Mark of the Unicorn's (MOTU's) Digital Performer digital audio sequencer has always provided an elegant user interface and thorough, well-written manuals. Nonetheless, the sheer density of its features can be intimidating to a first-time user. Furthermore, MOTU's aggressive upgrades have encompassed more new features than experienced users have the time to futz with. Sometimes it's easier to have someone there to help you along. Cool Breeze Systems offers its Cool School Interactus, vol. 6, instructional CD-ROM (Mac/Win; $79.95), which strives to guide greenhorns through setting up Digital Performer 3 all the way to employing its power-user features.
Installing the CD-ROM copies three applications to your hard drive. The Browser application opens the main body of instruction. CSI Interface Tutorial outlines Browser's features and navigation capabilities. Finally, the Locator app (which also appears in Browser) allows you to shuttle through quizzes, a glossary, and a searchable index of subjects. It also enables you to access information on other Cool School CD-ROMs.
The Main Course
Browser starts at the Topic window. Clicking on any main topic, with the exception of the Introduction, opens an interactive replica of Digital Performer. Selecting Introduction opens up two panes: a list of subtopics and nested subtopics. At the top right of the screen is a handy pull-down menu that lets you jump to one of the eight main topics. Below the pull-down menu is the Media Tube, containing a series of boxes that hold text, video, or rendered signal-flow images. Another box with a camera icon includes one or more images of ancillary hardware and software with descriptive text information.
Windows with text offer three buttons: Print, Tub It, and Expand. Expand enlarges the text windows. The Tub It button copies the contents of the text files to a clipboard for printing before exiting the program. Unfortunately, the Tub It button doesn't copy information to the Mac's Finder clipboard. I'd prefer to switch to the Finder and paste text files into a single document for later printing and reviewing.
Other topics open interactive mock-ups of Digital Performer screens. Clicking on relevant sections of the screen works as it would in Digital Performer and opens a box containing a basic description in the lower-right corner of the screen. For instance, I selected Strip Silence from the mock Audio pull-down menu. A pane on the lower right of the screen stated that this opens the Strip Silence dialog box, followed by a brief description of Strip Silence. It would have been more effective if the dialog box opened as it would in Digital Performer.
Below the mock-up screen are videos that narrate and demonstrate the sequencer's features. For instance, the Mixing Board section has six movies related to mixer functions. Most of the movies clearly illustrate basic procedures, but some gloss over significant details. For example, a movie that explains FreeMIDI setup illustrates manual configuration of the system but doesn't take into account devices that may not appear in the FreeMIDI device list.
One video showed a quantizing plug-in that was already assigned to the track, thereby skipping its selection from the Mixer pull-down menu. Another movie refers to an interactive tutorial for Digital Performer's Song mode that I couldn't locate. Song mode is one of Digital Performer's more powerful tools and deserves more than a passing mention. Some videos demonstrate functions with narrative and then quickly execute the task onscreen. It's more effective to narrate procedures on a step-by-step basis.
Cool Breeze Systems markets the CD-ROM as a product that everyone, from neophytes to Digital Performer gurus, can use — an ambitious if not impossible scope to cover on a single CD-ROM. I found few revelations for the advanced user, and beginners could fare quite well just by exploring Digital Performer with its context-sensitive Help engaged.
As such, Cool School Interactus, vol. 6, falls short of its goal. Still, some people will readily respond to multimedia instruction, and this course presents a more organized approach to assimilating information than does a random investigation of Digital Performer.
The course is also a convenient and a relatively inexpensive way to audition Digital Performer's capabilities before you lay down hard cash for a MOTU system. Educators will find the CD-ROM easier to present as a guided course when multiple workstations aren't available. The company even offers additional information at its online Cool School. My cavils aside, teachers and beginners will discover that the course is a convenient way to get up to speed with much of what Digital Performer has to offer.