Layers, all of which are shown in the Layers view: Scene Layers, Song Rack, and Setlist Rack. Each of these areas can hold multiple Layers, and, as explained in the Basics article, the difference between these three areas is how often they get changed. Later in this article, we will come back to this topic and have a closer look at how to decide in which of these locations a given Layer should be placed.
When you combine the idea of a Layer being a self-contained entity with the fact that multiple Layers can exist, for example, in the Scene Layers area, many possibilities begin to suggest themselves.
You might use multiple Layers to package several different musical functions, like a brass section, Hammond B3, and lead synth in a single Scene.
Figure 5 - Three Scene Layers, each dedicated to a different purpose. On top, a lead synth layer, complete with effects. In the middle, a B3 organ layer, and, on the bottom, a SWAM brass section in which each instrument is on a different MIDI channel, so the horns can be addressed individually. Each Layer can be routed to a separate audio output, if needed. Here, levels within each Layer and between Layers are all being mixed and sent to the Main Audio Out.
Or you might use multiple Layers to create splits or sound stacking (including velocity switching) by taking advantage of each Layer having its own key range and velocity range.
Figure 6 - At top, two software instruments in the same Layer with their key ranges set to a split configuration for bass and chords. At bottom, two instruments in the same Layer, set up as a velocity stack. It would also be possible to have each instrument in its own Layer, if that flexibility was needed, and set the key range or velocity range for each Layer to get the same effect.
When there are multiple Layers in an area, they can always be rearranged, if desired, by clicking the pencil icon for an area to enter its Edit mode, then dragging on the Layer move handles to rearrange them.
Figure 7 - When there are multiple Layers in a Scene or Rack, their order can be arranged in Edit mode with a simple drag-and-drop.
Let’s return to the question of how to decide whether a Layer should be a Scene Layer or reside in the Song Rack or Setlist Rack. One key factor in this decision is that loading MIDI Items is fast and doesn’t take up much memory, but audio processing plugins and, especially, software instruments, require greater load times and more space. If you are only using your SWAM Trombone in one part of one Song, then it makes the most sense for it to live in a Scene Layer. But if you will play the trombone all evening, then it might be best in a Layer in the Setlist Rack, where it will stay as long as you are using that Setlist, rather than it having to load with each Song, which could lengthen the load time of the Song.
If you’ll be playing that trombone sound through a whole Song, it might make sense for that Layer to be in the Song Rack, simply to avoid having multiple instances of it, which would consume more CPU and memory.
Figure 8 - With the SWAM Trombone in a Scene Layer, as at the top, it will need to be reloaded when the Song changes, even if it is in both the “before” and “after” Scenes. On the bottom, the Layer is in the Setlist Rack, so the SWAM Trombone will remain loaded as long as the Setlist is active.
What about if you have a favorite software synthesizer that you play most of the show, changing sounds on it for the different Songs and song parts? To answer that, you first should determine if that soft synth responds to MIDI program change messages. If it does, then you can put it in a Layer in the Setlist Rack, then have a MIDI Program Change Item in a Scene Layer for each Scene. That way, a Program Change message to call up a different sound is sent as each Scene is loaded, but the software instrument is only loaded when the set is begun. (The Mixing and Routing tutorial will cover the details of directing the Program Change message from the Scene Layer to the Layer in the Setlist Rack.) If the instrument does not respond to Program Change messages, you may have no choice but to have it in Scene Layers and reload it with each Scene change.
Figure 9 - The software synthesizer in the Setlist Rack stays loaded all the time. When a Scene is loaded, the MIDI Program Change message defined in the Scene Layer is sent to the synth to change its sound.. Not all software synthesizers can accept MIDI Program Change Messages, however. The hardware synthesizer Item in the HW synth Layer is just a MIDI Item, so it is no problem to have it in a Scene Layer, changing with each Scene.
If you are using an external MIDI synthesizer, you can have a MIDI Hardware Item for the synth in a Scene Layer in each Scene, as in Figure 8 above. The MIDI Item loads quickly and easily with the Scene, and sends a Program Change message to the external synth to change its sound.
Although you can do whatever is convenient for your purposes, on the whole, the best candidates to reside in the Song Rack or Setlist Rack are Layers containing audio Items that are used repeatedly through the Song or the entire set. To take it a step further, think about how your device resources are consumed by each of these.
A Layer in a Setlist Rack uses CPU and memory resources for the entire setlist, which you only want to do if you really need that Layer all the time. However, if you put the Layer in a Song Rack (or a Scene), it can take several seconds for a Song to load. If you cannot afford that delay musically, then it might be worth it to put it in the Setlist Rack and let it consume those resources. If you will have a little more time between Songs, you may be able to afford the load time and can put that Layer into a Song Rack or a Scene.
Putting Items to Work
An Item might handle audio, MIDI, or both. Items dealing with audio would be either software instruments or audio processors. It is common to combine these within a layer. For example, you might create a Layer that has a SWAM Alto Trombone Item that feeds into an audio compressor and a delay or reverb, to provide a complete trombone signal path.
Figure 10 - A complete, self-contained trombone signal path. First there is an EQ/dynamics suite, followed by a reverb.
Perhaps you play electric guitar and want to use Camelot as your guitar rig. You would plug your guitar into an instrument input on your interface or into a DI box that connects to the interface, use that signal as an audio input to the Layer, then insert an amp simulator like Overloud’s TH-U as an audio processor Item, and either use its onboard effects, or insert a flanger Item and a delay Item from other plugin makers.
Figure 11 - A guitar signal path with flanger and delay.
Camelot has very flexible routing and mixing facilities (which will be explored in detail in the Camelot Mixing and Routing tutorial), so you could create a Layer that serves as a master signal chain, and build several more Layers with alternate processing chains that get fed from different points in the master chain. You can even route audio to sidechain inputs of plugins that offer them.
Figure 12 – Multiple processing chains can be set up and directed to different outputs. Audio Layer Connector Items route audio from Scene Layers to the processing chains in the Setlist Rack Layers. Camelot also has dedicated onboard processing for the Main Out.
Each Item presents a main knob in the UI. For audio Items, this is a wet/dry mix control, for software instruments it is a master volume control, and for external devices, it is a MIDI volume control (continuous control 7).
There are two ways to edit parameters of audio Items. The first is to open the plugin’s user interface by double-clicking on its name in the Item. If the plugin allows mapping MIDI controllers to control parameters, as SWAM instruments do, then you can simply do the mapping in the plugin’s interface, as usual.
Figure 13 - Some software instruments, including SWAM, can assign MIDI controls to parameters for real-time dynamic control.
The other way to edit parameters is to expand the Item by clicking the double-headed arrow in the lower right corner. In the expanded view, audio processor Items have a “master fader”-style wet/dry mix control flanked by stereo meters on the far left and with a pan control at the top, and then eight assignable faders.
Figure 14 - An expanded audio processing Item. The faders can be assigned to the parameters you most often adjust.
The wet/dry mix control is a Camelot feature. Many plugins include their own wet/dry mix controls, which might show up on one of the assignable faders, so that you see two Mix faders. You decide which mix control to use, but if you choose the Camelot control, you can reassign the plugin mix fader to a different parameter.
To assign a fader to a parameter, simply click the parameter name at the top of the fader, then select the parameter you want controlled by that fader from the parameter list that appears.
Software instruments will appear very similarly to audio processors when expanded, except that the wet/dry mix control will be a volume control instead. Assigning parameters is the same: click the name at the top of the fader, choose a parameter to control.
In the case of hardware devices, such as outboard synthesizer modules or keyboard workstations, things are a bit trickier because Camelot must use MIDI to control parameters, rather than controlling them directly, as with software instruments or processors. Thus, when a hardware device Item is expanded, the faders are all mapped to MIDI Continuous Controllers. In the case of instruments for which a Smart Map exists, the correct name of the parameter mapped to a controller is shown.
When there is no Smart Map, recommended mappings from the MIDI specification are shown next to the CC numbers, but there is no guarantee your device implements these as shown. The actual assignments of controller numbers to sound parameters must be done in the hardware device itself. To sum up, you must assign a MIDI continuous controller number to each fader in Camelot, then link that MIDI CC number to the desired parameter in the external instrument.
Figure 15 - An expanded hardware MIDI synthesizer Item looks like an expanded software instrument Item, but all of the parameters are MIDI Continuous Controllers.
The key range for the Item is shown below the faders. Of course, for some audio processors, such as a reverb, key range may not be implemented (since audio processors may not even respond to MIDI note messages at all). As illustrated in Figure 5 above, setting key ranges for hardware and software instrument Items is a way to set up splits within a Layer, while assigning different velocity ranges provides velocity switching. Advanced MIDI features we won’t discuss here open up even more possibilities.
When you are done assigning parameters or key/velocity ranges, click the double-headed arrow in the lower right to go to the Layer “submixer.” This is not really a mixer, it is a collection of the “main knob” assignments for each Item in the Layer. Make any adjustments you wish here, then click the double-headed arrow in the lower right of the Layer management area to collapse the Item fully. A faster way to collapse the Item is simply to click the Layers view button.
Figure 16 - The expanded Layer shows a "mixer" with the parameters mapped to the main knob of each Item.
MIDI Processor Items
The Add Item wizard in Layers view offers a category titled “Pre-Processors.” Clicking the category brings up a submenu of the three types of MIDI processor Items.
Figure 17 - There are three classes of MIDI Items in the Pre-Processors submenu.
The “MIDI Processors” button accesses any MIDI processing plugins (such as an arpeggiator) you may have installed. MIDI Programs offers two options: MIDI – Single Part, and Advanced MIDI. The Single Part Item allows you to specify a single MIDI Program Change message that will be transmitted when the Layer is loaded (for a Scene Layer, that is when the Scene gets loaded).
The Advanced MIDI Item is considerably more powerful. It can send a whole string of MIDI messages of various kinds. That means that a number of devices (or plugins capable of responding to MIDI messages) can be reconfigured at once. Advanced MIDI can send program changes, control changes, pitch wheel, system exclusive (sysex can be very important), in fact, just about all of the core messages defined in the MIDI specification, each on a specified MIDI channel.
You can use this capability very simply, such as sending a message to reset pitch bend to zero when a scene is loaded, or you can get very, very deep with things like sysex and MIDI Time Code messages and program changes and, oh my, all kinds of things! It is easy to use this Item to do simple tasks, but if you are a power user, this is an area you will want to take a close look at.
There are two ways to specify the string of messages you want sent. The simplest is to capture the messages from a device that transmits them. This is useful for devices that use sysex to access advanced features, to capture a gesture performed on a controller, or even just to make sure Camelot will be sending the right program change message later by calling up the preset on the device and having Camelot capture the message that is sent. Simply click the Learn button, specify the sending device, send the messages you want captured, and, when you are finished, clicking the Learn button (which now says “Stop Learning”) again to end the capture.
Figure 18 - The Advanced MIDI Item can capture a stream of MIDI messages and then transmit it later.
The other method of specifying messages to send is manually, by clicking the Add button, choosing the type of message to add, then specifying its values.
Figure 19 - You can manually add MIDI messages to an Advanced MIDI Item. Shown here is a portion of the list of messages available to send.
However you specify the list of MIDI messages, the messages in the list can be rearranged, edited, deleted individually, or the entire list can be cleared at once.
We’ve gone through just about all of the kinds of Items available in Camelot. There are two more that are worth mention here, though they will be covered in more detail in the Routing and Mixing tutorial.
With all of these Layers in play, there are times when it would be useful to be able to route audio or MIDI data from one Layer to another. Perhaps you have a master processing chain that you want all audio fed through, or maybe you have a software instrument you want to live in a Song or Setlist Rack so that it stays loaded, but you want to send it program changes to change sounds at different times. You will find a MIDI Layer Connector Item under Pre-Processors, and an audio Layer Connector Item under Post-Processors.
Figure 20 - An Audio Layer Connector Item on the left, and two MIDI Layer Connector Items. These Items route audio or MIDI from one Layer to another. They can be placed anywhere in the chain in a Layer.
These Items are very simple to use, you need only insert one and then specify the target Layer to which you want the data sent. (In the case of MIDI Layer Connectors, you first must specify the type of MIDI data you want to send.)
There You Have It!
Wow. That is a LOT of information we just dumped on you, but, of course, that is because, as we already mentioned, Layers and Items are really at the center of Camelot. Having read all the way through this tutorial, you might find it helpful to keep it nearby while you try working with Camelot, so you can refer back to it. As you actually build Layers in Camelot, you will find yourself quite quickly getting the hang of how it all fits together. As you become more familiar with Camelot, you will encounter a musical need and the solution in Camelot will just leap to mind. That is when you really start having some serious fun!