Should sounds be part of a closed format that may not last? What happens if the format and platform that once were trusted by musicians and sound designers ceased to be? That’s the hard lesson learned by users of a popular sampling “standard” – but for once, the news is good.

GigaSampler has been a huge part of the sampling landscape since its introduction a decade ago, and users have massive investments in Giga sound libraries. As I noted over the summer, however, Tascam ceased development on the aging Giga platform, leaving users without an important tool – and some powerful technologies without a home.

Today, news has leaked out that Garritan, developer of some popular sample libraries and (with Plogue) the sophisticated, cross-platform ARIA Engine, has purchased all of the technology assets related to Giga from Tascam (TEAC). That includes GigaStudio, Gigasampler, GVI, Gigapulse, and everything that goes with it.

This is huge news for compatibility, interoperability, and the future evolution of sampling. I spoke with Garritan chief Gary Garritan himself to chat about some of the possibilities.

The most obvious potential benefit is native file compatibility with Giga sample libraries, so that that sound content isn’t stranded in an abandoned, closed format. Gary says native file reading and writing is high on the priority list – which should also be a big coup, I think, for his ARIA platform.

There are some technologies worth saving in Giga, too, though, not just the sample format. Some of the jewels in Giga include the DEF high-quality filtering algorithms, spectral morphing, and convolution capabilities.

“There’s a treasure trove of great technology and we want to make it available to as many musicians as possible,” says Garritan. “We just have our work cut out for us.”

The process of assimilating Giga’s technology is likely to take time, Garritan says:

What this means is that we have this great technology and we can do stuff with it. But we don’t have the original Giga team – and we have two million lines of source code to go through. Some of that code is fifteen years old. I want to examine the code … and I want to consult with the user base, and chart a direction.

There’s potential to merge technologies, so that future versions of ARIA benefit from Giga technology. “We have a really efficient engine ourselves,” says Garritan. “It’ll probably be using the best of both ARIA and Giga.”

Gary emphasized that this process is really open to input: “We need to consult with the user base and ask the users what they want – ask our users what they want.”

We’ve certainly seen how not to acquire technologies in the past. I’ll bet money that someone brings up the acquisition of music software developer Opcode by Gibson, which turned an entire platform into abandonware.

Far from that, what Gary is describing is really the opposite: an opportunity to embrace open standards, and perhaps to even avoid the kind of closed platform Giga originally represented. Ironically, the open source Linux Sampler Project, while its own codebase is entirely open source, relies on the closed Giga format for storing samples.

Happily, Giga digital samples will not be going the way of the reel-to-reel.  Photo (CC) Nicolas M. Fuentes.

“On our ARIA Player we use an open source format, SFZ,” says Garritan. “We’re for promoting open standards.” Working with Cakewalk, Plogue, and others, Garritan says he hopes to encourage more openness. SFZ could even become the kind of common format that Giga (and other proprietary formats) have been in the past – only without being the sole domain of one vendor. “I think sampling technologies and formats should be open – they shouldn’t be closed and proprietary.”

This is also, incidentally, good news for Linux. I know there’s talk of SFZ in Linux Sampler, as well. And for those who want a friendlier interface, ARIA already works in WINE, with a native version in the works. Gary says ARIA works beautifully on netbooks. That means you could have a sampler running on the netbook, then do your production in, say, SONAR on your Windows machine at home.

I should clarify that ARIA itself is a proprietary player – and, honestly, I expect commercial developers to continue to develop proprietary technology and use that to sell their wares; it’s a system that works. But on the other hand, with a common, open standard file format, you could benefit from both the commercial-proprietary and open/free ecosystems. For many of us, we might even use both on the same machine. Right now, you have the opposite: a common file format that had been closed and proprietary (and not entirely supported), an open source sampler built on that proprietary format, and limited cross-platform support. It looks to me like we’re moving toward resolving all of those issues.

Composers and sound designers are deeply connected to sound libraries, investing time and money into purchasing or designing libraries, and in using them in their work. Happily, the days in which that investment could be gone forever because a vendor lost interest may finally be coming to a close. As I noted in July, simply open sourcing Giga wasn’t a real option: there’s too much work to do to navigate the code base and modernize the format, and we’d still be stuck with a dated, closed format. So to me, this is about the best thing that could happen: get Giga into knowledgeable hands, and really try to move the best of it into modern, open formats.

That is, open source alone is never a panacea. In this case, you need a commercial developer that can put work into maintaining the technologies, but you also need a common format for commercial and free software developers alike – because, really, it’s what the musicians, composers, and sound designers need.

Because this is sure to be a long process, we’ll be watching as it unfolds. But in the meantime, Gary has posted some FAQs and invites Giga and Garritan users to talk about what they need and want. So, don’t be silent: this is a chance to have someone actually listen and respond, rather than just “wishing” for something to happen.

Northern Sounds Forum [Garritan community] [New Garritan Giga site with press release, FAQ]