Ann Owen gets to grips with this budget sequencer for the Mac
Ann Owen takes a peek at the Deluxe Recorder from Electronic Arts
Now that the Apple Mac is a slightly less exclusive micro, with an entry level price below £1,000 and with various discounts for students, colleges etc, it's time for the home user to take it as seriously as the professional studio musician already has.
Electronic Arts (EA) have a good pedigree in producing software for the 'creatives' of computing. And when it comes to music, that means you and me! And with the help of EA's Deluxe Recorder (DR) you can start a Mac 'studio' with a 1Mb Mac (System 6.0.2 or later) with floppy, a MIDI interface and MIDI instrument (preferably multi-timbral).
Deluxe Recorder consists of a number of modules which are loaded/preloaded and opened as required. In DR the Console is where you start work. It's got the tape recorder style controls, which are the first port of call and with a song loaded you can experiment towards familiarity.
With two interfaces fitted, there are 32 potential channels via the modem and parallel printer ports. DR lets you set it up to suit your MIDI interface with port setup and choice of internal or external sync. You quickly discover, while experimenting with the tutorials that only one score can be open at a time.
From the Console you move to a second module, Channel Setup, in which you can assign a name table (representing a MIDI instrument) to a particular channel. Once assigned, DR allows you to choose sounds or controllers (sustain pedal etc) by name rather than number. This is done via the Program column in the track display. The Console 'knows' about the patches available on the selected instrument(s) and offers the appropriate choices.
The net result is no more manuals and no more struggling with the miniature LCD screen on your keyboard. The settings are saved when you Quit the program. Only when you change your studio setup do you need to reassign the name tables to different channels. There is a name editor if your instrument is not provided for by the program.
The third DR module is the Edit Window where the stave, or more accurately staves, reside. Lots of them! This is where the notes appear and where the MIDI control data for each track is accessible.
For each of the 16 tracks, record and play can be set on or off. Volume and transposition are controlled from vertical slider bars which pop up from the column display. Pan utilises a horizontal slider control to determine the sound's stereo position.
The tempo can range from 50 to 200 beats per minute and, if you've got a groove on the brain, you can tap it out on the spacebar or mouse.
Recording is a painless operation for even a one finger operator because in DR you can play into a buffer (temporary store) until it sounds right. Then you merge your new notes into a track or use them to replace it completely, or you can throw them out. If you are that good, you can turn off the buffer and record straight into the selected track.
DR offers considerable flexibility so that, if you don't like the results on playback, you can always rerecord all or part of a track. Punch recording and looping help this process. Three clicks is all it takes to set up a loop which can be replayed while you experiment with settings such as pan or pitch. You can also loop around while playing along into a new track.
Punch recording works by reserving a segment of a track. You can play to your heart's content but recording will automatically take place only between the start and finish points of the selected segment. The rest of the track is masked off and remains unchanged. And Undo is always available if the results aren't what was expected.
Rubato recording involves turning off the DR metronome and playing as the Muse takes you. Afterwards you can lay down quarter beats (which are converted to beat lines) in parallel with the tempo of your playing. The Fit Music to Beat Lines command can then be used to make DR follow the structure of your music.
Step recording enables you to use your MIDI instrument (via modem port only) to enter notes one by one. Note type is controlled by the QValue (which can be changed at the press of a key) while the duration of a note is set as a percentage value (default 90%).
Split channel recording automatically splits information from each channel into its own track. Multiple channel input results from more than one instrument being played at the same time (a 'live' situation) or from an existing sequence being played back.
The staves contain all the MIDI data so that's where you go to edit a track. The notes themselves contain channel (MIDI socket icon), pitch and velocity (hammer icon) data which can be modified by the appropriate tools.
You can playback through the currently selected track by placing an ear icon at the start bar; just click to stop. Moving around the stave is achieved with mouse, arrows and scroll bars or you can 'find measure' - type in the bar number to jump to its location.
A dozen different types of stave can be called up and their appearance modified to suit your way of working and the display. Cut and paste is a technique which will be familiar to anyone who uses a wordprocessor or desktop publishing program and not surprisingly DR makes use of this facility. A section of a track can be cut out (moved) or copied (duplicated) and subsequently pasted at another position on the same or different track.
'Scale paste' is a nice extension to this facility, allowing you to rescale the data as you 'stick down' the notes into a new position. Tools such as an eraser, pencil and hand can be used on notes or other MIDI data which has been selected by arrow, marquee (rectangular) or lassoo (irregular). Commands in the Edit, Notes (such as transposition) and Extras menus also operate on the currently selected items.
Placing notes is restricted by an invisible grid, the size of which is created by the setting of the note value - the quantisation or QValue as it is termed in Deluxe Recorder. Note sizes range from a whole note to a 128th note. Turn off the 'grid' if you wish. Notes can be played into the stave from your MIDI instrument in step recording.
You can quantise existing notes, forcing them onto, or halfway to the nearest note on the 'grid'. Other staves which can be displayed and/or edited represent program change, pitch bend, control change, channel pressure, beat lines, time signature, tempo and key. When the time signature is changed you are given various options on how it should effect the whole piece or remaining bars. A program change message can be set to change the patch being used on the track part way through.
If this is your first Mac program then you will appreciate the multi-window desktop with the usual Mac-friendly resizing, dragging, window to front and back etc. It still beats the ST, Amiga and PC (even with Windows) hands down. DR also utilises the mouse where appropriate, eg you can speed up/slow down song playback by moving the mouse left/right. Another Mac toy is the tear-off menu. An example of the usefulness of this is the tools menu which you can 'tear off in order to keep it open and available on the desktop.
Keyboard shortcuts (quick keypresses which achieve the same as pulldown menu choices) are implemented for almost all functions which means that, as you get used to the program, you can free a hand quickly to get back to the real keyboard, the one with the black and white keys. DR also excels in that it is tolerant of different ways of working, eg you can turn on/off dialogue boxes to speed up operation once you know what you are doing.
DR doesn't leave you to get on with it in isolation but comes with tutorials and setups based around the MT-32 and CZ-101. Anyone currently using Deluxe Music Construction Set will be glad to hear that files can be 'translated' using a separate utility supplied with DR. There are plenty of example songs too with the name of Ron Hubbard - he of games soundtrack fame - cropping up all over.
DR is nice and polite but has a complex character underneath the smile, so how do you get to know DR? Well EA manuals are usually good but this one is an exceptional 206 pages which provides comprehensive guidance in Getting Started, A Quick Tour of Recording, Editing your Score, Tutorials (four lessons), More About Recording and Reference.
Other programs, I have experienced, which have tried to pack in the complexity which lies beneath DR have ended up almost unusable. Not so with DR. Even from floppy, the program is always responsive though sometimes a little sluggish to redraw the display.
It seems to me that Deluxe Recorder achieves a new level of friendliness towards the musician, incorporating all the excellent features already in Mac programs for businessmen and graphic designers. You can modify the program to fit in with your way of working, let the program take the strain of generating repetitive items and controlling your MIDI instruments. Deluxe Recorder lets musicians get on with what they do best - being creative - while offering a very fine level of control.
Product: Deluxe Recorder
Format: Apple Mac
Supplier: Electronic Arts (Contact Details)
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Review by Ann Owen