whisper = psithyrizo, psithyros (Greek)
Whisper
VST VST is a trademark of Steinberg Media Technologies GmbH.
ASIO ASIO is a trademark and software of Steinberg Media Technologies GmbH.

Canvas view Pattern view Score view
Canvas View (for plugins and routing) Pattern View (for notes, parameters etc.) Score View (for arranging the score)

Whisper Virtual Studio

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Whisper is a lightweight music sequencing application for PC hardware. It hosts VST plugins for intruments, effects and other realtime add-on functionality, while implementing a minimalistic user interface that puts emphasis on the actual musical sequences. A lot of music creation functionality has already for a long time been available in pluggable VST(i) tools (both freeware and commercial ones) created by other people, but I needed yet another simple and clean, and a bit different, way to use those tools with each other, without adding too much things on top. The development of Whisper was started to fit this purpose.

I originally started making music using PC tracker software, and as I later tried other types of sequencers and music creation suites, I found myself unable to do certain things I had got used to, and I didn't like the user interfaces of those applications that much either. I wasn't really fond of the "piano roll" type presentation of note information, didn't need general audio processing functionality as I was using virtual synthesizers, nor did I really want a computer interface to imitate physical knobs either. There had to be another way. Combined with broad experience on computers and programming, and some new ideas I had come up with related to music software plus the fact that I was dissatisfied with how the tools I was using back then utilized multicore processors and larger amounts of RAM, I finally decided to take up the challenge and build my own sequencer instead. That sequencer was Whisper.

Development started in July 2008, reaching version 1.0 at the end of 2011, and the work has continued in its own pace ever since, all the way up to 2017. I started basically from scratch, using very basic Windows libraries and some open source components. Initially it took me about a month to create the first somewhat complete version, but maturization has taken much longer, and the application has got several fundamentally new and even crucial pieces of functionality every now and then up to mid-2016. Currently the development is on a hiatus again, but the next burst of activity can be started when needs arise. Feel free to try the software and give your opinion!

You could compare the Whisper software engine to the core mechanism of a mechanical music machine or hand organ, just in a flexible and advanced digital (virtual) form, taking advantage of the high quality floating point and multithreading capabilities of today's PC equipment. It's a mechanism that lets you plug different types of virtual instruments and effects into a single control solution that enables music creation all the way to a mastered audio file in WAV format. And the user interface is designed to support *writing* music, designing the musical sequences and combining them in different ways, without the need to actually play an instrument yourself. That said, it does allow you to do that as well, combining your own physical playing with everything else via MIDI.

     - Lauri Movall, creator of Whisper Virtual Studio

The idea is to only do a bare minimum, but to still do it well enough. Whisper is a specialized application in its own way and clearly doesn't suit everyone, but it also approaches music creation from quite a different angle than most other sequencers and DAWs.


The application is "feedbackware", meaning that you don't need to pay money for it (it's basically freeware, but we'd like to get useful feedback that helps us make it better). You are not currently allowed to redistribute the software, but you can ask for download rights to get it for your own use. It is possible that the application will be made freely distributable later, though. Currently the main criterion for whether you can get download rights or not is whether you actually have the time and determination to learn to understand Whisper.

Please note that most of the people requesting for download access haven't actually been very interested to even try the software in practice (or haven't had the time to get into using it), and therefore we're carefully considering each new download request separately. We only want to keep providing download rights for people who will also provide some useful feedback to us, and who are interested in using the tool and helping us develop it further. And we don't currently have that much capacity for supporting a lot of people either.


Audio examples

The following audio files are draft quality examples of Whisper controlling a few commercial VST plugins (mainly Reaktor and Battery VSTs from Native Instruments, and a Vocaloid2 vocal synthesis plugin, direct support of which is one of the specialties of Whisper). All the music, including vocals, was written in the Whisper UI and routed, mixed, and mastered together in Whisper, while the actual audio (also for the vocal parts) was synthesized in realtime by the respective plugins.

Note: The first of the tracks ("Evolution") is quite an outdated example, as it's actually from a very early state of Whisper development (from the first month, probably). Track number 6 ("Organophobia") has been created in 2015 using Whisper v1.06.3, and the rest of the tracks have been created using various pre-1.0 beta builds of Whisper.

1) "Evolution"

2) "I Am Whisper

3) "Slow Traction"

4) "Fluence"

5) "Like a Tree"

6) "Organophobia"

These examples are hosted in Bandcamp and released as part of the "Whisper Moods, Volume 01" compilation (see https://sheobi.bandcamp.com/album/whisper-moods-volume-01 for more information).


Introduction

Making music does not necessarily have to require lots of physical equipment anymore, and doesn't have to be too complicated either. The technology to enable this has already been there for some time, but while such applications are created that allow for example "drag'n'drop" type music creation easily using loops and samples, etc., what is often missing is direct, detailed control of the musical sequences themselves. On the other hand, there are very advanced audio workstation applications that might have so much functionality that you easily get lost while trying to use them effectively.

Where many other tools are in their own ways still trying to imitate real, physical studios with all their various equipment, and also contain lots of functionality for handling physically recorded audio or samples, Whisper is designed to start from the essence of the music itself: the musical sequences, themes and patterns that make it, while still leaving one important part - the actual audio generation - to other tools.

Almost every new PC has at least a dual-core CPU. These processors actually have quite much processing power, and none of the basic office programs etc. really utilize that all so well. On the other hand, musical instruments like synthesizers etc. tend to be quite expensive in their physical form, while there are lots of virtual instruments and effects available in the VST plugin format. Using software in general uses less physical space, and gives you more flexibility than using hardware, while also enabling you to make the same software instruments and effects you've already bought perform better by upgrading the computer hardware a bit, if you want to, perhaps not requiring any updates to the software separately.


Basic ideology

Why shout when you can Whisper?Why use more than you really need?

Whisper is an application designed for writing music "like text" using the PC keyboard and a mouse (optionally with help of additional MIDI controllers which you can use to "play in" sequences) and playing the music out in audio form (with the help of pluggable software synthesizers and effects), instead of recording tracks with microphones etc. It is not meant for combining pre-made loops and samples with each other, either, as it strives for a more direct way of music creation all the way from the ideas and themes and instrument selection to a digital recording.

The basic ideology behind Whisper is to only do what is really needed, but to do that well enough.

The keywords in Whisper development are:

1) Simple        -> no unnecessary bloat or too complicated user interfaces.
2) Non-intrusive -> doesn't decide too much for you, but helps you in your work.
3) Effective     -> utilizes the available HW and SW effectively, in realtime.
4) Direct        -> does not hide what the software is actually doing behind too many abstraction layers.

"Simple" and "direct" can in some cases also mean that you'll have to work more to get things done (as there might not be high-level automated functionality to do the things for you). In general, compromises will have to be made between having direct control over details, and having automated setup of larger entities. Also "effective" is a relative term, because software can be optimized for different environments, and a tool which works effectively in one environment might not do that in another. In the Whisper case, the software has mostly been optimized for multicore systems, for instance, and it probably doesn't work very well in single-core environments.


Who is it for?

If you want to write music (somewhat like text) in a way that lets you realise the compositions immediately in audio form, and can do with the limited amount of supported features and a very plain user interface (or are even looking for just that kind of "minimalism"), using Whisper as the host for your plugins might feel like a breath of fresh air (or like a Whisper ;-)). It might not suit most people at all, but for someone it could still be just the essential package.

For someone who always wants to play with lots of hardware: physical synthesizers, various electrical modules, racks and such things, Whisper probably doesn't have that much to offer. It doesn't currently support that equipment in the same way as many other tools. It is not really either for people who like loops and samples, or recording audio and editing it "offline", because it does not support any use of samples itself (you need to use plugins that support samples, if you want to use any). It's simply a VST host application for writing music, supporting hardware audio output and recording to a PCM wave file (WAV). But if you're mainly interested in the core essence, the actual music itself, and do not necessarily even have any skills in handling "real" instruments or recording equipment either, you could possibly benefit from using it.

If you are more like a programmer- or writer-type of person with musical aspirations, Whisper could really be much better for you than some other host software, because of its plain short string-, numerical values-, and column/row based UI. On the other hand, you can still play MIDI instruments to create musical patterns, and even the basic input of note data is still handled by simulating a keyboard-based instrument using the PC keyboard, so anyone having some experience with keyboard instruments should feel at least a little bit familiar.


Influences from other software

Some of the UI principles in Whisper have roots in the tracker-type music software of the 90's, originating from the Amiga computing scene. But still, Whisper is otherwise very far from the trackers of the 90's (although you could even add some kind of actual tracker functionality to it in the form of a VST plugin). What is tracker-inspired is mainly the way that the music is input by using the PC keyboard so that you can input notes by "playing" with the keys, that the music is represented as "tables" of information (text and numbers), and that there are so-called "patterns" involved in the music creation process. There are differences to trackers too, and for instance the hexadecimal numeric format that's often used in tracker-type sequencers (while it has its benefits as well) is not being used in Whisper.

The Whisper UI has also been inspired by a very good freeware music application (itself also a tracker of sorts) called Buzz, the main similarities being visualising the instrument/effect routing in the form of a node diagram (which I think is a brilliant way to visualise that), and using multi-pattern sequencing (which is actually quite practical, but is implemented in quite a different way in Whisper than in Buzz).


The technology

Whisper is designed for contemporary PCs, so it tries to utilize multicore processors effectively, which means letting you use more instruments and effects simultaneously in realtime, depending on how many and how fast processors, and with how many processing cores, you have installed in your system.

The reason why Whisper is based on Steinberg's VST technology is simple: That is the only available and suitable plugin technology that is both widely used and free to use without extra royalties (if you sign the license agreements with Steinberg). That makes it virtually the only good solution for a freeware application that also supports commercial plugins, on both Windows PCs and Macs. Not supporting other types of "free" plugins (more proprietary ones, like Buzz machines, or a new plugin type) is mostly a question of simplifying the application, keeping the development more focused, and not bringing more limitations to the architecture.


Virtuality

Whisper is intended to enable as virtual a studio environment as possible, using as little extra hardware as possible, and to minimize the amount of needed software too (depending on what VST plugins the user chooses to use with it). It's designed to be both lightweight and simple, but still complete enough as a VST host, while letting the plugins themselves do any more specialized realtime work. Whisper tries to let you control the plugins in a direct and simple manner, and not to get into the way of creativity. It still tries to let you control all the necessary things when you want to, in an exact manner, whenever possible.

Automation

As it's designed for realtime music synthesis, Whisper tries to help you to conveniently automate all those things that you don't really want to do manually, or wouldn't be able to do anyway, like "turning controller knobs of several instruments at once in a synchronized way". The automation is done without hiding too much of what the instruments themselves are really being "told" to do, so that the control is (at least in theory) quite direct.

Sometimes this level of automation can make the music sound a bit "robotic" and "too controlled". There are some additional planned features which might help make the result more human and organic, but of course "exact" programming by numbers etc. will not give the same results as controlling your instruments physically. Still, you can always give your music more human touch by how you program it. Whisper will give you the possibility to let all the instruments play at the same time, instead of recording tracks separately and combining them afterwards, so you can think of Whisper as more of a virtual music box or a virtual conductor than a multitrack recorder.


Software support

In principle, Whisper supports most VST 2.4 -compatible plugins, at least in some way. Offline processing plugins are not supported (Whisper is basically a realtime application), and category shell plugins (collections of plugins inside the same DLL file) are not currently usable with it either. Some plugins (like many plugins based on SynthEdit) are not working well with Whisper especially when using multiple instances of them, and this is likely caused by deficiencies in the thread-safety implementation of the plugins themselves.

Whisper has special support for certain vocal synthesis plugins. It gives you the possibility to actually type the phonemes and control the parameters etc. directly in Whisper itself, effectively removing the need to use an external editor separately to create vocals. That support was essential for providing an integrated working environment, and to not "spoil" the directness aspect of Whisper. The wish to write vocal parts without using a separate application was actually one of the reasons to start the Whisper development in the first place. There is still a delay in all vocal processing, coming from the principles of how the technology works (and that delay can be noticed when playing back any music with Whisper), but Whisper tries to prevent it from having too much effect on the composing work.

Hardware support

Whisper does already have support for optional MIDI controllers as an input method, but mostly it just uses basic audio output interfaces for output purposes (it's only got an experimental level of support for audio inputs as a control method). The idea is to let the VST plugins do what physical instruments or effect modules would do in a physical studio environment (without the physical audio recording part), and use the (PC) hardware instead for all the processing. Whisper could also be modified to support physical instruments with a MIDI interface as pluggable synthesizers, but using that functionality most effectively would probably require the user to have a multichannel audio input interface supporting ASIO.


The reality

Whisper is available "on demand", meaning that you can request for download access to try it.

The application is being developed for Windows only. A possible Max OS X version (while an interesting and useful thing to have) is not going to be implemented very soon, as there are no Mac computers available to develop on (and it would also be too time-consuming in this phase to do any development on two different platforms). Also, some of the plugins used by Whisper development are not available for Macs yet either, and could not be used in Mac OS X even if Whisper itself was available for it.

The future

We want to keep the software simple enough also in the future, and to use only the optimal amount of time and effort on developing it. We might change the licensing and/or distribution methods, but most likely we want to still keep it free (no monetary cost involved for the users). We want to work on it in a restricted scale, and in our own pace. There are so many other applications already fulfilling the needs of many people better than Whisper would, that we don't want to add anything unnecessary to it. There's no need to make the project bigger, as it would also make things more complicated. Whisper is, after all, an application that is designed to fit quite a specific purpose.

That said, if demand for the software rises, we could still even think of starting to sell licenses and perhaps start a company as well to develop it in a more professional way. But that requires customers.

Feedback and questions

If you have something to ask about Whisper, or have any opinions on something on the website, you can send email to the given feedback address. The mailbox name is simply "whisper", and the site name is "whispervst.org". And to make it a full email address, you of course have to add the "@" sign in between.