C-Lab Explorer 1000
Atari Editing Software
Digital and analogue technology meet face to face in this editing software for the Oberheim Matrix 1000. Vic Lennard explores the possibilities.
The digital synthesis romance is over, and the warmth of analogue is back, but some of the old beasts can still use a hand from digital technology - patch editors, say.
DIGITAL SYNTHS, SAMPLERS, hybrids (D50, M1 and so on) - fads will come and go but the likes of the Minimoog live on. That fat, warm analogue sound will always be in demand no matter what the style of music. Or so it seems.
Oberheim were in on that era too. Their Matrix 12 and Expander were followed by the cheaper, cut-down Matrix 6 and rack-mounted 6R. A unique manner of modulation gave the Matrix family a sound all of their own and the Matrix 1000 continues in the same vein.
The only problem here is that the Matrix 1000 cannot be programmed from its front panel, and so it demands a visual editor if you're to explore it any further than the presets. The Matrix 1000 is basically the same as the Matrix 6, but the differences make it difficult to use a Matrix 6 editor and, to date, the offerings from the software houses have been few and far between.
Unless you've been taking a three-year sabbatical on Mars, you'll probably know that the C-Lab programmers have added a range of visual editors called the Explorer series. Conveniently enough, one of these is for the Matrix 1000.
FOR THOSE OF you unfamiliar with the Matrix 1000, it has ten banks of 100 sounds onboard, of which the first two are in RAM so that they can be edited, while the other eight are in ROM and are effectively presets. It does not possess an edit buffer as such, which means that any edits are usually of a permanent nature. Explorer gets around this by designating the last slots in each of the editable banks as "pseudo edit buffers" - a technique used successfully in editors for the Kawai K1, which suffers a similar problem.
Another inconvenience with the Matrix 1000 is the lack of complete compatibility with the Matrix 6. True, it shares the same voice structure but cannot display the names for each sound due to the limited display facilities, and doesn't save the names internally. Consequently it cannot transfer the sound names to a visual editor. And keeping track of the 200 which you can program gets rather awkward. The other difference is that the Matrix 6 can also save 64 "splits" for layering voices, and as Explorer has no facility for the editing of these, I would question the validity of entitling it a "Matrix 6/6R/1000" editor.
Explorer is fully GEM-based (which means that the screens are similar to those found on other C-Lab programs) and can handle up to four banks in memory simultaneously, along with four single sound edit buffers (A,B,C,D). In keeping with other editors, particularly Dr T's, the right-hand mouse button is used to play a virtual keyboard with pitch varying from left to right and velocity from top to bottom. As this right button is also used for decrementing values, the Alternate key on the Atari has to be held down to play the keyboard.
To keep the editor relatively simple, there are only two main pages; Management and Editor.
ON BOOTING UP, the Management page is the default page and is divided horizontally into four areas. At the top is the standard GEM menu bar and the first two headings of File and Transfer
Options has a selector for two different fonts for the numbers on screen, and a choice of whether a warning box is displayed each time something is about to be over-written. It also has a Tune request for making the Matrix 1000 tune itself (I wish my car had one of those) and Delete Doubles which checks the current bank and removes duplicates. Edit displays the names of the patches held in each of the four edit buffers and Create/Random will be examined in due course.
The next window is for the four banks, or Sets as they are referred to here, and includes the numbers of the patches as transferred from the Matrix 1000. A vertical scroll bar moves through ten patches at a time.
The third window is intended to save us from having to access the GEM menus too often, as it duplicates many of the options. Placing patches into buffers, writing patches to different positions, transferring between Matrix 1000, editor and disk are all possible from here, as is the dumping of sounds into our old friend Dusty Bin. This bin has one advantage over the usual GEM version in that a single click on it regurgitates the last two entries. Are you paying attention Atari? There is also a clipboard for temporary storage of a patch when reorganising banks.
The final strip at the bottom of the page displays the information which is relevant to both this and the Editor page. This strip remains in this position when the latter is accessed and allows access to MIDI channel and on/off for the note output from the right mouse button; Thru on/off so that notes from a real keyboard connected to the MIDI In of the Atari can be merged with any screen edits; current edit buffer in use, immediate access to altering it by randomisation and the page changer.
To be able to edit a sound, click on the correct position in the bank, select an edit buffer and use the "Edit" icon in the third window.
C-LAB HAVE DONE an excellent job in fitting all of the necessary parameters onto one screen and, while I do not intend to go on a guided tour, here is the basic manner of working.
Values assigned to sliders can be "grabbed" by either of the mouse buttons and scrolled. Alternatively, continuous clicking on these buttons will increment (left) or decrement (right) values, although the right button appears to be very slow to react. This is probably because the program is checking to see whether the Alternate key is being held down as well and has to decide if a note is to be played. Maximum and Minimum values can be selected by using the Shift key and the speed increases when holding down the other mouse button as well. To help in editing at a glance, sliders are black for negative values and grey for positive ones.
A click on one of the three envelopes magnifies it to half of the screen. Grabbing and dragging the joints allows you to quickly alter these, and moving the cursor outside of the window closes it back down. Whenever you are editing, there's always a point where you have achieved a sound which you would have problems reproducing, and yet it still isn't quite right. Backup is designed with this in mind, as it's a buffer for storing a single sound which can be recalled if needed. Compare redraws the screen to show the original values as well as making the initial sound available for playing, while Restart bins any edits and restores this initial sound.
At the foot of the screen is the selector for the Matrix Modulation page (MM). The structure behind the Matrix series of synths allows for a variety of modulation paths which are all visible on this page. 'Nuff said.
STARTING FROM ANY current patch, any combination of the 96 parameters available can be selected from the Edit Mask option in the menu along with an intensity value between one and five. This mask can be saved to disk and re-used as required. The patch then created takes the place of the current patch and the option of creating a complete bank of 100 patches is also available. The only problem with this is that the workings of the Matrix 1000 are quite complex and you need to have a good idea of which parameters to alter in order to get acceptable (read musical) results.
The particular way in which Explorer implements randomisation is interesting. You can select any number of the patches in memory, starting from number one, via the Randomise Limit and Explorer will examine their parameters and create hybrids of them. For instance, if you have an entire bank of brass sounds in bank one, set the limit from 0 to 99 to encompass that bank and Explorer will randomly create either a single sound in the current edit buffer or 100 patches in the currently selected bank. In practice, this works rather well but I would have been happier to have seen some guidelines offered in the manual as to how to obtain the best results.
EXPLORER IS A sound editor pure and simple, and so does not allow you access to the functions which you can change from the front panel of the Matrix 1000 like transpose, pitchbend range and the like. I understand that this is down to the system exclusive setup of the synth and not the lack of programming.
I ran into no problems in the time that I worked with this editor, but one thing started to grate a little. As the right-hand mouse button serves the dual purpose of playing the invisible keyboard and decrementing values, it can't do both at the same time - so editing and playing simultaneously is often impossible. I ended up working with a merge box which meant notes could be played from a master keyboard with one hand while the other dealt with the mouse. In fact, a merge box always makes visual editors easier to work with.
VISUAL EDITORS HAVE become a way of life for anyone working with a computer and a synth without a hardware editor. Some offer you the luxury of being able to co-reside in your computer's memory with other pieces of software (a sequencer in particular) while others will do practically anything bar making the morning cup of coffee.
Explorer is a member of the No Frills club in that it is a well laid-out editor which performs its job without flying flags. All I can say is that if you have a Matrix 1000 and want to edit the sounds, get this editor.
Price £89.00 including VAT
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Review by Vic Lennard
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