Hybrid Arts budget package that thinks big as John Renwick discovers
With so many mid-priced ST sequencer packages on the market what does Hybrid Art's package have to offer over and above the competition. John Renwick goes on a voyage of discovery.
If you intend to buy a software sequencer package, there are two possible mistakes you could make; buying one which is too cheap and underspecified, or one which is too expensive and overcomplicated.
Happily, it's becoming easier to hit the right balance, because most of the major music software houses now produce beginners' versions of their professional sequencers. Hybrid Arts, arguably the most significant American music software company, has just launched Edit Track, which has the dual advantages of a low price of £180, and data compatibility with the well-known Sync Track (£300) and SMPTE Track (£500).
Both Sync Track and SMPTE Track come supplied with special hardware boxes for tape synchronisation. Edit Track does not; hence the lower price. Fortunately, you can always add suitable hardware if you feel the need for it, so are you going to feel the need?
Obviously, this depends on the nature of your recording system. If you intend to compose an entire piece using your sequencer and sound modules, then record it live in one take, you don't need tape synchronisation. If, however, you are using a multi-track system which will require several takes, each time running a different part of the MIDI composition, then you need some way to synchronise the playback of the sequencer to the original tape track.
The cheapest method is to use a simple tape-synchroniser box such as the Korg KMS-30, which transforms a MIDI clock signal from your sequencer into an audio signal, transfers it to tape, then reads it back and uses it to synchronise your sequencer with the tape for subsequent tracks. It's a fiddly system, but can work perfectly if you know what you're doing; Edit Track is fully compatible with such systems, so you needn't fear that if you use the program, you'll be unable to sync to tape in the future.
You will need a 1 meg ST to run Edit Track; unfortunate really, since this puts it out of reach of many 520ST owners. However, it does run in medium- or hi-res, so you don't have to have a mono monitor.
The package comes with two disks, the Program disk and Boot disk, in a thick ring-bound manual. There's no dongle, but the software is copy protected, though it can be transferred to hard disk.
The main screen display is hardly the last word in graphic sophistication; in fact, it's only a step more flashy than Dr T's KCS, and nowhere near as stylish as C-Lab's Creator or Steinberg's Pro-24. The facilities, though, are excellent.
Edit Track is basically a 60-track tape-recorder style sequencer. It makes full use of the GEM interface, so everything is handled using pulldown menus, pop-up boxes and the mouse, though there are many alternative key commands.
The main screen display is divided into two large sections. On the left is the track listing, showing the name and status of up to twenty of the forty tracks at a time. A scroll bar to the right of the display allows you to display the hidden tracks.
On the right of the screen are the recording controls, position locators and so on. Edit Track is permanently in Record mode. If you click on the arrow box to start it going, at which point you'll hear a metronome click and see a ticking display, anything you play on your control keyboard will go into the data buffer. The music data can then be assigned to any track you wish, by moving the cursor to the track indicator and clicking on the KEEP button, and assigned a name of up to sixteen letters. This means that you need never lose an inspired "jam" just because your sequencer wasn't in Record mode! Further tracks can be recorded using the Play, Stop, Pause, Fast Forward/Rewind and track assign functions. Automatic punch in/out points can be set using the autolocate counters if you wish to insert new music (or a pause) into a recorded track.
Alternatively, you can record in step time, using control keys to advance the step counter in any fraction from 1/96th of a beat (Edit Track's highest resolution) to a single beat, and entering notes individually from the music keyboard. This is a tedious process, but of course very useful for creating metronomic sequences or precise drum rolls.
The information in the control display can be edited using dialogue boxes and the mouse. At the top appears the song name and version number, followed by the timing, synchronisation, and options such as automatic patch changing, global transpose and tempo. Tempo changes within a song can be created using a special tempo control track.
Tracks can be muted, unmuted, played solo, deleted, assigned to a MIDI channel, merged together, quantised, semi-randomly "humanised", offset in time, transposed, and so on. There are even functions such as Durate, which sets the same length for every note in a track.
If you wish, you can filter out unwanted data such as MIDI key velocity, patch changes, modulation data or whatever. To create complete songs, you divide your tracks up into named Sections. These are defined with a start time and end time, and there are 100 available. They can then be chained using the Assemble Chain page, and saved as complete songs. If this doesn't seem to be the most logical way to create a song, it isn't certainly it isn't as straightforward as, say, Creator. But there are many functions, such as track-copy-to-section, which allow you a good deal of flexibility.
One of the most difficult aspects of Edit Track is the track display itself. The problem is that a huge amount of data has been crammed onto the track display, and, because most of it is alphanumeric rather than graphical, it's difficult to interpret. For instance, one line might contain information for track name, number, type, muting, percentage of memory used, MIDI channel, chain control, protection, and more. However, there are two useful editing methods; graphic and text.
The graphic data display shows recorded music data in the form of a blank page, marked with a time scale. Notes appear as dots and lines on the page, with velocity and other control data appearing above the display. You can zoom in on the required section, play it in a continuous loop, and edit any of this data by clicking and dragging with the mouse. It's also possible to draw curves for velocity response and modulation information freehand, or using rubber-banding; now even the most demanding pitch-bending style can be precisely defined!
The other editing mode, text, simply represents all MIDI data as columns of numbers and letters. If you've used C-Lab Supertracks or Creator, this will be very familiar. In many ways this is the simplest way to fine-tune your tracks; just step through the notes, clicking the left or right mouse button to raise or lower pitches, velocities and timings.
Edit Track is designed to be used with a number of Hybrid Arts accessory programs which considerably expand its potential uses. Files created with GenPatch, the MIDI system exclusive recording package, can be automatically transmitted by Edit Track when it loads. In other words, you can transmit sounds to your synthesisers along with the appropriate sequence data. Edit Track can also be used with MIDI-Mover, a utility which transforms Hybrid song files into a MIDI file standard which can be read by many other sequencer packages; and HybriSwitch, a memory-sharing utility which allows you to run more than one Hybrid program on your ST at the same time (if you have the memory space available). Also available is MIDIPlexer, a hardware addon which adds three extra MIDI out channels to your ST. Since these can be addressed independently, this gives you a total of 64 channels of MIDI - even more than you have tracks available!
We've only scratched the surface of the facilities of Edit Track, which is certainly one of the most flexible sequencer packages in this price range. If you still haven't made that big purchasing decision, check it out now.
Product: Edit Track
Format: Atari ST (at least one meg)
Supplier: (Contact Details)
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Review by Chris Jenkins writing as John Renwick
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