It is important to understand that Forte, as a VST host, is part of a performance system that also includes your choice of PC, OS, plugins, and audio/MIDI interfaces. Brainspawn does not offer system integration services. Instead we have developed a number of tools to assist you in integrating a performance-ready system.
When assembling a performance rig, please use these tools to build confidence in your system.
Stress Test (Tools Menu)
The stress test tool in the Tools menu exercises your rig by simulating MIDI input and performing scene changes. You can configure the stress test to perform various operations and leave it running for hours. You can also pump more MIDI into your system via stress than you could ever by simply playing a keyboard.
If your live rig can survive indefinite amounts of stress, that is a good confidence builder. However, it is not any sort of "certification" of reliability. The primary value in the stress test is if it fails. If it fails (either a hang, or dropouts, or a crash, or a blue-screen, it positively indicates that a component of your system is not durable.
Be sure to turn your audio inputs down during stress tests. The output is decidedly not very musical!
Diagnostics Display Shows You Audio Dropouts and MIDI Activity (Tools Menu)
Use the Diagnostics display in the Tools menu to see a count of audio dropouts as well as total MIDI events in or out. Use this during a stress test. If you see the audio dropout counter incrementing, its a sign that something in the system is choking occasionally. This many not always be a big deal. It depends upon when the dropouts occur and your own particular usage.
Memory Display Shows Available Memory (Tools Menu)
Use the Memory display on the Tools menu to see how much usable memory you have. See chapter 12 of the Operations Guide for more details.
On 32 bit versions of Windows with 4GB of RAM, it is normal to see usable memory of only about 1500MB or so on an empty rack. The reason for this is that 32 bit Windows by default give each application only 2GB of memory. It is not a problem with Forte. About 500MB of that is loaded with the application and a large number of Windows DLL components. It is possible, using the /3GB switch in BOOT.INI (search the Microsoft support site for specifics) to allocate 3GB to each application.
DPC Latency Checker Shows Device Driver Behavior
DPC Latency Checker is not a Brainspawn tool. It is a free download from http://www.thesycon.de/deu/latency_check.shtml Run this tool and verify you can get "green" results. This indicates your OS drivers are behaving well for real-time audio. Use this in combination with the Diagnostics display and the Stress test.
Another tool recently recommended is "LatencyMon" at http://www.resplendence.com/latencymon.
Safe Mode is Useful for Narrowing Down Problem Plugins
Start Forte in Safe Mode by holding down the left CTRL key while clicking on the icon. You will be given the opportunity to "exclude" certain plugins from this run of Forte. If you load a rack with plugins excluded, they will be replaced by proxies (which are just internal placeholders). By excluding plugins, you can narrow down problems to specific plugins.
REMEMBER: In safe mode, the rack is not automatically enabled for streaming - you must press the rack power button to start
Configuration Manifests Show You What Changed (Tools Menu)
Problem: A rack file once worked perfectly on your PC, but now it doesn't, or you've moved it to another PC and it doesn't work.
Use a configuration manifest to help diagnose the changes in your setup that may be affecting your Forte rig. Here's how:
* Once your rack is working the way you want it to, select the new Tools menu item "Create Installation/Configuration Manifest"
* Answer "Yes" when asked to embed the manifest in your rack file. The next time you save your rack file, the manifest will be contained within it.
* A manifest is a snapshot of your configuration containing:
** A record of every DLL module (VST plugins, ASIO drivers, Windows components, 3rd party components) and its version
** Key configuration settings from OPTION.INI
* When you have a problem, select the new Tools menu item "Validate Against Manifest" to create a difference report in your Windows clipboard. This can then be pasted into Notepad or other text editor to view.
* The difference report contains:
** A list of manifest items missing from the current configuration (e.g. DLLs)
** A list of manifest items in your current configuration that are not in the manifest
** Any manifest items that are different (e.g. DLL versions are different)
** Matching items
You may also copy the embedded manifest to the clipboard for examination with Tools|Copy Manifest to Clipboard, and delete the current manifest with Tools|Clear Manifest.
Common Advice for Plugin Problems
Use Single Threaded Mode (Preferences Menu)
Forte uses different threads for different plugins, and sometimes plugins cannot handle this. Go into preferences and uncheck "Use all available CPUs" and restart Forte. This will use only one CPU core/thread for all streaming. You will waste CPU capacity, but it has been known to help with some plugins.
Use "Disconnect on Scene Change" (Scene Commands Tab)
Scene changes can be complicated times for plugins. Right in the middle of processing both audio and MIDI, they are asked to completely reconfigure their sound. A Scene change typically causes a new VST "chunk" (FXB or FXP data block) to be downloaded into the plugin. Some plugins have a hard time with this. Try disconnecting the plugin during scene changes. On the Scene Commands tab of the plugin console, check the "Disconnect this instrument when loading configuration data." box.
Don't Download new plugin data on Scene Change (Scene Commands Tab)
You can also check the box "Do not use per-scene configuration data" to avoid having a new VST chunk downloaded during a scene change. This is especially recommended for sampler plugins. In this case, the plugin will remain configured the same during the entire set, but you can send program changes to it on scene change. This is much more light-weight. All this is configured on the Scene Commands tab.
Run Forte in Administrator Mode
Some plugins can't be discovered or don't behave correctly on Windows Vista or Windows 7 unless Forte is running with Administrator privileges. Right click on the Forte shortcut and configure it to always run as administrator.
Less Common Advice for Plugins Problems
Change the Device Compatibility file
Forte tries to make a good decision about how to get and set VST configuration (chunks or FXB/FXP data). However, sometimes a plugin wants something different to get or set its entire state. Forte has a way to override scene capture and recall behavior for individual plugins. A file called "DeviceCompatibility.xml" in the install directory contains plugin-specific settings which can override the default behavior. Plugins are referenced in this file by either CLSID or VST ID. If your favorite plugin does not correctly restore its settings on scene change, add it to this file. Note that this MUST be a valid XML file in order for the feature to work.
An example entry would be:
1: 2: 3: 4: 5: 6:
<Device Name="KarmaFX"> <saveFXB bool="1"/> <saveFXP bool="0"/> <saveProgramNumber bool="0"/> <saveParams bool="0"/> </Device>
This instructs Forte how to save scenes, not restore them, so you must restart Forte, reload your rack, and recapture your scenes.
The entry is defined by the Device tag. Plugins can be identified in several ways:
* Name="<partial case-insensitive plugin name>" - affects any plugin that matches the plugin name
* Name="<partial case-insensitive plugin vendor name>" - affects any plugin by a vendor
* CLSID="<a big string of letters and numbers>" - affects a specific plugin. A CLSID is how Forte unambiguously identifies a plugin. This value matches the value Forte uses to identify the plugin in its plugin cache file (plugins.xml).
The flags that can be used within a Device element include:
* saveFXB - if 1, save an FXB chunk with a scene
* saveFXP - if 1, save an FXP chunk with a scene
* saveProgramNumber - if 1, save the VST program number with a scene
* saveParams - if 1 save the VST parameters with a scene (typically only effects would use this option)
* isVSTi - if 1 forces a plugin to be identified as an instrument plugins. This is useful for example with Guitar Rig which is an effect plugin, not an instrument, but since you would typically want it to have its own module and be fed by audio input, you can force it to be treated as an instrument.
Diagnosing Crashes and Freezes
Forte crashes are usually accompanied by an offer to submit a crash report. Please do so if at all possible. Crash dump files are essential to finding and fixing crashes within the Forte application itself.
If a crash happens within a VST plugin, you will usually get a VST crash handler, which displays:
- Forte version
- Plugin version
- Plugin vendor (if known)
- The action Forte was attempting with the plugin when the crash occurred
Please report this to the plugin vendor first. If the plugin vendor believes this is a Forte issue, have them contact Brainspawn.
Blue Screen Crashes
Blue Screens are ALWAYS a result of a defective device driver. Typically this will be an audio driver, a MIDI driver, or a software protection device driver.
If Forte freezes during an operation, work to identify if the condition can be consistently reproduced, then try the following
Start in Safe Mode (launch Forte while holding down the left CTRL key) and exclude some of the plugins - reload the rack file and see if the hang can be reproduced. Retry as necessary until you narrow the hang to a specific plugin.
Start Task Manager (or Process Explorer at http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb896653.aspx) and see if the CPUs are 100% busy.
Open the Diagnostics display in the Tools menu and see if the dropout count in increasing during the freeze.
Make sure you don't have a MIDI feedback loop
Forte Log File
Forte maintains a log file that has adjustable levels of output. It is located in your application data directory under brainspawn forte. You can also conveniently access it using the menu command Tools|Log File|View... which will open it in notepad. You can adjust the output levels in Preferences Logging Level. The levels are Silent, Errors (default), Warnings, or Information.
If you are having a problem finding an audio driver or plugin, or any other type of startup problem, you can sometimes find useful information in the log file. Sometimes you will need to adjust preferences to change the logging level to Information, and restart Forte before viewing the log. The log will contain detailed information about what Forte did during startup.