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Control Room

Chip off the old block

Evolution Procyon Pro

Article from The Mix, April 1995

Budget sequencing for PC


It might sound like a dandruff shampoo, but Procyon Pro is an innovative new budget sequencing package for the PC. Danny McAleer finds it has an idiosyncratic appeal...


The average computer musician probably spends longer poring over edit screens on a sequencer than they do in front of the bathroom mirror. It's for this reason that a program has to be user-friendly: Not enough to it, and it'll be like bashing your head against a brick wall. Too much, and you'll be buried in manuals for the rest of your life. Either way, it isn't very conducive to creativity, which is supposed to be what sequencers are all about.

Procyon Pro abandons the esoteric number-crunching methods of yesteryear, in favour of the tried and tested Lego-brick style of construction. Building up a song in small, manageable parts, it marries a heap of professional features with an interface that makes buying bananas from a greengrocer seem like hard work.

The usual batch of necessities are required for installing this software; a minimum of a 386sx (16MHz or faster) with Windows 3.1, 4Mbytes of RAM, and about 1.5Mbytes of hard disk space is needed. The installation is almost totally automatic; it only pauses to ask which drive to put everything on. This is a bit frustrating, especially for one who likes to keep things out of the root directory (where the installation software throws everything), but not devastating.

Mapping it out



Analytical displays of parts in the list edit

The arrange page is where you'll spend most of your time toiling over sequences. In appearance, it's not dissimilar to Cubase. However, Procyon Pro's arrange page is completely configurable; so the window can be as sparse or as comprehensive as you wish.

Clicking on the arrangement window's title bar, the track column configuration box is called up. Here, you can choose to have any number of options directly available from the track. The more you choose, the easier setting tracks up becomes, but the less space you have for the actual block arrangement window. Of the choices in the box, the most useful are the MIDI indicator, MIDI device and channel, record box (essential!), track name, patch number, volume, and pan. If you're using a GM synth, extras like bank select, reverb and chorus will also be an advantage.

Values for each of these settings can be altered using the left and right mouse buttons (for increment and decrement respectively). Used in conjunction with the [shift] key, the values increase and decrease in increments of ten.

Control various parameters with a selection of buttons and dials

In the actual construction site, the blocks of data can be moved around in the usual manner, and also prodded using a selection of utensils from the toolbox. There is a pencil for drawing in new parts or altering lengths of others, an eraser, a mute button (allowing you to mute just one part of a track rather than the whole thing), a tube of glue and a Stanley knife. The last two appliances can be used for combining separate parts, or for splicing a single part into multiple blocks.

Copying a part is achieved by dragging it with the [Ctrl] key depressed. This creates a copy (indicated by a dotted border) of the original, which, if any alterations are made to the first pattern, is automatically transferred to all its copies. You can turn a copy into an independent part by editing it.

The top panel is where all the fundamental bits sit; the transport buttons, timer and bar count, and locator points. Two boxes, for tempo (with a range of 8bpm to 250bpm) and time signature are also to be found here. A row of graphic boxes perch along the top for toggling on and off various functions. These encompass everything from SMPTE synchronisation, metronome, and cycle options, to punch-in record, scrolling window, and the conductor track. The two buttons on the end move the song locator to the beginning or the end of a sequence.

Alternatively, you can set the dials up to control anything

Like all other programs, Procyon Pro has its own proprietary format (*.SNG) for loading and saving song files, but also supports the standard MIDI file format too. Although the program only allows one song to be open at a time, you can merge an infinite number (both in .MID and .SNG formats) together. You can also cut and paste between files, as the clipboard remains intact during any disk procedures.

In addition to storing whole songs, there is also the choice of saving individual (or a group of) patterns (.PAT), drum kit maps (.DRM), and the window layout (.WND). The clipboard functions are all fairly rudimentary; cut, copy, paste and clear are all included, with the usual keyboard shortcuts, as is an undo/redo function.



"it marries a heap of professional features with an interface that makes buying bananas from a greengrocer seem like hard work."


Down to business



Recording a part can be done in a variety of ways, but each method begins with selecting the appropriate track. To engage recording on a specific track, the record button must be depressed, and then, to start a 'real-time' take, the plus key is pressed. The count-in is set to one bar. but you can set it anywhere from 0 to 9 bars. Pressing record opens a small window, which graphically counts you in; a useful function if you're not using the metronome.

The drum editor doubles up as a more-than-adequate abacus for working out your salary editors.


You can also record on multiple tracks, which is useful for transferring songs from another sequencer. It also means that, if you have multiple inputs (and multiple players), you can record two or more parts using different MIDI devices. Another method of recording is to use the step input from within the editors.

There are two types of record mode, overdub and replace. Overdub lets you continuously add to a part, while replace wipes over anything on the track prior to that recording. With cycle on and the record mode set to replace, each time the segment is looped and something else played in, the part is updated. This is especially useful for complex solos, and tunes which are likely to take a few goes to get right. With it set to overdub, while cycle is on, you can add to a part each time it is looped; perfect for drum programming.

Serving it up



There are four editors in which to carve up the parts with; all of which are accessible via the graphic buttons on the top panel on the arrangement window, or by using one of the function key shortcuts. Common to all these editors are the keyboard shortcuts, defining the note length. By pressing keys 1 through to 8 on the PC's keyboard, you can quickly flick between the different note values for inputting. They also each have a 'recall' button, which returns the phrase to its original state before you made a mess of it. One thing that was quite at odds at first, was that if after using an editor the window wasn't closed, all the editing tools became disabled in the arrangement page. But you soon get used to closing the editing windows properly.

Define yourself a bank of voices in the Patch List window


The score editor is unlike many of the others, in that it is actually possible to use it to edit. The toolbox contains implements for drawing in notes, for changing naturals to sharps or flats, and a tube of glue for performing MFI-type assemblies on particular dots. Its ability to edit is perhaps quite fortunate, as the printing options are less than impressive. Neither the title, nor the additional comments can be changed (except for the font). Using the eight letter word provided by the file name as the title is awful.

Getting excited by an event (or list) editor is like being enthralled by a Party Political Broadcast; it just doesn't happen. Procyon Pro's has very little different about it; it's as practical as all the others, but with the added bonus of being able to perform step recordings within the editor. System exclusives can be recorded, inputted, and edited too. although to actually see the data bytes you need to open an additional window.

With the 'piano roll' or key editor, you can best perform any surgery. Both the x and y axes on the grid can be reduced in size or magnified, making it easier to negotiate your way around. Finding the right note to input is simple; you can either play a note on the keyboard, turning the corresponding note on the onscreen keyboard to grey, or simply click on the keyboard directly to hear the note.

The best way to perform surgery on parts is to use the piano roll editor


Any of the 128 MIDI controller messages, as well as other system messages like pitch bend, after-touch (both channel and single), and bank select can be 'drawn on' and edited. Unlike the 'hairpin' tool in Cubase though, you cannot draw in straight lines. Free hand is fine for most things, but it does make things a little difficult when attempting to make everything the same level, or when creating smooth fades.

The drum editor contains a complete map of the kit, with each drum sound having its own row on a grid. You can edit the map to suit your own drum set up, if it isn't configured the same way as the GM specification (these can then be saved to disk). Notes are represented on the grid by a series of colour-coded blobs; each colour symbolising a different velocity. The toolbox contains all the elements for the aspiring Ringo Starrs amongst us (are there any left?); two drum sticks (for hard and soft hits) for inputting notes, and two arrows for adjusting existing note velocities.

To mix the sounds together there is a 16 channel mixer; not quite enough for a multiple MIDI interface session, which is a shame. Having a mixer for each MIDI interface would have been a real winner. Never mind. Each channel has a 'flatten' button (which sets all the faders and pots to a default position), three dials, a mute and solo button, plus a main fader for volume. Two of the three dials are completely definable; you could even have them adjusting pitch bend and modulation, for some interesting results. The third dial controls the pan settings. Unfortunately, the user definitions for the pots are global, so you cannot keep reverb settings on one channel whilst controlling phaser depth and breath control on another. Still, this degree of flexibility is far more than many of the MIDI mixers on sequencers offer. All the settings, and movements made whilst playing can be recorded on the sequence too.

Functional from the point of printing notation; the score editor


Basic editing of parts can be performed using functions in the options menu. Here you can apply transpositions, alter velocities and lengths of notes, and quantise parts. Each of the functions can be applied over the whole content of the part, or a definable range of notes. For example, you could decide just to quantise the notes between c3 and f3. This is especially useful for drum tracks, where quantising the hi-hats would be disastrous, but where the bass drum must rigidly adhere to sixteenths. Another option available for length and velocity adjustment, is the ability to make all the notes of a fixed value.

Two other menu items allow you to edit various events; the first simply deletes all traces of the selected event(s), whilst the second function 'thins out' events; taking out say, every one in two. This is useful for events such as pitch bend, where loads of messages are sent and aren't often used.

Verdict



There seems to be no shortage of choice of sequencers of late, and they have all rather settled around the graphic arrangement format, pioneered by Steinberg. The only thing that tends to oust the competition now is how easy a sequencer is to use, how many additional features it has, and how many notes (green ones) you have to part with to get it. Procyon Pro fairs well in all of these criteria.

It's blindingly simple to use (in spite of a few idiosyncrasies), there are many features some other programs lack, like the drum editor, the multiple MIDI devices, plus a few extra trimmings. The 'fast menu' box and the configurable arrangement window are particularly handy. Nor is it unreasonably priced (less than Cubasis in fact), and is certainly worthy of consideration for experienced and novice sequencers alike.



The essentials...

Price inc VAT: £99.87 (Call for price on an upgrade from Procyon Lite)
More from: Evolution Electronics, (Contact Details).


On the RE:MIX CD

There's a demo version of Procyon Pro on this month's Re:Mix CD. See Toolbox for a guide to installing the software.



Previous Article in this issue

Clean machine

Next article in this issue

Mix and patch


Publisher: The Mix - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

The current copyright owner/s of this content may differ from the originally published copyright notice.
More details on copyright ownership...

 

The Mix - Apr 1995

Donated by: Colin Potter

Coverdisc: Chris Needham

Control Room

Review by Danny McAleer

Previous article in this issue:

> Clean machine

Next article in this issue:

> Mix and patch


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