Dr T's Beyond
Software for Apple Macintosh
It's not often a new program enters the Macintosh stable of sequencers, but one notable newcomer is this package from Dr T's. Mike Collins dons Mac and boldly goes...
There's not usually much activity on the Mac sequencer front - the major programs are established and well liked. So what sort of reception can Dr T's new Beyond expect?
WELCOME TO THE world of professional Macintosh sequencers. Generally accepted as the preferred music computer (being more powerful and reliable than other personal computers, but costing considerably more), there isn't usually music software action worth reporting on. While there's a new budget sequencer for the Atari every other week, Mac sequencers are capable, reliable, established. It's an unusual event to receive a new arrival - but that's what we've got in Dr T's Beyond.
Unfortunately, the review copy was pre-release and came without a manual, so the first test for Beyond was to establish how intuitive the program is. It quickly becomes obvious that designer Jeremy Sagan has been influenced heavily by the competition - MOTU's Performer, Opcode's Vision, and Passport's Mastertracks Pro. Being familiar with all of these, I recognised that parts of this program had taken their inspiration from the others. It's good to see that, in many cases, the designer had done his best to improve on various aspects of the user interface compared with the competition. For instance, in common with Vision, most of the edit parameters can be altered either by selecting and over-typing the value you want, or by selecting the parameter and moving the mouse up to increase or down to decrease it. Most parameters could also be altered using natty-looking up/down arrows, and some parameters can even be altered using on-screen sliders as well. I felt that the action of the mouse and the up/down arrows is somehow smoother than Vision's.
One of the things which impresses me about Beyond is that all the windows can be re-sized to occupy very small areas of the screen, more so than Performer's windows, and much more so than Vision's. This becomes quite important when working on the Mac SE's small screen. The general look of Beyond's screen graphics is very attractive, and I prefer it in many ways to Vision's, although it still doesn't top Performer's extremely chic look and feel. But let's get to the features.
The menus are extremely logically organised, so let's start with the Setup Menu. First comes the MIDI Setup dialogue box with the usual options to set MIDI Port and Clock Rate, and then the first individual feature of this program. This is a pop-up menu which lets you choose whether you want to use a 480ppqn resolution, or 384ppqn, 240ppqn, or 192ppqn. I believe a similar feature is available on Dr T's previous Macintosh sequencer, KCS Level II. The next menu selection brings up the SMPTE box to set frame rate and SMPTE offset - no surprises here, but more logically positioned than Performer's which is rather hidden away in a mini-menu. A neat touch in the next menu selection is a Notepad window with a simple text entry facility, although this doesn't support the standard Macintosh Cut/Copy/Paste edit commands. I feel that this could be improved upon, perhaps even offering a printout facility. But the next selection is sound - Controller Chasing. This defaults to off, but lets you choose what you chase -just how Performer does it. Sequencers such as Vision, however, force you to use the feature even when you don't want to.
And it gets better. Vision has very powerful selection criteria which enable you to selectively accent particular beats within a bar, for example, but it's fiddly to work out how to use. Beyond's Selection Filter makes this obvious at a glance. This is just the kind of user-friendliness which you need from a computer, rather than something which makes you break your right brain creative flow to stop and analyse with your left brain.
The next step is to check out the Record/Play options. This dialogue box offered choices to set up count-off bars both before recording or before playback - helpful to have this choice - and the option to wait for the first incoming note before switching into Play/Record. A Record/Loop setup dialogue allows choices between a "multiple-take" mode or a "song-building" mode, and how many tracks to allocate when loop recording. These were the first options I encountered which were not completely intuitive. The last menu selection here is a Record Filter, something which has become standard on most Mac sequencers.
Importing a song saved as a standard MIDI File (created in Vision) is a straightforward procedure, and everything comes across OK including Track Names, SysEx data, and Markers.
THE GRAPHIC EDITING window is very clear and easy to read, with a grid system to help you identify timings and pitches. The notes were displayed as horizontal bars with lengths representing the note values, and at heights representing the pitches.
A click on any of these brings up an event editor dialogue box to let you adjust the note's parameters numerically. A pencil tool in combination with a "palette" of note values makes note entry using the mouse easy, although an option for MIDI keyboard note entry is available as well. There is also a Display window which shows a list of events at their bar locations, similar to Performer's event editor window.
It was here I came across, my first real disappointment with Beyond. When I clicked on a note here to edit it, I was thrown into the graphic editing window, where I had to click on the note (admittedly with a cursor conveniently placed just before it to identify it) to access the event parameters in order to adjust them numerically. In other words, there is no proper event list editor (as on Performer, Vision and Mastertracks). Although many people may prefer graphic editing, I find event-list editing about ten times faster.
Back to the menus. The next set were intriguingly labelled Switches. This is another extremely logical positioning and grouping of features found on other programs, but sometimes hidden away. These are: Hide/Show Grid for the Note Editor window; use Single or Double click on the graphic note display to call up the event edit dialogue box (useful if you are mainly using graphic editing and want to avoid accidentally bringing up a numeric dialogue); SMPTE/Bar display toggle for the edit windows; Selection Filter on/off; Synchronised Scrolling of the graphic display, (though not smooth scrolling as on the ST Virtuoso sequencer); Show/Hide SysEx in the Note Editor window; and Velocity Stems on/off. This last feature is a great new addition to the graphic display which adds a thin stem at the start of every note which is longer or shorter according to the velocity. Definitely a neat way of giving visual feedback, and something which I'm sure musicians used to looking at conventional music notation could adjust to quite quickly.
Staying with the menus, we come to the Windows menu. The first selection here brings up a Memory window showing the number of bytes available for recording. Next comes the Sections Window. This contained 32 sections, which I reckon can hold either sections of a song to be strung together elsewhere, or even different songs. A Tracks Window is available for each of the sections, and there are 99 tracks provided in each of these. Time to check out the Tracks Window more closely...
"...meanwhile the Transport Window was jumping to the location of the data I was editing - I, for one, have been crying out for this very feature."
My Vision-originated sequences came up in Section 1, occupying about 18 tracks. The layout here reminds me of a combination of Vision and Mastertracks Pro. Columns at the left let you select Record, Mute, or Solo for each track; then there's space to name the track, followed by a check box to select looping for the track, and a box showing the number of bars to be looped in the track. Continuing across towards the right of the screen you'll find selection boxes for the Instrument. These are rather similar to Vision again, you get a pop-up menu when you click on any of these boxes to let you select a pre-defined Instrument consisting of a choice of modem or printer port/MIDI channel with a name of your own choosing (entered in the Instruments window) to help you get your sounds organised.
There are scroll bars at the bottom of the screen giving you access to a track editor window similar to Mastertracks Pro's. This lets you see the Tracks laid out horizontally, with darkened sections showing where there is actually data present in them. This system is one of the easiest for making changes to the tracks as a whole, using the standard Macintosh Cut/Copy/Paste commands on selections made by pointing, clicking and dragging to highlight the bits you want. The Markers I had set up in Vision appeared here above the Tracks Window, which was OK, but I did find myself missing Performer's dedicated Markers window which also serves as a kind of autolocator by moving the sequence to the bar location when you click on the individual markers.
How about Continuous Controller editing? Until I met Beyond, I reckoned that Mastertracks Pro had the best graphic editor for this type of data going. Now I actually prefer Beyond's Controller editing. It's much easier to draw in controller data in Beyond than in any of the other Mac programs (most of which now offer this feature).
While I was messing about with this, the Transport Window was jumping to the bar location of the data I was editing. I, for one, have been crying out for this very feature, because I invariably want to check the effect of the edits I'm working on, and it can take a few moves to get some of the other sequencers to locate to the point being edited. But Beyond was right there with me.
The Transport Window looked great on my Mac II, using a very attractive, but subtle, choice of colours to enhance the look. It's a very straightforward area of Beyond, having "buttons" for Play, Stop, Record, Rewind, Cue, and Fast Forward. Extremely intuitive, instantly obvious; another design feature which doesn't impede the creative flow. (Other sequencer designers please take note.)
The Instruments setup window is where you define the Instruments which you select for each Track in the Tracks Window. Here you choose a MIDI Channel and Output port, name the instrument, and set up a Program Change command to select that instrument on your MIDI gear. Each Instrument has a Data Fader, which lets you adjust MIDI controller information for the instrument. By default, this is set to Controller 7 for MIDI Volume messages. There is also a handy Master Fader for these. In addition, there are buttons in this window to send All Notes Off, Local Control On, and Local Control Off messages.
RECORDING FROM SCRATCH in Beyond is extremely quick and straightforward. Once you have recorded a track, most people feel the need - rightly or wrongly - to quantise. Quantise features can be applied either to note attacks or releases. Also, there are options for setting Swing percentage, and for Strength of quantisation (how near to the strict values the quantisation moves your notes). Options for Duration include Scale to a percentage of, or Set to a value, and Transpose options allow either chromatic or "in-scale" transpositions, as well as an option to set all notes to a particular note. This last Transpose option ms particularly useful when editing drum machine notes.
Beyond has comprehensive options for changing Velocity, Controller, and Pitchbend data, and a Reverse function to reverse either timings of selected events, or pitches of selected notes "in-scale" or chromatically. The Shift option lets you shift events by a specified number of clocks either behind or ahead, and the Channel option lets you change the MIDI channel of a track.
There are comprehensive functions available in the Human Feel option whereby you can randomise start times, durations, velocities, or tempo changes to give your music a more "natural" feel, and there's a Harmony option which lets you add up to four notes to a monophonic line and move these harmonies either in-key or chromatically as the line moves away from the root note. The last four options let you Scale Time (compress it or expand it), set Tempo (or change gradually from one tempo to another), set Time & Key Signatures (over specified ranges of bars), or send an All Notes Off command.
The Edit Menu contains the standard Macintosh Undo, Cut, Copy, Paste, Clear, and Select All commands, and has Merge Data, Delete Duplicates (very handy), and Extract Data (similar to Performer's Split Notes). This last command includes options to remove notes not in scale, or remove selected types of data, on all channels, or only on a specified channel. Finally, the File Menu, besides supporting the standard Macintosh File commands (New, Open and so on), also has Import and Export MIDI File, and a Save Preferences option to let you configure Beyond to your own taste.
BEYOND HAS ALL the makings of a first-rate Macintosh MIDI sequencer program. This pre-release version didn't crash once, and I only encountered one small problem when using the Harmony option, and this was probably a misunderstanding on my part which I couldn't clear up as I did not have a manual. It's certainly a logical and easy-to-use program, and includes most of the high-powered features which programmers have come to expect in a Macintosh sequencer. The one major feature I missed was Event List editing. Also, the Display list could have been improved by providing a view filter so that just notes (or whatever data) would be displayed. However, there are many people who prefer graphical editing, and in this case Beyond could be their ideal choice, offering the pick of most of the best features of the other Macintosh sequencers in one program.
Price: £259 including VAT.
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Review by Mike Collins
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