Dr T'S D110 Editor
Software for the Atari ST
The latest in Dr T's Caged Artist series of editors is an Atari ST program for Roland's popular D110 synthesis mdule. Vic Lennard takes his L/A the easy way.
Pleased with your D110 but tired of editing it? This program from Dr T's could cure your programming blues.
IN THE BEGINNING there was the D50 - desirable but expensive. So Roland created a slimmed-down version called the MT32, which was multitimbral and cheap but not without its limitations. But so popular was the MT32 that Roland built another, better-specified version to bridge the gap between the two instruments: the D110. Everyone agreed this was good, but difficult to program from the front panel.
Enter the doctor. Doctor who? Dr T, of course, creator of many visual synth editors for the Atari ST and Amiga computers, collectively known as the Caged Artist series. Some of these have been with us for a few years now, but the D110 is a different animal to the instruments these editors were designed for - multitimbral, multi-output and with Tones, Timbres, Patches, Rhythm setups...
From the bewildered expressions on some of your faces, it would appear that we are on unfamiliar ground, so...
BASED ON THE D50 Linear Arithmetic synthesis methods, a D110 Tone is made up of up to four Partials which are each either PCM sampled sounds or digital waveforms. In the D110 there are 128 presets (a,b) and 63 Rhythm (r) Tones, with user memory capacity for 64 more (i). A Tone selection, along with its respective performance characteristics, can be saved to one of 128 Timbres or, alternatively, eight Tone parts and a Rhythm part can be written into one of 64 Patches. The D110's multitimbral ability allows it to play up to eight Tones and a Rhythm section simultaneously - up to a maximum of 32 Partials - and send them out of eight audio outputs, with various reverb and pan settings.
THE SOFTWARE REVIEWED here is that for the Atari ST. The editor consists of seven principal pages relating to all of the onboard functions. Certain aspects recur within the editor pages:
1. The right hand column is the menu, permitting movement from one page to another by either clicking on the relevant item or by using the function keys.
2. The left hand column is a "virtual" slider, allowing parameter values to be altered by either using the mouse to click on a particular position in the column or by dragging the slider up or down from any position on the screen, so making editing a more friendly proposition.
3. An invisible keyboard can be played by clicking on the right mouse button; the pitch is controlled by the horizontal position and the velocity by the vertical position. Additionally, single note or glissando is selectable as is one of 12 different scales.
Certain commands exist for interfacing to the D110 or to the disk drive; these are prefixed with Send, Get, Save or Load and are to be found as required per page in the menu column. Consequently I will not mention them in the ensuing run-through of individual pages.
"Bearing in mind that all edits are sent to the D110, the Atari's 'undo' function permits you to return a sound to its condition before the last edit."
For those readers who already use a personal computer, suffice it to say that the Caged Artist series of editors are non GEM-based and use a master disk method for copyprotection.
On loading up, the comment "no reply from synth" will appear if a D110 is not connected to the Atari and will allow you to "try again" after which it will load up a default file (called Initbank) of all the initial values to be found inside a virgin D110. Now, if the D110 has been edited in some way this could lead to the synth being out of step with the computer and so either "get all" or "send all" should be used to put the machines "into sync".
FIRST UP IS the Tone Bank which consists of a central window displaying the 64 user Tones (bank i in the D110). Above this box is a smaller one showing the eight selected parts for the current patch, and clicking on one of the user tones will copy it to the position in inverse video in the Part select box. Store will write an edited Tone to a selected position, while Copy will do the same for an unedited Tone. Move places a Tone into a position and then shuffles the rest around to fill the gap, while Swap switches the positions of two Tones. For each of the preceding four commands, the menu box changes to show precisely which command is being carried out and then returns to the usual menu after completion, which includes automatically sending any alterations to the D110. Two banks of Tones can be held simultaneously in memory and the Copy function allows user banks to be set up easily.
Patch Bank is very similar in use to the Tone Bank, as it also has the same store, copy, move and swap facilities but shows the 64 accessible Patches including their names - selecting a Patch will then show the eight Parts in the Part Select box on either this page or the Tone Bank page.
Having chosen a Patch, there is every likelihood that a Part will require editing. This leads us neatly to the Tone Edit page. The Tone Edit page displays all relevant data for the four partials of the Tone, both numerically and visually in the form of two large windows for the time variant filter (TVF) and time variant amplifier (TVA) with bias - analogous to "key follow" in an analogue sense - or envelope being selectable for each of these windows. The Partial being edited is shown in a small box in the right hand corner and in the Common parameter window on the other side of the screen. Altering a Tone results in its name being preceded by an asterisk in either of the bank pages. Bearing in mind that all edits are sent to the D110, the "undo" function permits you to return a sound to its condition before the last edit was performed - which will then be sent back to the synth. One other facility is that of randomisation - creating a new sound based on the guidelines of a previous one, and subject to certain percentage limits which can be altered on the System page. This can produce some interesting results, although apparently the algorithms used are mathematical in construction rather than musical, so leading to sounds which will need extensive editing if high percentage changes are used.
Having edited any particular Tones, a Patch can be built up on the Patch Edit page. This displays all relevant performance details such as MIDI channel, bend range, output assign/level and so on, for each Tone selected for that particular patch, as well as the overall reverb type/time/level and master tune.
As there is a dedicated rhythm part, Rhythm Edit allows for rhythm instruments (bank r in the D110) to be assigned to key values C1-C8 with their individual output assignments, levels and pans, viewed in blocks of 13 and played from the small keyboard at the bottom of the page. Consequently, different Rhythm setups can be saved to disk, recalled and sent so the D110 an required.
The Timbre Table sets up a Tone with its relevant output characteristics and assigns it to a MIDI program change number - any of 128 of them. The existence of Timbres in the D110 makes the programming of Parts easier by making a Tone plus output available for each Part. Personally, I preferred to use Patches to do the same job by saving all relevant Parts to a Patch and then changing to the required Patch number over MIDI. Still, you may disagree with my preference so you have the ability to work either way.
"The D110, D10 and D20 are basically the same machine - right? Wrong - which is why this editor has "D10/D110" written on the front cover of the manual."
The final page relates to the system as whole. Mouse control (note/glissando and scale), MIDI merge modes (for using a mother keyboard instead of the mouse) and randomisation parameters are all stored here, along with the D110 unit number (which defaults to 17). Changing this permits the individual editing of more than one unit in a MIDI chain without affecting others.
As a final note, selecting one of 255 possible Tones can be a pain with the slider, and so pages requiring this - Patch Edit, Rhythm Edit and Timbre Table - have an extra facility. Click on the Tone name and a table will appear with 11 of the Tones from Bank a listed. "More" then brings up banks b, r and i consecutively, allowing you to make a selection, after which Edit returns you to the previous page.
THERE ARE TWO programs supplied on the D110 editor master disk tailed D50CVERT and M32TOD10, which will attempt to make banks of sounds for the D50 and MT32 usable on the D110. I say attempt because the results are sometimes less than satisfactory due to the different PCM sampled sounds that exist in each machine. Certain sounds require editing after conversion to make them sound musical, let alone anything like the original Tones, and while the "Readme" document on the disk mentions that the coarse tuning of sounds should be altered, a separate booklet could be written, more accurately outlining the kind of programming changes needed.
COMPATIBLE, THAT IS. The D110, D10 and D20 are basically the same machine - right? Wrong. Roland have changed around the positions of the parameters inside these synths making the D10 and D20 incompatible with the D110, which is why this editor has "D10/D110" written on the Tone Edit page and the front cover of the manual, but is being sold exclusively for use with the D110 at present.
Add to this the problem that not all D110s behave in the same manner, and the situation becomes quite exasperating. There were five operating system changes to the D110 in the period from April 5th to August 30th 1988, the result of which is slightly different system exclusive information implementations from revision to revision. The upshot of this is that, under certain conditions, the message "System Exclusive checksum error" appears in the D110 window, the checksum being a coded arithmetic comparison between the data entering the D110 and that which is expected.
Another problem is that the memory protect on the D110 does not work when data is input via MIDI. To my mind this is a major oversight. It is difficult to see the point of this protection if it is fallible under certain conditions.
While we can all appreciate that technology never stands still, and that the updating of software is a continuous process, this does appear to be a little extreme and makes the creation of a single synth editor awkward and a generic one even more so.
I HAVE TO admit to liking the Caged Artist series of editors - including this one. It's extremely fast in operation, and my only complaint is one aimed at Dr T's software generally. Using a master disk all of the time will lead to the disk wearing out at some point - then you'll be asked to pay for a new one. Why not use the key disk system, where a copy is used for booting up, and the master disk is only inserted into the Atari drive at one particular point in the loading-up procedure to "authorise" the copy? Apart from this small criticism, nice one lads keep up the good work.
Price £61 excluding VAT
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Review by Vic Lennard