DR T'S KCS
Software for the Amiga
One of the Atari ST's most flexible sequencers recently found itself ported across to the Commodore Amiga. Ian "Dr W" Waugh finds what Amiga owners have been missing.
DR T'S IS ONE of the most prolific music software houses and Dr T's KCS (Keyboard Controlled Sequencer) has achieved quite a cult following among devotees. And quite right, too - the program is incredibly powerful. But Dr T's programs have shunned GEM graphics and icons in favour of highly numeric, information-packed screens; more for the computer buff than the musician, perhaps, and the learning curve was long. However, recent Dr T's software releases support GEM and the screens have been made more graphically appealing.
KCS Level II version 3 for the Amiga has benefited, too. The most obvious difference over its predecessor is the Track Mode screen which has been redesigned. It's now more graphic and all 48 tracks are shown on screen at once. It also supports pull-down menus although all functions still have keyboard equivalent commands which are listed over five pages of the manual.
Several operating procedures have been changed. For example, there's a slider to alter tempo, the beat display is now in measure/beat/step format (instead of just measure/step), clicking once on the stop button doesn't reset the counter, there are six separate cue points and the Tab key starts the sequencer from the cue point.
Track one has moved nearer to an ideal conductor track in that TM (tempo value), AC (accelerando), DC (for decelerando but my music dictionary doesn't recognise this term - what's wrong with ritardando or rallentando?) and SM (steps/measure) events are only recognised if they are on track one (I suspect the wise arranger wouldn't scatter them throughout the tracks in any case). In Open mode any sequence can still play a tempo event. Dr T's have further plans for track one and recommend you no longer use it for recording MIDI information.
Many functions and options have now been moved to the Track Functions and Options menus. There are special functions for dealing with the Phantom (Dr T's SMPTE synchroniser) and the Fostex R8 recorder, which can be controlled remotely via MIDI system exclusive messages.
A new Remote Control Mode removes the track display and lowers the transport controls to make it easier to use in a multitasking environment.
The Edit screens have been given a face-lift, too, although their origins are still evident. Many options have been shifted to pull-down menus - the entire Transpose/Auto section has been replaced with the Transform menu. You can enter split points in terms of pitch value rather than MIDI note number, the scroll arrows in the event list have been replaced with a more convenient scroll bar. However, many of the other (basically information) screens still contain the familiar lists of data and information.
The Project menu replaces the Load/Save options and a minor bug which could affect the timing of sync'd drum machines has been fixed. The Help screens have gone (with all the new features something had to).
There are several Stop Press additions too new to be detailed in the manual. These include file handling from the Track Play screen and a New option which clears all memory (every sequencer should have one). Split options let you split note and controller data onto another track (and even restrict the split to a specific MIDI channel), you can remap MIDI data on a specific MIDI channel to another MIDI channel and there's an option to turn the count-in off.
There's also a Raise Priority option which gives KCS preference over any other multitasking program during playback to ensure greater accuracy, particularly when laying tracks on tape.
KCS now includes a special Amiga-specific version of Dr T's MPE (Multi Program Environment) which was originally developed for the ST. It acts as an extension to the computer's multitasking operating system, letting several programs share sequence data. KCS, for example, can record the MIDI output of MPE modules.
An MPE module is loaded like any other Amiga application by double-clicking on it) and once installed it appears in the MPE menu. The first entry is always the Workbench and up to 19 modules can be installed (memory permitting).
AutoMix is a "virtual slider" MPE module supplied with KCS. It draws a mixing desk on screen, and allows you to create automated mixdowns in real time.
The major omission in KCS, I suppose, is a scorewriter or score edit facilities (these have been included on the ST v3 software). Although MPE versions of Copyist can read scores directly from KCS's Track Mode, 1Meg of RAM does not appear to be enough for the two programs to co-exist in the same machine. Shame.
But for any criticism which may be levelled at KCS regarding layout and presentation, there's no denying the sheer power of the program. Some features, admittedly, are esoteric and others would probably only be used by the advanced user, but there can be few operations that you would like to perform on your music that couldn't be handled by KCS. Funny thing is, once you start to explore some of these functions you actually begin to see how you could use them in your music.
The upgrade, I'm sure, will be welcomed enormously by existing KCS users and Amiga owners in general, demonstrating growing support for the Amiga as a music computer.
Price £299 including VAT
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Review by Ian Waugh
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