Gajits Breakthru Sequencer For Atari ST
We put this value for money Atari sequencer through its paces.
This British-designed package won't break the bank – and is capable of giving more expensive sequencers a run for their money. Derek Johnson boots it up and checks it out.
With Atari putting their weight behind the new Falcon computer, and the heavyweight European MIDI software houses crossing computer platforms, it would be easy to assume that the ST is getting pushed out of the market. Games players especially are noticing a lack of new fodder for their joysticks; however, STs still form the heart of numerous MIDI-equipped studios, and many owners are still looking for new software. Low prices for new STFMs or STEs, with their built-in MIDI ports, make them ideal first-time buys for anyone interested in using computers for music.
So it should be no surprise that the ST is still very much being supported, by music software developers at least. Gajits Music Software in Manchester started out a few years ago with the Sequencer One/Sequencer One Plus affordable sequencing packages for the ST (and Amiga). Their latest product could be seen as an extension of Sequencer One Plus, but is very much more powerful. Breakthru offers 64 tracks, sample playback facilities, an internal resolution of 192 pulses per quarter note, and comprehensive editing facilities and song arrangement; it will also work in high or medium resolution, so those of you using TVs or colour monitors can read on.
The basic structure of Breakthru will be familiar to anyone who has ever used MIDI sequencing software, except that there is only one song in memory at any one time. The editing facilities on offer mean that this isn't a limitation, though. Common to all Breakthru's screens (see box on next page) is the transport control bar; apart from the usual transport controls, this box features MIDI activity bargraphs, tempo and time signature display, current song position and loop point markers. Buttons are also provided for Solo, Dub (toggles between overdub and overwrite recording). Multi-channel record and Auto rewind on stop. Breakthru's tempo range is 30 to 240bpm, and time signatures can range from 1/4 to 16/8. As with other ST applications, Breakthru has a comprehensive menu bar, although almost all functions have an equivalent keyboard shortcut (one exception is the undo function).
Breakthru offers a powerful sequencing environment, yet is quite easy to use. The manual does a good job of clearly explaining what the program can do. The first thing you have to get used to is how a song is actually created: rather than recording various bits (verses, choruses, etc) and chaining them together, Breakthru only has one song in memory, and you structure your work by using the loop points to edit individual sections and the song position marker list to keep track of the finished work. This is as good a way of working as any, and once you've got an intro, verse and chorus, it's really simple to cut and paste the various sections into a complete song.
Event editing is quite different from other sequencers; a short acclimatisation period brings you around to the Gajits way of editing — any aspect of a note or event can be quickly and easily changed. Sample support is an unusual feature for a fully-grown ST sequencer, and it actually works really well, although loading and arranging samples is a little time-consuming. An ST with expanded memory is recommended to get the best out of sample playback, but for the Replay 16 user looking for an affordable but serious sequencer, Breakthru is pretty well unmissable for this reason alone. It's almost like having digital audio tracks alongside your MIDI sequence. Of course, it isn't going to rival Cubase Audio or Notator Logic Audio or something similar on a Mac, but it's certainly a cheap way of pretending!
Personally, I found some of the transitions between editing screens a bit slow, and precision mouse work can be tricky. The software would also hiccup when changing between edit screens during playback, and when looping a section during record. I missed being able to access the disk drive and edit during playback, something which both Cubase and Hollis Trackman II can do; and disks can't be formatted within Breakthru, which is quite an omission. There is one small problem with sample playback: the mouse freezes. Gajits admit as much, and all keyboard shortcuts are still available.
One last point, which may well be true of other sequencers, is that when working on drum patterns with parts split across more than one track, timing delays did creep in; this was fixed when the parts were merged into one track and copied to Track 1.
These are relatively minor points that don't really slow down the creative process. Perhaps Breakthru isn't as sophisticated as the German competition, but Gajits have produced a solid piece of software that refused my attempts to make it crash. Neat features I haven't had time to mention include an on-board SysEx librarian (a great plus), Standard MIDI Song File support, flexible synchronisation options, the ability to disable the undo function (saves memory) and song notes which pop up when you load a new song. Last of all, I can't let Breakthru Plus pass without comment: spend a little more, and you get an extra MIDI output that plugs into your modem port, adding 16 more MIDI channels to your system.
What can I say? Breakthru is fun and easy to use, powerful and, at under £130, very good value. This is serious software in anyone's book, and well worth checking out.
Breakthru £129.95. Breakthru Plus £159.95. Prices include VAT.
Gajits Music Software, (Contact Details).
Review by Derek Johnson
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