Forte 4.2.8 Update

Forte 4.2.8 is now available for download.

Changes:

  • Copyright updates to 2017
  • New Code Signing Certificate
  • Added backup method to find VST plugin by ID – racks plugins now have “VSTID” tags that can be used as a backup way to location VSTs on load.
  • Fix Halion 6 GUI size by handling the audioMasterSizeWindow opcode
  • Fixed rounding errors in volume slider
  • Fixed WASAPI audio input support
  • fix SceneView switch scenes
  • Fixed deadlock with control surfaces.
  • Better error message when Forte can’t backup a file on save
  • Fixed transport toggle automation
  • Fixed scene browse cancel – don’t allow select to work if canceled
  • Removed readme from install script
  • Added a rack load time check for duplicate scene IDs – fail to load with a message.
  • Fixed some debug runtime check errors
  • Fixed crash on add plugin to favorites.

These are most of the bug fixes included in 4.5 without the DPI and other improvements. These are chosen for low risk to enable a short beta cycle.

 

Forte 4.5 Technical Preview #3

Forte 4.5.3 is now available to download for testing.  This is not a final release and caution is recommended in using it for anything other than testing.

Changes and fixes:

  • Adds another way for Forte to locate the correct VST plugin on rack load.  VSTs are just DLL files which Forte loads.  When loaded, the plugin can return it’s VST unique ID.  However, because of some issues years ago with a plugin vendor who returned the same ID for multiple DLLs in their product line, Forte build a unique ID out of the plugin’s filename + the VST ID.  This works most of the time except when the plugin vendor changes the DLL filename on update (like the recent Waves update which changed the name of the Waveshell DLL file).  Forte 4.6.3 now saves the VST ID in the rack file.  If Forte cannot find a VST plugin by the filename+ID hash, it will attempt to load a matching plugin by VST ID only.  This means that the rack file must be resaved under Forte 4.5.3 to include the VST ID.  The new rack XML attribute is “VSTID”.
  • Saves a new JSON-formatted plugin cache.  When “plugins.xml” or “plugins64.xml” is saved, another “plugins.json” or “plugins64.json” file is saved.  This JSON file contains some new VST diagnostic information in it including the number of parameters, the size of the FXB chunk, etc.  Although these could change dynamically, it is useful to have a snapshot of them at plugin discovery time for diagnostic reasons.  Forte always saves both JSON and XML, but when Forte starts up it attempts to load the JSON file first and only loads the XML if the JSON is unavailable.  Future versions of Forte will drop the XML completely.
  • Fixes a problem where the 32 bit version of Forte 4.5.2 crashed on startup.

 

 

 

 

Waves Plugins Update Issue

A customer contacted me and told me that after updating his Waves plugins, Forte could no longer find them when loading a rack file.  I investigated and found the following issue:

Forte uses the plugin DLL name as part of a unique “key” in the plugin database (CLSID).  A plugin name change can result in a different key name (see plugins.xml and plugins64.xml in your data directory).  This was done for a specific reason years ago, probably because a VST plugin vendor has used the same VST ID for multiple plugins.

I will be looking for a real fix soon, but for now, the solution is to copy the updated VST DLL (e.g. WaveShell-VST 9.91_x64.dll) to the old name (WaveShell-VST 9.6_x64.dll).  This is known to work.

 

Forte 4.5 Technical Preview #2

Forte 4.5.2 is now available from the download page.  This is pre-release software for use in testing only.  Please do not use for important work.

Fixes:

  • Fixed the rounding error in the bus and instrument rack volume sliders.
  • Fixed problems with WASAPI audio input
  • Fixed plugin GUIs that report one size but then resize larger (Halion).  This used to clip the GUI in a smaller area but now expands as needed.  You may still need to undock to see the entire GUI.

Other Changes

  • Support for Windows 7, 8.1, and 10.  By popular request, Forte 4.5 will support these older versions of Windows.  High DPI support will not be available in all versions.
  • Added audio effects plugins to the “New Instrument” menu.  If you create a new instrument module from an effect it is created as an audio input module with the effect in the insert bin.  You will be prompted to select the audio input channels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forte 4.5 Preview Release Notes

Forte 4.5 is a FREE update but requires Windows 10.  Focusing our support and development on Windows 10 allows us to add features that are not available in older versions (like high DPI support) and reduces the support needed for many different flavors of OS.  Windows 10 has matured to the point that it is clearly the go-forward Windows platform.  If you need to run on an older version of Windows, please continue to use Forte 4.2.

Download it here

Features

  • Added Trim Rack option to preserve existing plugin blobs

Visual Improvements

  • Redesigned play/stop tray icons
  • UI style update for Rack Manager
  • DPI Awareness (OPTIONS.INI [Defaults]DPIAware=1 or 0 and Rack Appearance Options checkbox).  This option allows you to enable or disable the application’s DPI awareness which controls how Windows renders UI elements, including plugin UI views.  If you find the plugin UI to be incorrectly sized on your monitor, you may disable DPI awareness.

VST Plugin Fixes

  • Fixed Waves Waveshell plugin naming where plugin menu would show the generic Waveshell DLL name.

Automation Fixes

  • Fixed broken automation for play/stop toggle
  • Fixed deadlock with control surfaces like Korg Nanokontrol 2.

Installer and Misc Changes

  • Removed tip of the day from Help menu
  • Removed README from installer

Miscellaneous

  • Better error message when Forte can’t backup a file on save

Forte in Action: Jong Jubal Drum & Bugle Corp

Congratulations to the Jong Jubal Drum & Bugle Corp on winning both the National (Netherlands) as well as European Drum & Bugle Corp championships!  The music arranger and instructor for the corp was kind enough to send along some pictures of Forte in action on the marching field.  Forte is used to power a set of MIDI “Xylosynths” in the pit.

Enjoy the pictures.

wp_20160910_18_09_41_pro wp_20160924_18_18_04_pro jong_jubal_dce_finals_2016 jongjubal

 

 

 

Announcing Forte 4.2 – June 20, 2016

 

Visual Improvements

Rack Visual Updates – The rack visuals have been changed to make them “flatter” (all the rage these days) with less color splash.  The bus modules have also been changed to distinguish them visually from instrument modules.

Rack Visual Scaling – The rack view can now be scaled larger or smaller to match your display including the newer Ultra-HD monitors with 4K resolution.  The preferences are located in the Options Menu under Program Settings.  See the Rack Display Appearance page.

SceneView Visual Improvements – SceneView has been updated to make the interactive buttons more visible, especially the all important PANIC and POWER buttons, which are now red.  Additionally, by selecting the included “lowres.css” style sheet in Program Settings SceneView page (this file is located in the installation folder), you can now make SceneView work on a monitor with 800×600 resolution.

SceneView Enhancements – SceneView now also includes an Audio and MIDI diagnostic section at the top which enables you to quickly see system status including MIDI event counts, audio dropout counts, sample rate, and buffer size (latency.)

Getting Started and Ease of Use

Windows Audio Session – Added WASAPI support and made it default audio mode.  This will allow first-time users to experience Forte even without specialized ASIO audio hardware using only their laptop sound.

Included VSTi Synth Plugin – Forte now includes TAL-Elek7ro-II VSTi courtesy of the good folks at Togu Audio Line (https://tal-software.com).  This enables first-time users to get started faster.  The plugin is installed in the Forte installation folder and is automatically discovered without having to run the Plugin Manager.

Demo Rack – Forte now includes a demo rack that is loaded on first-time startup.  This rack can then be opened again with the new File menu command Open Demo Rack.  This rack file demonstrates some basic capabilities using the included TAL-Elek7ro plugin.

Updated Audio Settings – The Audio Settings page in Program Settings has been redesigned for clarity.  The buffer size selection is now a slider which is easily changeable.  Also, a drop list enables you to select your preferred audio output when adding the first instrument to an empty rack.

First Time Startup – Forte now does not have to restart when choosing audio settings on first-time startup

New shortcut keys – F2=Program Settings, Ctrl-A = audio settings (when the plugin consoles are closed)

Bug Fixes

We have fixed the most frequently encountered Forte crash:  the crash on restart after choosing audio settings for the 1st time

The bus module volume slider now includes a live update tooltip again (it went missing for awhile).

Finally fixed the long-standing problem where undocked plugins would not re-open to the correct screen location but would be reduced in size.

Fixed some issues with Arturia plugins not reacting correctly to scene changes:  Vox, Matrix, and Solina

Several rack editor fixes and visual enhancements (including a crash and an instance where changes didn’t behave as expected)

And many other things…

Other Notes

The OPTIONS.INI variable [Audio]DefaultASIODriver is now unused and removed.

Get it here!

Forte Rig 2016

Forte Rig 1Things certainly have gotten smaller!

Developing and maintaining Forte requires a PC that includes all of the compilers and publishing tools as well as a MIDI and audio rig to test it all with.  I thought the nature of that rig in 2016 might be interesting to Forte users.

Back when Forte was first released in 2002 the only way to get the compute power needed for good audio was a high end desktop or tower PC, usually with a PCI audio card (I used the Frontier Dakota for years), and frequently with dual high end 7200 RPM disk drives so that you could keep OS disk I/O separate from audio I/O.

Now, this is it:  A laptop with some USB devices.  I use an HP Envy 14” touchscreen laptop PC.  It runs 64 bit Windows 10 (with no real OS optimization tweaks….wireless networking is chatting away).  The big enhancement I made to this laptop was to replace the hard disk with a Samsung EVO SSD which made a huge difference in performance.

Thanks to the new Windows Audio Session (WASAPI) audio driver support in Forte 4.2, I don’t actually need to attach any external ASIO hardware.  The on-board sound is just fine for casual work.  The main MIDI input now is this cool little QuNexus touch keyboard by Keith McMillen Instruments.  It’s USB powered and tiny.  I also use a Korg nanoKONTROL 2 USB device just to have some knobs and sliders to use, and to test control surface support.

Forte Rig 1This rig is then expanded as necessary with an M-Audio MIDISport 4×4 USB adapter to connect traditional MIDI inputs (an old Roland XP-50 keyboard and some Roland V-Drums), and a Novation Impulse 25.  For higher end ASIO audio I use a Presonus AudioBox 1818VSL and a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2.

Then on to plugins.  Although I would like to support all VST plugins equally, there are some market leaders that are higher priority than others.  Here is a list of the key plugins I use regularly.  Some are on the list because of who they are, and some because I just love them (and some for both):

Of course there are many other plugins I use, but these stand out currently and are in heavy rotation.   Especially if you have a love of 70s prog rock, these make a nice collection.

So there it is.  The 2016 Forte Development Rig.  None of this is intended as a specific endorsement of any other product, but I do think you might find it useful to know how Forte gets used everyday in development and test.

What’s coming….

Happy 2016!

I’ve been busy lately working on some new stuff for Forte 4.  I usually don’t pre-announce features simply because its hard to guarantee when they will be available and how they will finally look.  But I decided to add a few things to Forte 4 (which will be called 4.2) and write a bit about them here.

I’ve gotten more requests recently from people using high DPI (Ultra-HD or 4K) monitors to fix some UI sizing issues.  Forte’s rack user interface is based upon a collection of PNG files while most plugins and other UI is more adaptable to things like text size, etc.  This means that there are some cases where Forte’s rack view looks tiny on a huge 4K screen while the plugins look huge and don’t fit correctly.  So the first big improvement I’m working on for 4.2 is a re-scalable rack view.  You will be able in preferences to re-size the main rack view (either automatically or manually) to taste.  This includes a specific width you wish to set, or a minimum and maximum, as well as something that scales based upon DPI.  Hopefully this will address the size issues without resorting to skin editing (which is negative amounts of fun.)

The other issue has to do with first time experience and audio compatibility.  Forte supports ASIO and WDM-KS audio interfaces, but most modern laptops use “WaveRT” drivers which Forte does not see.  Forte also does not handle the newer WASAPI audio driver model…..until now.  I’ve decided to try to maximize audio compatibility by moving Forte to the open source PortAudio library for the audio interface layer.  For now this will be used to enable WASAPI mode for 1st time startup and enable users to get started quickly with basic laptop sound.  I’m not intending on moving the ASIO and WDM support to PortAudio yet, but probably will eventually.  PortAudio offers the promise of offloading soundcard support issues, while also offering the audio drivers an interface they have probably already tested with.

Both of these features are configurable with a somewhat reorganized preferences dialog.

I have also gotten the kind permission of a VSTi synth vendor to ship a free synth with Forte.  Using this, the Forte installer can contain everything you need to at least get a first instrument up and running.

There will also be some bug fixes.  I don’t know exactly when this will be made available as a beta.  For some reason any new features almost always take longer than you might expect to implement.  Its never the functionality itself.  Instead, its always the supporting functionality like enabling options, altering user interface, deciding on defaults, etc.

I hope you find this to be a useful update to Forte.  I’ll try to get it out soon.

Mike

 

Managing VST plugins in Forte

VST plugins are the most common format for Windows-based audio applications.  There used to be some competing standards such as DirectX and DXi but most of those have faded away and VST remains.

Forte 4 supports the VST 2 standard.  VST3 is on the radar screen but we just haven’t seen a tipping point yet that would force us to implement this.  Most common plugins are still VST2 compatible and many are now x64 compatible too, which is perfect for 64 bit Forte 4.  Of course, if you choose to run 32 bit Forte, you can use 32 bit versions of the VST plugins.  Remember that the bit size of Forte and your plugins must match unless you are using some sort of “bridge” converter.

Unlike DXi or DirectX, VST2 plugins are just Windows DLL files and do not advertise themselves in the Windows registry.  This means you have to tell Forte where to find your VSTs.  We do this with the Plugin Manager, which you access in the Tools menu as “Manage VST Plugins”.  This VST finder tool looks through the folders you specify for valid VST plugins and classifies them as instruments or effects.  If a DLL is not a valid VST or maybe looks like a VST but fails some criteria in Forte (e.g. crashes when you load it), the Plugin Manager will add it to the Ignore list and usually indicate the reason it was added.  You can always go back and retry it from the ignore list.

The VST2 spec is pretty loose and many plugins do many different things.  Forte tries to be as compatible as possible with most of them but sometimes plugins do unexpected things.  When this happens, we have several things you can try to get the plugin working.  Please see http://www.brainspawn.com/documents/forte4help/plugin_compatibility_fixes_dev.htm for information on compatibility fixes.

Be aware that if you modify the DeviceCompatibility.xml file in the Forte installation folder, it will be replaced the next time you update Forte in that folder.  Instead, copy it to your application data directory (where OPTIONS.INI) lives and Forte will pick up the modifications there too (and it won’t be overwritten on update.)

Also, be aware that the DeviceCompatibility file governs how Forte SAVES scenes, not how it loads them.  On load, Forte simply replays the instructions in the scene, so unfortunately, if you change DeviceCompatibility, you will have to update your scenes to recreate them with the right VST data (e.g. FXP, FXB data, controllers, program change data, etc.).  BTW, if anyone ever comes across a good set of rules for how VST hosts are supposed to know what to save off, let me know.

I hope this clarifies some things about how Forte handle VST 2 plugins.