DR T'S X-OR
With the novelty wearing off dedicated software synth editors, the race is on to come up with the definitive generic editor. Ian Waugh test-drives Dr T's entry.
It seemed like a good idea at the time - synth editing software - but how long will it be before you wish one editor would work with all your synths, samplers and processors?
IT'S A PAIN, isn't it, editing voices on digital synths and organising them into sound libraries? Software editing programs help enormously, but what if you have two, three or more different synths? It's hardly an uncommon occurrence in this age of budget-priced expanders.
To continue editing in the manner to which you are accustomed, you face the prospect of having to buy separate editors for each machine - not a financially attractive thought. And then there's the problem of accessing the sounds of different synths simultaneously. You really want all your equipment to form part of a single integrated system, not dangling off the edge of it as separate entities.
Achieving this isn't easy but current software development trends tend towards the production of one program which can cope with a variety of synthesisers. Several editors can handle a range of Yamaha four-operator FM synths, C-Labs Explorer 32 (reviewed MT, October '89) can handle all Roland's D-series synths and Hollis Research's MidiMan (reviewed MT, August '89) can handle virtually any synth (or MIDI-equipped machine) although it has some operational limitations.
New on the scene is Dr T's X-OR which the blurb modestly describes as "the editor to end all editors". Is hype dead or has Dr T's indeed produced the ultimate editor? Let's find out.
XOR (REVIEW VERSION v1.0) - Xclusive ORchestrator will run with a colour or hi-res monitor. It autoboots with a mouse accelerator program which increases the mouse's sensitivity. I like this a lot.
X-OR was written by Caged Artist Robert Melvin and, having used several Dr T's programs, I was expecting the usual numeric display and alpha-numeric list of functions, not to mention a deluge of pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo masquerading as technical terminology (the manual was written by the same Jim Johnson who enthralled us with the Invisible Arithmetic Icons of Fingers - see review, October '88).
We begin, however, on reasonably solid ground with a description of how the program handles so many different and varied kinds of synth - it uses Profiles, individual files containing all the data necessary to communicate with a particular type of synth. The program currently supports about two dozen instruments using 32 Profiles and more will be added to the list in due course.
Next we're introduced to Machines, Instruments and Modules, A Machine refers to a single instrument such as a DX7 or Kawai K1. But X-OR doesn't deal with Machines per se, it deals with Instruments, which are divisions of the Machine's programmable facilities. Some Machines, such as the TX81Z, may be broken down into two or more Instruments such as the Program Change Table, the Microtuning Editor and so on. A simpler Machine such as the DX7 may have all its facilities incorporated in one Instrument.
Each Instrument, in turn, is broken down into Modules: a number of separately-addressable data areas such as the parameters used for creating a sound or the Microtune table. Again, most Instruments will only have one Module but multitimbral Instruments, er Machines, er synths, may have several Modules. For example, the Profile for the D110, which can play eight parts at once (not including the drum section), uses eight Modules.
AN X-OR PATCH is a single data type such as a sound (voice, program, preset or whatever), a tuning table and so on. An X-OR Performance contains the active Patches for each Module.
Patches can be organised into Banks, like the sounds in any traditional voice editor. But as a Patch is not restricted to sounds, you can create Banks of other parameters, too. You can cross-index Patches by name, date or by a number of other qualities determined by keywords.
Clear? Well almost. I hope. As it's Dr T's, I'm sure you had a feeling something like this was coming. The sad thing is, although it describes the program's modus operandi quite succinctly, it doesn't do so in plain English. Other than provide a nail onto which the boffin designers can hang the bones of the program, it does little to draw the user into the program. And it's right at the beginning of the manual. Oh well.
But there is good news. X-OR is one of the new generation of Dr T's programs to use GEM windows and drop-down menus. This is sure to attract new converts, and while old Dr T's stalwarts may be muttering under their breath, it does make the program immeasurably more immediately accessible.
BEFORE YOU START using X-OR in earnest, you must create a suitable system setup and work disk (the main disk is copy-protected and is used as a key). The manual explains in detail how to go about this using a hard disk and a floppy disk system. It suggests you use a separate disk (for storing data) for each of your Machines, and although this is not essential, it's at times like this that you realise the benefits of a hard disk - or at least two floppy drives.
You create X-OR's Setup file using the Setup program. This lists all the instruments in your system and includes information such as MIDI channel number, unit number, storage path for the data and so on.
As only one synth can be connected to the ST's MIDI In and Out sockets at any one time, flicking from synth to synth normally requires repatching. If, however, you have a MIDI Switcher, X.OR can use it to access your synths automatically: you simply give it the relevant program number in the Setup file.
You can create a Bootup Reminder text file which will pop up every time you boot the program to remind you of things which need doing; perhaps enabling SysEx on a particular synth.
"Searching the Library makes traditional voice editors with their numerous files of individual banks of voices seem very cumbersome indeed."
And so you boot the program using your newly-created Setup disk. Halfway through you are prompted to insert the key (program) disk, but the review copy would have none of it when accessed in this way, although it worked fine when it alone was used to boot the program. This points to either a devastating bug (but easily corrected, I'm sure) or a doctored review copy. Pressing deadlines made it necessary, therefore, to conduct the review using the demo Performance Setup on the program disk. Luckily I had a TX81Z and CZ1000 to hand but it was disappointing not to be able to try the MultiVerb Profile.
You should only need to use the Setup procedure once, or if you alter or add to your setup.
ON BOOTING, ONLY one window is open - the Performance Window - which lists the Modules you inserted in your Setup file. This window cannot be closed. Each line holds the name of a Module and the current Patch for that Module.
When you select a new Module, any open windows from the previous Module are closed and windows for the new Module appear. Reselecting the previous Module reinstates its windows, and data from closed windows is retained.
The only elements that can be changed in a Performance are the Patches. If a Bank or Library window is open, clicking on a Patch will make it part of the Performance.
If you select Get Performance, X.OR will run through the list of Modules and ask each for its current Patch (this needn't be just voice data, remember). If you have a MIDI Switcher, the process will be completely automatic, otherwise you're prompted to make the necessary connections.
You can send Performances using the Send Performance option, and Performances are also sent automatically when you load a Performance from disk. This is fine if the only editing you do is with X-OR, but if you've done any manual editing or been using another editor (DX Heaven forbid) it's quite possible to overwrite data in your synth. You can switch this facility off from the Instrument Setup menu if it's not too late. That'll teach you to read the manual before trying to use the program!
A BANK IS a collection of Patches that can be sent to a single Instrument as a group. The size of a Bank depends upon the capacity of the individual instrument. For example, a bank of sounds on a TX81Z contains 32 sounds, on a CZ101 it's only 16 and on an ESQ1 it's 40.
You can get a Bank of associated Patches from the synth by clicking on Get Bank in the Get/Send menu. Oddly, the Bank functions in the TX81Z Voice and Performance Profiles run 0-37 excluding 18, 19, 28 and 29. The Performances should run 1-24 and the Voices should run 1-32. Dodgy profile?
Editing within a Bank and from Patch to Bank is simply a matter of clicking and dragging. Toggle options in the Edit menu allow you to Copy, Swap and Move Patches. It's very easy to rearrange the Patches in a Bank and send them to the synth.
Banks can be saved and loaded both singly and en masse to and from disk, and they can be sent and got to and from a synth. This enables you to send "banks" (sorry) of information to your system at the click of a mouse.
LIBRARIES ARE SIMILAR to Banks in that they contain collections of Patches for a single Instrument but differ from them in three ways: (1) they can contain a large number of Patches, limited only by disk storage space; (2) Patches within a Library can contain extra information to allow you to search for specific data and (3) each Library only works with a single type of Module within an Instrument, whereas some Banks can store data from more than one type of Module. As Libraries are created and edited, data is saved to disk and this must be accessible to the program during Library editing. When you put a Patch into a Library the date and time is added (is your ST's clock battery-backed?) and you have the option to include up to eight keywords along with a short commentary. Keywords can be added, selected from an eight-category list which includes Category (sound/instrument type), Instruments, Percussion, Qualities, Materials, Techniques, Audio/MIDI and Sound FX.
This is probably the most interesting and useful feature of the Library, and possibly of X-OR itself. By assigning keywords to Patches (again, a Patch need not necessarily be a sound) you can search for specific Patch attributes at a later date.
Searches can be set up to include alternative options. For example, you may look for a sound which is "brass" and "muted" or "slow attack". Having found a group of suitable qualities, you can turn the list into a Bank.
If you want more search categories than those supplied, you can create your own using a word processor. It has some wise words to say about going overboard on subjective comments.
As a single Library can, theoretically, hold all the sounds for a single synth in one file, it makes searching for that perfect sound very easy. It makes traditional voice editors with their numerous files of individual banks of voices seem very cumbersome indeed. It would have been useful if a Library's search facilities could be made to stretch over all the Machines in a Performance but l won't whinge.
The only problem you may discover is the access time on some operations if you are using floppies.
"Editing is very graphic and you can hear what you're doing - or what you've done - by pressing the right mouse button."
X-OR'S PATCH EDITORS vary - obviously - from synth to synth and thus from Profile to Profile. In fact, the style of the editors are set within the Profile. A Patch Editor may contain sliders, envelope graphs and text boxes, depending upon the Patch it is editing.
A text box will show a single function such as vibrato assignment or patch number. You can scroll through the available options by clicking on up/down arrows or you can call up a complete list in a GEM-type window display by clicking on the text itself.
Envelope graphs allow you to pick up and drag the movable points of the envelope although they are not drawn to scale.
Editing is very graphic and you can hear what you're doing - or what you've done - by pressing the right mouse button which will play a note.
A special function called transplanting allows you to copy sections from one Patch to another. This can be used to duplicate envelopes, partials and so on. The Blend/Mingle function is used to create a new Bank of Patches by combining different aspects of two existing Patches. Some options create new parameters from the average of the corresponding values; others produce a gradual alteration as you move through the Banks.
There is also, of course, a randomisation function which lets you apply a percentage change to selected parameters of a Patch. Blend/Mingle and Randomisation functions allow you to set a mask so only selected parameters are effected.
THE SYSTEM PARAMETERS window will be familiar to anyone who has used other Dr T's editors and contains settings for the MIDI Switcher channel (if you have one), Merge Mode, Mouse channel, Mouse Play mode (notes or glissandos) and so on. These can be saved as defaults.
An optional program (E-OR Profile) is available (or will be soon) to allow you to create your own Profiles if you fancy getting down among the bits and bytes of MIDI and system exclusive messages. The manual admits it was not designed for the "casual user" and the price has not yet been determined.
X-OR can be used from within Dr T's MPE (Multi Program Environment) and here it really comes into its own as the two programs become fully integrated. For example, you can play a track while searching for a sound so you can hear how it sounds in context.
X-OR IS CERTAINLY a powerful program. The logic of it becomes clear after a little use, although I sometimes wonder if the musician in me and the programmer in Dr T's and Robert Melvin (and the manual writer in Jim Johnson in this case) are divided by a common language. Or perhaps, as music programming continues to develop, I just expect to be able to do more with a program for less effort and with less reliance on the manual.
On the negative side I must report that I managed to crash the program when trying to get an ESQ1 Bank window and a TX81Z Bank window on screen at the same time (which, of course, you can't do) although I wasn't able to repeat the crash.
I did, however, find the new Dr T's features (GEM and so on) far friendlier. The way the windows interlink and reflect selections and changes in other windows is a sort of mathematical poetry and the Library features are superb. The ability to edit any piece of MIDI-compatible equipment - availability of Profiles permitting - makes X-OR even more useful.
But for all its facilities, X-OR still comes down more on the side of the computer-user than the musician. But that's the way it's always been with Dr T's programs - that's not necessarily a criticism, just an observation. Many people are quite happy playing with the numbers, others prefer a more visual, intuitive, graphic approach. Just be aware that you may have to burn a few candles before things click into place.
If you're already using a Dr T's sequencer with MPE I think you'll find X-OR hard to resist. If you do a lot of patch creation and organisation across several synths you could find it very useful. If you have a lot of sounds, and dread the thought of searching through them all for that perfect sound for a particular application, it could save you a lot of effort.
The final consideration is the cost. At this price it really needs to be the last and only editor you will ever use. Whether it is or not is your decision.
X.OR points the way to patch and library organisation of the future - mass voice storage and comprehensive search facilities (features already implemented on C.Lab's Explorer 32) will soon become the norm. Even if you don't think X-OR is for you, it's well worth getting a demo, if only to see what editors of the future will be like - you may very well be swayed.
Price £249.00 including VAT.
Review by Ian Waugh