OVERVIEW: We should have at least one main computer and a backup computer for live performance. This post explores the use of multiple computers in order to expand memory and CPU capacity. It also explores the idea of using the backup computer for such expansion, noting that we would need a fallback plan in case of a failure. Such a strategy could maximize quality and performance per cost, while still providing a way to complete a performance if one of the computers fails.
Computers with tons of RAM (as needed by many-sample users) continues to be a challenge. The Mac M1 computers are small, powerful, efficient, and quiet, but expensive and limited to 16 GB. You can build a PC with more RAM, but not necessarily small, light, cool, and quiet.
So I was thinking… what about multiple Gig Performer machines?
We should have a backup anyway, so why not put it to work? You start with one computer, say an M1 laptop. Your build requires more RAM/CPU, so you get a Mac Mini to run more sounds. You could buy a third computer as a backup (that could run either the primary or secondary config), or devise a “Gig-lite” strategy where one cuts down their samples and processing to get through the performance. If a computer fails, load ‘Gig-lite” in the remaining computer and survive the night, even if you have to play Cassio sounds, rather than your boutique B3. It’s a classic time vs. money situation. (If you don’t buy a full backup system, you spend time building and testing a “limp home” config, or compromise by playing from a limited set list from a primary-only computer.) it’s not for everyone, but Mac users (who are limited to 16 GB) who have backups could effectively double their capacity without breaking the bank.
The question is how to best configure Gig Performer on two computers. A fully parallel approach would be to replicate set lists and everything in the two systems. Just null out certain sounds in the A and B computers so they complement each other. This would require two audio interfaces (another backup!) and a mixer. It would keep latency low. There could be risk of the systems getting out of sync, so use hard numbers, rather than ‘next’ and ‘prev.’
Another solution would be to use the secondary PC as a sound module or effects box that is essentially downstream of the primary box. It just sits there ready to play sounds from MIDI. It receives audio from the first computer, mixes them, might handle reverb and final limiting, etc. It could still switch rackspaces, but might be simpler than the gymnastics of the primary computer. The secondary PC might focus on standard sounds, like a favorite piano, organ, etc. This is kind of a serial configuration, where you still need two audio interfaces, but no mixer.
Of course, there are any number of hybrid serial/parallel combinations. If one audio interfaces has enough inputs, you don’t need a mixer, etc. And Gig Performer has enough flexibility to handle whatever.
Note that you can get Mac Minis with 10G Ethernet. This could eliminate the need for MIDI cables and a second audio interface, assuming there are tools to set up virtual, networked I/O.
I’m wondering if people here have practical experience with multiple PCs with Gig Performer and if there are best practices.
Anyway, it’s interesting to note that a backup machine could be put to work. Also interest to note that, like a RAID setup, if you use N computers, you only need N+1 to provide a backup. You don’t necessarily need N*2.
(What I’m really trying to do here is justify use of M1 Macs, even though they are limited to 16 GB RAM. They’re so small, cool, powerful, and quiet! One computer might be enough for me, but if I run out of capacity, it’s good to have a viable expansion plan that doesn’t break the bank and to have a backup plan as well. I’m not building out a Hans Zimmer-like sample player factory, so I don’t need to craft any custom tera-RAM machines. But I still want to plan for cost-effective elbow room while using small, cool, silentish machines.)