Software for the Atari ST
The first generation of generic sample editors for the Atari ST is led by Drumware's GenWave. Lorenz Rychner breaks the language barrier.
Sample waveform editing is one area where Atari ST owners have remained jealous of users of the powerful Macintosh - but that was before this American program arrived on the software scene.
GENWAVE/12 IS A universal visual waveform editing package. For those less fond of impressive titles and more interested in what the software does, it facilitates onscreen editing of samples that have been made on a variety of samplers. GenWave comes in a sturdy ring-binder containing a disk, a dongle and a user guide. The manual wastes no time with unnecessary preliminaries - it gets straight down to the useful stuff about backup copies, hard disk installation, and computer specifics. GenWave runs best on a 1040 or MEGA ST, in medium resolution on colour monitors or in high resolution in monochrome. The manual draws your attention to the need for correctly wired MIDI cables (no internal straps between pins 4 and 5, please), due to Atari's decision to incorporate the MIDI Thru signal in the MIDI Out port.
GenWave/12 lets you import sample data from the Akai S900, Emax, E-mu SP1200 and Prophet 2000/2. If your sampler isn't among these, GenWave also supports the MIDI Sample Dump standard, which further expands your options. Drumware are also working on drivers for the Yamaha TX16W and Korg DSM1, and there may be others in the future.
While the sample is in the Atari's RAM, you can view and edit the waveform at various zoom sizes. You can adjust loop start and end points for sustain and release loops, redraw parts of a waveform, change the overall amplitude of the sample, apply a variety of filters to all or parts of the waveform, change the amplitude envelope, cut/splice/merge sections of waveforms, apply different looping techniques, shift a loop of a set length along the sample and transfer a sample between instruments while adjusting the data for the instrument's specific operating system. Many changes are transmitted in real time to the samplers on the Sampler menu (but not via the MIDI Sample Dump Standard) so that you can hear the results immediately. Other changes are heard after initiating a Send function on the computer. In addition, the FFT feature shows you the frequency spectrum in various ways and screen dumps let you print what you see. You can also select MIDI note numbers to play from the computer screen with a click of the mouse. GenWave does all this from three screens, and practically all functions are easily implemented with the mouse.
AFTER BOOTING THE program from the desktop, the first screen comes up with a simple ID and a greeting - be sociable and click on Hello or you won't get any further. Now you're on the Loop/Draw page, ready to import a sample. But before you get too greedy and grab a sample to play with, you need to make a few quick decisions. First, you should enable the Undo function, so that any changes that were unsuccessful can be erased without reloading the original data. A click on AutoSend enables the real-time updating of your looping work. From the same menu you may want to select Hi Res for high resolution display of the waveform. GenWave defaults to low resolution, which takes only a few seconds to update the screen. High resolution should rarely be needed, since the magnification window gives you all the detail you need. The snail's pace of screen updates in Hi Res mode will turn you into a coffee addict; the manual calls it, very honestly, "slow to excruciatingly slow, depending on the length of your soundfile". Anyway, it's there if you want it. The last item on this menu brings up the MIDI keyboard, where you set the MIDI note number and velocity for sample playback with the mouse from a command box on all three screens.
Pull down the menu under the heading of Sampler and click on the instrument of your choice (the Emax is the default selection). Set the sampler to receive and transmit in MIDI Omni On mode. Then select Request/Catalogue to get a directory of the samples currently in the instrument's RAM. Depending on the sampler, this may appear as a list of names or numbers. Click on your choice, confirm it with a click on Okay, and the screen displays the sample waveform. You have six voice buffers available, although the sixth should normally be reserved for the Undo (backup) function.
Loop/Draw displays an entire sample along the bottom edge, stretched from left to right in a window covering about one sixth of the overall screen height. Above and below it you have narrow strips where pointers for start (above) and end (below) points can be grabbed with the mouse and shifted from left to right and back. Sitting above this window, filling the far right of the screen, are 20 small boxes that activate the various functions you can perform on this screen. The largest section of this page is taken up by the magnification window, where you can work on selected portions of the waveform for looping and redrawing. In Looping mode, this window is divided by a cross, where the horizontal line represents the wave's zero-crossing, and the vertical line marks the loop splice point, with the loop end on the left and the loop start on the right. When Looping is not selected, only the vertical centre line is shown. Numerical readouts below the magnified sample portions show which sample positions you're working on.
THE PERFECT LOOP is well within your grasp, as long as you use common sense and patience. One of the command boxes along the right of the screen is Mode, where you select looping (as opposed to One-shot/Loop-off mode). The cross appears in the magnification window. The top pointer now marks the loop start point, while the lower pointer defines the loop end point. The current positions are shown in the magnification window. Moving the pointers represents fairly coarse travel through the sound data. When you get close to the desired position, you have fine control with the incremental arrows in the command boxes on the right. They move by single sample, in both directions. Depending on the sample rate of your waveform, this could take you through your sound by increments of 1/40,000 of a second.
Among the command boxes on the right is a padlock symbol. Selecting it enables the loop lock - a fun feature - where the length of the current loop is frozen. Now only the upper pointer or arrow is active, moving the start point. The end point moves automatically in the same direction, by the same number of samples. The manual suggests using this feature for single-cycle loops on pitched sounds. You can move this constant-length loop through the sample, hoping for a lucky match. When you think you're close, you can refine the start and end points with the freehand drawing feature.
The magnification window shows the loop splice as one sample per pixel. Given the generous size of the Atari monitor screen, this shows the finest detail of your sound. But while the entire waveform display at the bottom of the screen is too coarse for detailed information, the 1:1 ratio of magnification is often too fine, since it doesn't display much of what's either side of the selected points.
The solution is zooming out, taking a slightly more distant view, up to a resolution of 64 samples per pixel. Zoom is selected from one of the boxes on the right, where the zoom ratio is displayed. Clicking on Draw selects the drawing mode. The mouse cursor turns into a fine cross (called a "crosshair") and drawing is possible for as long as the cursor remains inside the boundaries of the magnification window. After you zero in with the crosshair, pressing the left mouse button activates the drawing. If the zoom ratio is larger than 1:1 when you click on Draw, it is automatically reset to 1:1. When the cursor is moved outside the magnification window, the Draw mode is disengaged, and the entire waveform display is redrawn while the cursor turns into the busy bee. This is where Hi Res has you twiddling your thumbs until they fall off.
Sustain or Release Loops are available, depending on your sampler. In release loops, the crossfade feature often helps smooth things out. While the manual promises no miracles and encourages you to look for the best possible looping points before attempting a crossfade, a detailed paragraph explains how the program goes about them. A dialogue box lets you set the percentage of the data between the loop points that you wish to use for the crossfade; clicking on the charmingly entitled Do It starts the calculations. The result must be sent to the sampler to be heard. If you give up, click on Undo, and all is forgiven (as long as Undo was enabled before you started). Click on Recall Loop, and you're back to the original loop points. For samplers with sustain and release loops, clicking on SXR assigns the same loop and all edits to both sustain and release loops.
ONE-SHOT MODE lets you work just with Sample Start and End points and any area in between, again using the sliding pointers and the increment arrows and Draw mode. In addition, you can click on Fade, which implements a linear fade-out, starting from the current position of the Start pointer and reaching zero amplitude at the current position of the End pointer. This can eliminate unwanted "gated" or noisy endings of samples. As with loops, the result must be sent to the sampler to be heard. Fade can be undone with Undo, as long as Undo was enabled before you started.
Fade is a quick solution to simple problems; much finer control is available from the Envelope Screen. This has four main windows. The bottom is again occupied by the entire sample display, across the full width of the screen. Above it is a band of similar proportions, within which you can draw amplitude envelope shapes. In the upper left corner is a magnification viewing window, and the remainder of the screen is filled with command boxes. The sliding pointers along the entire waveform display have a different function on this screen; they mark the boundaries of the Clipboard area, for "cut and paste" operations. The fine detail of these pointer positions is shown in the magnification window.
Once you've defined the portion to be worked on, you can click on any of the following command boxes: Reverse (simply flips the data between the pointers by 180 degrees horizontally, so that this portion now plays backwards); Clear Work (erases all data between the pointers); Invert Phase (flips the data by 180 degrees vertically); Draw Envelope (lets you draw an amplitude envelope, which must be followed by Do Envelope to initiate the calculation); Reset Envelope (brings back the original shape); Do Envelope (activates the calculation of your drawn shape); +6dB (boosts the gain of the sound between the pointers (this can be done repeatedly and is cumulative, so it can be used to produce clipping to simulate compressor effects); -6dB (attenuates the sound between the pointers); Normalise (boosts the sound between the pointers to maximum gain before clipping); Copy (copies the sound between the pointers to the "Clipboard" buffer), from where it must be saved to disk (the only function that requires the use of the ST disk drive); Replace (moves the contents of the Clipboard to the area between the pointers, where it overwrites any existing data); Merge (merges the contents of the Clipboard with the sound between the pointers, beginning at the position of the upper pointer - executing a -6dB attenuation of both signals before merging is recommended to avoid clipping); and Insert (squeezes the contents of the Clipboard into the sound at the position of the upper pointer, pushing existing data to the right). All these functions can be undone with Undo. Pointer positions can be saved for future recall or reset to match the positions on the current Loop/Draw page.
The Equaliser Screen's bottom is again occupied by the entire sample display, across the full width of the screen. No pointers are present because equalisation works on the entire sample. Five diagrams show various filters, and three virtual sliders let you adjust the cutoff/centre frequency, amount of cut or boost, and Q (bandwidth). The filter choices are: LoShelf & HiShelf (both 12dB/octave "Butterworth" response); Bandpass and Notch with adjustable Q, and a Peak response with cut/boost and Q. After choosing a filter and response setting, clicking on Do EQ initiates the calculations. To hear the result, you send the sound to your sampler. Undo will restore the original EQ characteristics. Enabling the Leveled function ensures that clipping is avoided during the calculation of your EQ settings. Multiple passes at the same function are possible.
FAST FOURIER TRANSFORM (FFT) was the reserve of mainframe computers and high-end digital systems until recently. It is the process of breaking down a sound into its sine wave components, also called the frequency spectrum, including all harmonic and enharmonic overtones. Since the rest of the program was finished before the FFT and marketed without it, Drumware offer this feature as an update at no cost (except for a handling fee) to registered buyers of the program. Eventually, all disks sold will contain FFT.
At the time of writing a beta version was available, which worked satisfactorily. It displays the sample graphically in the form of peaks and valleys representing the amplitude of different frequencies at different times, from the start to the end of the sample. The display is placed on a reference grid that outlines the frequencies from left to right and the duration of the sample from front to back. The whole thing is shown from a slight angle, off-side and above, like a landscape in relief.
Various choices allow viewing percentages of the bandwidth, so that resonant peaks can be identified more easily. Together with the EQ features, this puts you in the driver's seat in the race for good sound. If you care to initiate a screen dump to a compatible printer, you can even plaster your walls with your favourite samples - seriously, a useful feature. I only wish that a choice of display modes would allow viewing a "thinned-out" sample, or at least a side-on and back-to-front angle, since complex samples necessarily generate convoluted displays.
OWNERS' MANUALS ARE a common source of gripes, from users and reviewers alike. Well, not this one. That it was written with care is evident in the way that each "page" (screen) is described, first outlining its main purpose, then clearly describing everything on the screen. No global remarks here that you miss out on when you look up a single item.
The section on Sound Sample Editing Techniques & Applications describes in detail the most common looping problems, and illustrations make the text easy to understand. Step-by-step instructions for mixing two sounds, and suggestions for creating digital flanging and echo, digital distortion and cut & splice editing complete this bonus chapter. The manual ends with details on the operating systems and interface characteristics of the samplers that the program accesses individually, plus some useful MIDI Sample Dump Standard (SDS) information. While there is no index, the table of contents should point out the right page at a glance.
WHAT ABOUT PERFORMANCE? I used the program with an Akai S900 and it worked fine. The Fade feature cleaned up the ends of dirty samples, and looping a snare drum successfully filled the studio with glee. When using a Yamaha TX16W via MIDI SDS, things went less smoothly. When called about this, Drumware's Scott Morgan explained that the real-time update of samples was not happening and that a new Yamaha operating system disk is supposed to be available to take care of this and other quirks by mid-summer.
Other MIDI SDS devices pose similar problems, requiring the edited sample to be transferred to the sampler every time the results need to be heard. This takes forever. While this isn't Drumware's fault, they plan to configure an audio output via ST-Replay that will let the user hear the edits on the fly, in companded eight-bit resolution.
Other samplers will be added to GenWave's roster in the future - Roland S50 owners could well benefit here because GenWave works in more critical detail than the S50's on-board video interface.
Having made these positive statements, I want to make one thing clear: working with samples at any serious level is time consuming. Many of the operations of this program take a long time to calculate. The owner's manual makes no bones about this, it even points out the ones that take extra long. Reserve that midnight oil for serious work. But remember, you can sleep when you're old...
Price £229.95 including VAT
Review by Lorenz Rychner
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