Gajits Sequencer One
Another ST sequencer? David Hughes looks at the Gajits Sequencer One, and finds out how it measures up to the competition.
The marketplace for Atari ST-based MIDI sequencer packages is a crowded one, so any new program has a hard time in getting noticed, and a harder time still in actually looking particularly attractive. So how does Gajits' new Sequencer One square up to the competition? Does it deliver the goods? With a few reservations, I would answer with a confident 'yes'.
Sequencer One is supplied on a standard 3.5" disk, containing the program, some demo songs, and a few hints and tips, and is accompanied by a 50-page manual. Sequencer One will run with both high-resolution monochrome or medium-resolution colour monitors, so that its potential market is not restricted.
My first reservation about Sequencer One is in regard to its 'key disk' copy-protection system, which requires that you insert the master program disk into drive 'A' every time you load the program. I really don't like this system, simply because you should ideally use the master disk only to generate working copies of the original program, and for a program to insist that your one and only master disk is resident within the machine is an invitation to disaster.
Once the program has loaded you find yourself on the Track screen, which displays track data such as names, MIDI channels etc. Sequencer One adopts the almost standard 'tape deck' style control panel, which most people will be instantly familiar with - it has the usual Play, Stop, Fast Forward, and Rewind buttons, as well as Tape Position and Elapsed Time counters. These buttons, together with the Tempo Window, loop controls and the MIDI activity meters, remain constantly on screen since they are crucial to the operation of the sequencer. You can modify specific fields, such as the MIDI Channel or tempo, either by clicking once over the relevant window and entering a new value from the keyboard, or by double-clicking rapidly over the same field and using the mouse to scroll through the available range of values.
Sequencer One organises its activities around three basic screens: Track, Step Edit, and Bar Edit. The Track screen lists track data as already described, and it also incorporates a 'cue list' - a utility which allows you to define a series of reference points within a song (say, 'Verse 1', 'First Chorus' etc). Although Sequencer One has 32 tracks in all, information for only 10 is shown at any one time due to screen space limitations. You can select which 10 consecutive tracks are displayed using the familiar GEM scroll bars.
The second screen is Step Edit, which presents you with a piano-roll type display with notes drawn across the screen as a series of horizontal bars. Here you can edit note events as required, using functions such as quantise, transpose etc. The third screen is Bar Edit, and this is somewhat similar to the Step Edit screen except that editing here operates on the level of whole bars within tracks, rather than individual notes.
One of the most important aspects of any sequencer has to be how easy it is to actually get your music into it. Music is all about ideas, and recording those ideas has to be as quick and as easy as possible because good ideas are notoriously short-lived. Happily, Sequencer One is quite user-friendly in the way it sets about recording your musical input.
To record a sequence, you simply select the required track, give it a name, redirect the data from your input device (eg. synth) to an appropriate MIDI channel, and then click on the Record button. If you want a count-in, simply shift the song position pointer back by a suitable number of bars. Most of the important functions within Sequencer One - including transport controls - have keyboard equivalents, which are generally faster and more convenient to use than mouse-activated screen buttons. For instance, you can skip between screens with F8, F9 and F10 if you prefer not to use the mouse. Sequencer One's timing is spot on - the main timer ticks at 192 pulses per quarter note, which is more than adequate.
Having recorded your basic material, the next step is to edit it to correct any fluffed notes that may have found their way in. These changes can be made in the Step Edit screen, whose primary function is to quantise and correct any playing errors. But this screen also incorporates a step-time entry facility, which is a very easy to use and useful alternative means of entering notes. One feature that I found particularly appealing was the ability to view the contents of any of the other tracks without having to exit from the Step Edit screen. You simply click on the appropriate box and the tracks cycle through the display. A nice touch, and very much faster than switching between GEM-based graphics windows. I did encounter occasional problems with this screen, mostly in the form of notes which, although shown on screen, didn't actually play and would not identify themselves when I attempted to remove them.
Another way of getting basic sequence data into Sequencer One is via the 'Import MIDI' option, which enables you to load any songs stored as MIDI Standard Song Files. I initially encountered problems when using this function, but this turned out to be no fault of Sequencer One - it can read the Song Files perfectly, it was just that the program I first used to save these files (Pro24) was writing gibberish to disk.
Arranging songs is very easy in Sequencer One, providing you are prepared to do most of the hard work which many other sequencer tend to do for you - it's basically a question of generating a collection of sections on different tracks, and knocking them into shape using the Bar Edit screen to shift sections of tracks around. This is a simple, flexible and logical system, but it does have the drawback of making it quite hard to follow where sections of different tracks are and how they relate to one another.
I took quite a shine to Sequencer One almost as soon as I started to tinker with it. It's flexible in its approach, and would definitely make an ideal first sequencer for anyone starting out on the MIDI trail. The review copy was - as far as I could tell - pretty well bug-free. There were no embarrassing crashes and none of those nasty little bombs that tend to appear on ST review software.
My own feeling is that Gajits have looked very closely at a number of the well-known sequencers on the market (Passport's Master Tracks in particular), stripped away many of the glossy features that the majority of users won't really need, and put together a system that will appeal on two levels: simplicity and cost-effectiveness. The slightly negative side of this approach is that Sequencer One isn't as user-friendly as it might be. Still, if you're looking for a software sequencer that is serious in its approach, but without the 'serious' price tag to match, Sequencer One could be it.
£79 Inc VAT.
Gajits Music Software, (Contact Details).
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Review by David Hughes
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