12-Track Recording Studio
Jellinghaus Music Systems have been marketing a MIDI interface and associated software for the Sinclair Spectrum and Commodore 64 for some time now (see reviews, E&MM July 84). but this latest package is definitely a cut above the rest.
Basically, the disk-based JMS MIDI Recording Studio allows 12 polyphonic tracks to be recorded in real-time using up to 7677 MIDI events, and each track can subsequently be assigned to a separate MIDI channel, transposed to any key, looped, quantised, listed, edited, and printed. Program changes and modulation parameters can be memorised and tempo and time signature changes carried out freely. And if all that hasn't whetted your appetite and sent you running for your flexible friend, the piece being composed can be given a name and saved to a standard diskette for future retrieval (ie. when further inspiration dawns).
Hardware requirements stretch to a Commodore 64 or SX64 with matching disk drive, a MIDI computer interface, a MIDI synth (the more the merrier), and the necessary MIDI cables. The JMS interface loaned with the review software consists of three MIDI Outs, a MIDI In, a MIDI Thru, and an In Control, which serves no purpose as yet.
Before we go any further, I think I ought to point out that the MIDI Recording Studio won't transform your solo MIDI synth into an electronic orchestra. With the exception of the multi-timbral SCI SixTrak and Oberheim Xpander, the average MIDI synth is capable only of receiving and transmitting MIDI data on one channel, and of playing just one program or sound at a time, and using a limited number of voices (depending on the make and model), these voices being allocated to different tracks either monophonically or polyphonically as the software permits. Seeing as quite a few synths can only communicate on MIDI Channel 1, it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that some keyboard players may own two synths that are both hard-wired in this manner. If you're using this software package with one MIDI synth assigned to Channel 1, and record a bass line on Track 1, chords on Track 2, and a melody on Track 3 (utilising a total of six DCOs, say), these will all replay using the one program or preset. It's not an enviable task, trying to program a sound that's suitable for all three parts. At best it's a compromise.
And of course, having two synths stuck on the same channel means that all the tracks are now played on both synths, though obviously with a different sound on each.
So remember that multitrack doesn't necessarily mean multi-timbral, and that unless you're fortunate enough to have at least a couple of MIDI synths with assignable channel numbers, the full benefit of this type of software probably won't be realised. Not yet at least.
When the program is loaded, you're given the option of using either the computer or a drum machine as the master synchroniser, as well as starting and stopping the recording by means of two footswitches. Loading takes about 90 seconds, after which the screen displays the main Recorder menu, with data relating to the 12 tracks (labelled R and 1 to 11) occupying the best part of the screen.
Tempo defaults to a moderate 100 crotchets per minute but is variable (even during playback) between 40 and 200. However, since neither of the keys used to adjust this parameter have an auto-repeat facility, carrying out dramatic changes to the Tempo value is both tedious and time-consuming. Surely a method of using the computer's numeric keys could have been incorporated into the software? Time Signature is defaulted to 4/4 time and similarly variable.
The cursor is positioned at Track R (the only track on which data can be recorded) on booting up, with movements carried out by the cursor's arrows (logical) and values altered by the plus and minus keys.
Parameters on each track consist of On/Off (for switching tracks on and off during playback), Unit (denotes the number of beats recorded on that track), Mode (either SYNC or OSTI), MIDI Channel (for allocating each track to a channel between 1 and 16), Transpose (to transpose the track during playback up or down a number of semitones), Volume (for balancing the dynamics of each individual track), and Filter, which indicates what data has been recorded on each track according to the SETUP page.
More specifically, setting a track to SYNC means that it is restarted synchronously with the longest track during multitrack playback, while in OSTI mode, the track is looped continuously: great for repetitive basslines and chord sequences.
Before recording commences, F6 allows you to SETUP a track to record pitch-bend, program changes, aftertouch, and keyboard dynamics (the latter two, not unnaturally, can't be used if your MIDI keyboard isn't appropriately equipped), or to 'filter' out certain options in the interests of saving memory. Bear in mind though that using aftertouch and pitch-bend and effecting program changes on one track will affect all tracks assigned to the same MIDI Channel number. Common sense, really.
For the purposes of this review, the three MIDI Outs from the JMS interface were connected to a Yamaha DX7 (receiving and transmitting on Channel 1), an Akai AX80 (receiving on Channel 2), and a Yamaha RX15 drum machine (on Channel 16 and allowing control over its clock and start/stop functions). Seeing as the software records on Channel 1 only, the DX7 was used as the master keyboard and connected to the MIDI In.
Once all the necessary connections have been made (and it can take a while), recording a track really couldn't be simpler. If you're not using a drum machine, the computer sends a metronome signal to the monitor, and this allows a one-bar introduction, though the resultant output is noisy in the extreme.
Using a MIDI drum machine is the most hassle-free solution, as its operation can be controlled directly from the computer. Recording can be activated by either the first keyboard note, the footswitch (an optional accessory, this), or F7, should you require a pause at the beginning of the piece. When you've finished playing the first track, pressing F7 stops the recording and the system switches automatically to playback. As recording is always undertaken in complete bars, it's necessary to stop recording before the last beat of the bar (especially if you plan to loop the track), otherwise a blank bar will be added at the end.
Once the first track has been recorded satisfactorily, it's copied to any track from 1 to 11 and assigned a different MIDI Channel or Mode as necessary. Note that Track R is not erased - merely duplicated - by this process, so the first track can be copied again, transposed up or down an octave and sent to another MIDI Channel for simple layering effects.
LIST (F8) offers not only quantisation, but also the option to Edit, Print, and List a particular track.
Since quantisation cannot be 'undone', it's best carried out as soon as a track is recorded and copied (ie. if the track quantisation is unsatisfactory, Track R can simply be copied again and re-quantised to another value, with no harm done). Quantisation can be carried out to 1/4, 1/8, 1/16 or 1/32 of a crotchet (as well as their triplet counterparts) calculated on 48 time events per crotchet, and proves a real boon in tidying up a less-than-perfect performance.
LIST - not surprisingly - commences listing of the track in question and displays the measure number, note on/off, key velocity, and controller and program change data, all of which can be altered via the EDIT page. Editing is quite straightforward once you overcome the MIDI language barrier, and again, values are changed by using the cursor and plus and minus keys.
PRINT (you've guessed it) enables you to make a hard copy of the track listing - guess it might be useful to somebody...
Meanwhile, back at the main menu... Subsequent tracks are built up in exactly the same way as the first, and previous tracks can be used as guides or switched off on playback as desired. Deleting tracks can be carried out easily by pressing F3 (ERASE), though there's no need to erase Track R, as going into record mode does this automatically.
Your masterwork can be named and saved to disk (F4) at any time, but oddly enough, when I saved a piece with two recorded tracks (Tracks 1 and 2), they loaded back as Tracks 15 and 16, with any unused controllers 'filtered' out. Doesn't seem very logical to me.
Finally, a number of tracks assigned to the same MIDI Channel can be 'mixed down' onto one track by simply connecting MIDI Out to MIDI In, recording the total on Track R, and copying to an empty track as per usual.
A couple of bugs and the hopeless manual notwithstanding, I was pleasantly surprised at the ease and speed with which complex pieces can be composed and recorded with Jellinghaus' latest real-time software.
The bad news is that, contrary to the bumpf and the manual, syncing a non-MIDI drum machine operating at 24 pulses-per-quarter-note requires an edge connector (from the user port) to DIN (sync socket of the drum machine) lead, at a further cost of £18. However, the good news is that updated software to cure this oversight will be on the market before the end of the year, and Rosetti will replace the present version with the new for a nominal fee. This will bring the In Control socket on line and enable you to use a rather cheaper DIN lead.
It's certainly heartening to know that JMS are busy refining the MIDI Recording Studio and, personally, I hope the Germans will consider adding a facility for commencing playback from a chosen bar number instead of the beginning of the piece, a Bar Count readout, and the means to playback one particular channel, which would save switching off all the other tracks.
Still, even in its present form, the JMS MIDI Recording Studio goes a long way to realising some of the ideals of the MIDI concept, and provides a flexible, easy-to-use 12-track polyphonic sequencer for use on one of Britain's biggest selling computers. Just think, if they added a sync-to-tape facility this software package could transform a Portastudio into a powerful multitracker: any advances on 37 tracks?
RRP of the Recording Studio disk is £99.95, while the JMS MIDI Interface retails at £89.95, both inclusive of VAT. Further information from Rosetti Music Systems, (Contact Details).
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Review by Trish McGrath
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