The Integrated Graphic EditoR
You don’t have to be a KCS owner to benefit from Tiger. If your Atari sequencer lacks graphical editing facilities but implements MIDI files, then real-time editing of sequence data is still possible. Chas Stoddard explains all.
We all have our favourite sequencer but there is probably some aspect of its operation that annoys us. One of the more common criticisms aired is the way in which various programs handle editing. Some are event-list based like Dr.T's KCS, others employ a variety of graphical devices to represent notes - these methods each have their strengths and weaknesses depending on the kind of material being worked on. One nice program is Master Tracks Pro from Passport; here MIDI events are displayed in a piano-roll fashion with MIDI controller information shown as a series of curves. This type of optical notation has a lot going for it: it is immediately apparent what's happening to the music and, to my mind at least, a more stimulating and logical way of working.
American software house Dr.T have always enjoyed a reputation for producing high quality programs, and this reputation is further enhanced by the release of TIGER (The Interactive Graphic EditoR). This takes some of the principles employed in Master Tracks and other programs a stage further by making all the editing functions operate in real time. Notes can be moved, altered, copied, split, and generally bounced around on up to 48 tracks without stopping playback; controller curves can be drawn and reshaped on the fly, and all with practically no glitching. Believe me, this program is fast! The tracks scroll across the screen without interruption in playback and even dropping a menu down from the menu bar, which would stop some sequencers dead in their tracks (pardon the pun!), causes the barest hiccup.
The program comes on a single-sided 3.5" disk and is copy-protected; you can make a working copy of the disk although you will be asked to insert the original during loading. I much prefer this way of protecting software, the constant plugging and unplugging of a dongle can cause wear and tear on the Atari's cartridge port, and the temptation for an inexperienced user to yank it out of its slot can generate more than its fair share of cardiac problems (don't laugh, I've seen it happen!). TIGER supports the MIDI File Standard (Format 0 and Format 1 files only, please), as well as files generated by Dr.T's KCS, so those of you who use other manufacturers' sequencers can still use TIGER quite happily (provided your sequencer can save its sequences as MIDI Files). In common with a lot of the good Doctor's other software, TIGER runs under the Multi Program Environment (MPE) and thus can be linked to the Keyboard Controlled Sequencer, making a truly fearsome combination. But be warned, running KCS Level 2 and TIGER on a 1040 ST is going to leave you very tight for memory space; so ditch all those desk accessories and TSR programs, and lighten up on that mod wheel!
The manual is, as always with Dr.T, well laid out and lucid with plenty of examples and illustrations, as well as several tutorial sections - other software houses take note: a product often stands or falls on its manual and other manufacturers would do well to follow Dr.T's example; a good manual makes all the difference.
Booting the program up displays a screen which is pleasantly uncluttered - along the top is a standard GEM menu bar (fans of wry humour will appreciate the 'About...' entry under 'Desk'!) and at the bottom a row of Master Control icons for the principal editing functions, as well as boxes for the current tempo and current mouse position. The main area of the screen displays the various track windows - on boot-up, TIGER displays the first two tracks. Track 1 is a special case, as this is where tempo and time signatures are set. In the Time Signature window are two numbers, the time signature proper and the number of clock steps within a bar; for example, 4/4 and 384 (ie. 96 ppqn). Clicking on the time signature brings up a dialogue box with a range of times from 2/2 to 9/16 - you can also define any other in the 'User' field. Because Dr.T treats Track 1 as a conductor track, you can't have any MIDI data here. But fear not. Any stuff you have here in your files will be automatically copied to the next free track.
Above this is Track 2's window, which has a piano keyboard on the left (used for playing in notes live with the mouse), a scroll bar on the right (no prizes for guessing what that does), and at the top, the Track Info Line, which has a range of global controls for the entire track. Here you can set the channel, the initial program number, volume, and offset from the start of the track (in clock steps). At the right-hand end are controller window buttons, which offer the more common controller types - such as mod wheel, pitch bend, breath, volume, and so on. Clicking on any of these will call up a window for that controller type and display it under the current track.
Two further icons allow the track to be muted or grouped. Grouping permits several tracks to be played together - handy for hearing a limited selection of tracks without going round muting all the others. You can have up to three tracks visible at a time and, space permitting, a number of controller windows. You can also store 10 different display configurations for later recall, allowing you to rapidly recall different views of the piece you are editing. These settings will be saved if you use TIGER's own file type (.TIG).
Notes are shown as L-shaped icons: the position indicates the pitch and the length shows the duration, with the upstroke indicating the velocity. This layout gives an excellent visual impression of the music as well as being easy on the eye!
The Master Control icons at the bottom of the screen are used, as mentioned before, to control the primary editing functions of TIGER. These are divided into two groups, those that use the left mouse button and those for the right. The four icons to the left of the tempo and position displays are used to perform various functions on the selected notes, whereas those icons to the right operate on single notes only. The two icons to the extreme right control the current quantise value and the screen magnification. Notes can be selected in a variety ways, the basic ones being 'rubberbanding' round a group of notes or by clicking on a note. More than one note can be selected by holding down the Shift button and clicking on the required ones, which allows non-contiguous notes to be selected. Once selected, the note's duration bar changes from a solid line to a dashed one and the options in the edit menus become active. The first set of controls that most people will familiarise themselves with are the Play controls. Pressing the space bar will start the piece off from the beginning.
Just above the horizontal scroll bar is the Play cursor; this is a vertical line which indicates the current position within the piece and, if Auto Scroll is turned on, the screen will redraw when it reaches the end of the screen. A more useful way of playing sections of the piece is controlled by the ST's numeric keypad. By placing the mouse cursor anywhere within the first bar you want to hear and pressing a number on the keypad, that number of bars will start cycling around. This is very useful when you are adjusting notes within this range, as you will hear any changes you make in context. If you select a group of notes and press the asterisk key (*), then only those selected notes will play. The Enter key will play the entire screen, while Return plays the current bar the mouse is in or the current range if one is selected. Play can also be initiated by the right mouse button; by selecting the Play icon to the immediate right of the mouse position indicator, and right-clicking in the track, play will commence from that exact point. Finally, the Tab key will restart playback using the last play option employed.
Editing notes couldn't be simpler - when working on single notes the right mouse icons come into play, and clicking and dragging in an appropriate direction will perform the selected task. To the left of the Play icon are several more icons: Note Draw will place a single note at the mouse position using the current Draw Attributes - these are set from the Settings menu and allow the left and right buttons to have different velocity and duration values; the other icons, Note Erase, Pitch Move, Time Move, Velocity Edit, and Duration Edit perform the appropriate functions. There are a number of modifier keys which temporarily override the status of the right mouse edit icons. For example, the Control key will force Pitch Move - this makes it easy to change modes when doing a lot of note-by-note editing without resorting to constant resetting.
The left mouse icons allow a variety of actions to be applied to a group of selected notes. If none of the icons are active, then clicking and holding on the selected notes allows the whole group to be dragged around the screen to a new position. As with the right mouse modes, various keys can be used to constrain the action - holding the left Shift down permits horizontal movement only, while the right one allows vertical adjustment. The four icons control Note Erase - this is different from the right mouse icon in that it will erase all selected notes; Note Draw, which is similar to the right mouse mode; Paste; and Range Select. In the case of Draw and Paste, the cursor changes into either a pencil or a paintpot depending on the mode; for really accurate work these cursors can be changed to more precise versions. With the Range button highlighted, dragging with the left mouse button lights up a horizontal range which encompasses all events, notes, and controllers, and constrains all edit operations to this range.
I mentioned earlier that there were several ways to select notes for editing. Some very useful functions can be found in the delightfully named Widgets menu. These options can select all notes of the same pitch or pitch class (eg. all C#s irrespective of octave), notes above or below a certain pitch, or even a range of pitches. This provides a really quick way of creating new inversions of chords, or performing modal or tonality transpositions, or creating orchestrations with the Split Selection option.
Other methods relate to a menu item called Repeats. The normal use of Repeats is to create repeating patterns from the selected notes. For example, if you select a couple of notes and set Repeats to '1' bar, then pressing Control-Right Arrow will copy those notes one bar to the right, with successive presses continuing this on down the track. You can also select notes that are separated by the Repeat time by Alternate-clicking on a note; in this case all notes that are in exact multiples of one bar will be selected. This feature can also be used with the Draw and Paste modes.
In common with KCS, TIGER uses a great many keys to act on selected notes. The four rows of keys on the main QWERTY keyboard provide various ways of manipulating events. The top row (1 to 0) raise or lower the pitch; pressing 1 will drop notes an octave while 0 raises them an octave. The amount of transposition up or down gets smaller as you work towards the centre of the row. The second row moves notes backwards or forwards; again the amount diminishes as you move towards the keys in the middle. The third row controls transposition of velocities or controllers by fixed values, while the last row scales them on a percentage basis. The four arrow keys can also be used to move notes about - this can prove faster than other ways, in certain circumstances.
The Edit menu has many of the options that you'd expect to find here: Undo, Cut, Copy, Paste, as well as a few more specialised ones. One very nice feature is the way in which you can enter values into data fields. By right-clicking and dragging the mouse left or right, the data field will scroll through the allowable values for that function. This is a very fast way of setting and I wish that more programs would do this (incidentally, the latest version of KCS also uses this method of data entry - once you've used it, you won't want to enter data any other way!).
Pitches and velocities can also be changed from the Edit menu - again, in common with KCS, TIGER usually lets you do the same or similar operations to data in quite a few different ways; the method you choose depends on the sort of material you're working on, the phase of the moon, the current size of the National Debt, or just your mood... Also in the Edit menu are options for Quantise, Time Reverse, and Move.
The Quantise function is particularly good, as not only will it perform the usual function but it also allows you to 'swing' quantise, where different percentages can be applied to upbeat and downbeat. A plain vanilla quantise assigns 50% to the two beats, whereas a value in the Swing field will apply that percentage of time to the downbeat. You can also quantise to a reference sequence, so that the selected notes fall on the same beats as the reference sequence.
Time Reverse will do the obvious but can also reverse the pitch order only or reverse all but pitches - this feature, used in conjunction with Move, is a nice quick way of producing counterpoint. Finally, Move brings up one of two dialogue boxes depending on whether notes are selected or a horizontal range is defined. With selected notes, you can only move the group forwards or backwards, whereas with a horizontal range it allows more complex tricks such as 'stretching' or 'shrinking' by either fixed amounts or by using the mouse to indicate where you'd like the end of the range to finish - this is one feature I like a great deal.
Potentially the most powerful aspect of TIGER is the way in which it handles controllers. As I said before, the Track Info line has icons for the more common controller types. Click on 'VO' and a window appears below the current track, which can be re-sized by right-clicking in the window close box. Right-clicking and dragging within this window draws a new curve, left-clicking and dragging lets you edit the existing one with the actual values being echoed in a box under the Mouse Position Indicator. The real surprise here is the sheer speed with which curves can be drawn and edited. You can move the mouse as fast as your wrist will allow; the curve will show no tendency to jerk from point to point (as Master Tracks Pro can do if you move the mouse too quickly) and will faithfully mirror every action of the mouse. Again, various keys can be used to modify the action: left-Shift and drag will select the curve for editing without altering its shape, useful if you want to scale or transpose the values, while the Control key erases. My favourite method for editing is doing it live.
To the left of the controller window is a small box containing the controller number or name. Start playback off and left-click and drag up and down; the curve will change shape in real time - this feature is superb as you can hear what's going on all the time-fabulous! Other controllers not listed in the Track Info line can be called from the Add Controllers option, and up to eight of these can be visible depending on what else you have going on. TIGER will also chase controllers on playback; this ensures that the music plays correctly - very important if your sanity is not to suffer! With a little careful planning, you could use it to edit mix data from a Yamaha DMP7 digital mixer; I suspect that some people will buy this program for just that.
Two of the controller options in the Track Info line are worthy of mention: 'PG' and 'VE'. 'PG' is used for inserting program changes and as such you can't draw curves - pretty pointless actually. The program number is shown to the right of the line and the value is changed using the up/down arrow keys. 'VE' is strictly speaking not a controller but the velocity of the notes displayed in the same fashion as a controller. You can't draw in this window but you can use all the other editing techniques that other controllers use. It's also useful to see the regularity or otherwise of arpeggiated runs - it can be a little difficult to see the time separation in densely packed data; displaying this window helps a great deal.
I think the only way I can describe TIGER is 'stunning'. I've tried it out on a variety of material, ranging from conventional pop (is there such a thing?) to house and classical, and in all cases the task has been almost effortless. TIGER also goes a long way to addressing the problem of editing music in tempo rubato. Here the performer plays with no reference to a regular meter. Indeed, the tempo will invariably change even during a bar - the consequence of this is that what the ear perceives as a bar is not what the computer, with its rigid sense of time, thinks it is; in other words, logical and physical time are not the same. In these situations standard quantising techniques don't work, and hacking away at an event list of numbers is an operation rather less interesting than juggling cockroaches. With TIGER, however, working on this type of passage becomes a joy rather than a chore, and pretty damn quick to boot! This is one of the real benefits of TIGER; after all, the best quantising tool available is your ears!
I encountered a couple of problems using this program - occasionally the program freezes after doing an operation on a large number of selected notes. TIGER has variable-sized buffers for Select and Paste functions; this is presumably so that TIGER doesn't run full tilt into the limits of available memory and thus run out of space to perform the edit. On an Atari 1040 ST, Dr.T recommend a buffer size of 500 events for Select and Paste (although Mega ST owners can set these for 2000, the maximum permissible). Trying to select more than the going rate causes an alert box to pop up, warning that too many events are selected. Perversely enough, the program will actually select all the notes you've asked for but about a third of the time, TIGER will just sit there and glower. Fortunately, if you're using TIGER within the MPE, returning to KCS and re-entering TIGER clears the problem. Also if you're trying to move large numbers of notes to and fro while playing, then there can be a small glitch as the notes redraw. Incidentally, KCS users should not try to save an .ALL file from within TIGER - you'll make it hang; use the file handler in KCS for this.
One thing I would really like to see is better note entry from a keyboard. Currently TIGER will only draw notes using the Draw Attributes set for the left mouse button - you can override the velocity setting and record velocities from the keyboard but not durations. For standalone users this is a big disadvantage. Although to be fair to the good Doctor, he states that TIGER is not a full-blown sequencer. If they were to add this function then TIGER could well become a viable alternative to sequencers costing twice the price. I'd also like the ability to 'transpose' one controller type into another - for example, Controller 7 into Controller 2. This would make it very much easier to emulate a WX7's controller output without resorting to manually retracing the curve - or, indeed, any other sort of inspired lunacy. It would also be really nice if some sort of global overview could be implemented.
All in all, TIGER is a superb program with such a wealth of facilities that this review can really only scratch the surface. For users of KCS, TIGER adds the long-awaited graphic capability that the program should always have had. For the stand-alone user, TIGER provides some very powerful tools that aid the composition and production process. TIGER is also a fun program to use. I've managed to create some interesting music simply by drawing it in.
For people who are interested in more serious applications in music, then KCS and TIGER are a force to be reckoned with. For the casual user, TIGER provides editing power that equals much more expensive systems. There's something for everyone with this program - so sell your granny, buy an industrial-sized can of Kit-E-Kat and prepare for your ST to start purring. Get a copy, I can thoroughly recommend it!
£129 inc VAT.
MCMXCIX, (Contact Details).
Review by Chas Stoddard