Geerdes SY77 Softworkstation
The first of the software assists for editing and archiving on Yamaha's flagship SY77 comes from Germany. Ian Waugh breaks out the schnapps.
Wise up all you Yamaha SY77 owners - the Softworkstation is the first of the growing wave of (Atari ST) software assistance for your programming efforts.
LET'S GIVE THIS program its full name, then we'll know exactly what it does - Yamaha SY77 SWS Multitasking Softworkstation Editor & Librarian Manager. It was the first SY77 editor to be released, although it has been closely followed by Steinberg's Synthworks SY77 and C-Lab's Polyframe is somewhere in the pipeline. SWS (review v1.2) requires an Atari ST with at least 1 Meg of RAM and a hi-res monitor. It uses a dongle for protection and while this is now par for the course for most music programs, I find it particularly annoying with editors.
SWS forsakes GEM (and precludes the use of desk accessories) for its own graphic interface which uses pages and pop-up menus. Screen updates are just as slow as GEM and a giveaway line on the loading screen suggests the programmer used GFA BASIC.
Although the SY77's large LCD is a good aid to programming, the synth contains around 1200 parameters according to Geerdes (I haven't counted them), so if you're serious about programming your SY77, a software editor seems like a good idea.
The first thing the manual hits you with is ICH - Intelligent Combination Handling. This is the program's way of keeping track of the pan settings which go with the voices and the voices which go with the multis. In other words, save a multi and you save the associated data. Having impressed you with the abbreviation, you can basically forget it, secure in the knowledge that SWS has your best interests at heart.
THE MAIN SCREEN around which the program revolves is the Manager Page. This is divided into three parts: on the left is the internal Bank, in the centre is the Stack and on the right is the library. Three switches above the internal Bank column are used to select voice, multi or pan displays. The contents of the three columns reflect the selection.
The internal Bank shows the contents of the SY77's internal memory - Banks A to D. Banks can be loaded from and saved to disk and voices can be copied between it and the Stack and the library.
The method of item selection and movement is a little different to GEM's click and drag, but is quite simple. Left clicking on a voice (or multi) selects and highlights it, right clicking deselects it. You can select any number of non-contiguous voices or click, hold and drag the pointer down the list. Another left click on any highlighted voice attaches a rectangle to the pointer which is then moved to the destination area where a further click activates the copying.
Clicking on the voice number in the Bank area lets you decide from which point the voices will be copied. However, this allowed me to copy a four-element voice from the Stack to Bank C. I would have been quite happy with this except, of course, the SY77 rejected it when attempting a transfer and threw up a MIDI error. During some copying operations (from Stack to internal Bank) the program locked up, too.
While the process of selecting, copying and moving voices works well, renaming a voice requires a combined mouse and keyboard operation. No big deal perhaps, but why use such a device when a double click would do? OK, I'm easily niggled, but what irritated me even more was having to hold the left shift key and right click to transfer a voice to the SY77's buffer.
The Stack shows voice, multi or pan data according to what's in the Bank. It can hold exactly the same amount of data as a Bank but as the window is smaller, scroll arrows are used to move through it. You can create a complete Bank on the Stack and transfer it to the internal Bank in one go. The Stack can hold voices with the same name providing their data is not identical. This can be useful during editing if you create several similar voices. It gives you the opportunity to try them and select the best without messing around with names like 'Bass1', 'Bass2' and so on.
Before you can use the library you must open a library file or create a new one. This involves creating files on a disk. There are actually 11 files(!) associated with each library. This is partly because the different voice modes used by the SY77 (1 AFM mono, 2 AWM poly and so on) have different data lengths, but also because different files are also used to store voice, multi and pan index data (for the ICH) and instrumental groupings. Thankfully, this is operationally transparent.
The program moves data between disk and the computer's memory. If a library is stored on a floppy, the program must be free to write to it. If the disk is protected, a GEM dialogue box offering Cancel or Retry options pops up but you can't access the Cancel option. Substituting another disk sends you back to the desktop. Beware.
To help organise the voices in the library, you can create up to 128 Groups. Highlight the items you want to group, click on the Sort In icon, select the required Group and click on it. The data is saved to disk.
Clicking on the Find icon produces three search fields - character (search by letters), voice mode (one for each of the 11 modes) and group (attributes you created using the Group function. While you can use a combined search of all three characteristics, you can't search for an item with two or more attributes. Having found what you're looking for, you can print the list.
The System menu lets you select an auto save routine (every five, ten, or 15 minutes), determine whether the left or right button increments values, switch MIDI Thru on or off and set the SysEx channel number.
The Utilities icon accesses miscellaneous functions such as master tune, local mode and device number. It also contains some controller settings. A foot controller is one. The manual cheerfully explains that further explanations are not necessary but the other controller icons remain cheerfully undeciphered - no, I don't need specs.
"You can transmit a piece of music from the SY77's sequencer to 1st Track, set it to loop and access the editor to create the multis - it's a great way to work."
AND SO TO the editor pages. The layout follows the SY77's arrangement pretty closely. When in Voice mode on the Manager page, clicking on Edit takes you to the Voice Common page. Here you can select one of the 11 Voice modes, the element parameters, controllers and so on. Four lines show collections of functions which make up the four elements of a Voice. If the element is AFM, the left-most symbol is an algorithm and clicking on it takes you to the AFM editor. If the element is AWM, the icon is a waveform and takes you to the AWM edit page.
Next to these are the element level, detune and note shift controls, followed by the note and velocity limits, micro tuning, pan and output section. You can select the pan settings by name and call up a pan edit window which lets you create pans by dragging envelope nodes around a window.
To the right of the elements are edit icons for micro tune, effects, portamento, random pitch and master volume. At the bottom of the screen are the controller settings.
Above the elements are From Stack and To Stack icons. Clicking on From Stack opens a list of the voices in the Stack and selecting one loads it into the editor. However, once this is open, you can't change your mind and cancel so don't click here if you've just created the sound of the century. The switches and controls are functional, generally being represented by numeric values and bar graphs. They are adjusted by clicking on them to "fix" the mouse to them, moving the mouse to select the required value and clicking again.
The AWM editor is divided into three sections - multi LFO on the left, wave data in the middle and the amplitude envelope generator on the right. The LFO waveforms are shown graphically and cycled through by clicking. The other parameters are represented by bar graphics. You select the AWM wave data by cycling through it or from the wave list which is divided into six sections - multi samples, transients, drums and so on. The envelope can be altered by clicking and dragging the nodes or by altering values in parameter bar charts. There are two "traditional" preset envelope shapes in the upper right of the screen which can be put into the generator as starting aids.
There's a local Stack here, too, which stores AWM elements so you can transfer them to other voices. Click on the Pitch Envelope Generator icon and up pops a pitch envelope generator window. This works in a similar way to the amplitude envelope generator.
THE AFM SECTION of the SY77 is the most complex and includes hundreds of parameters. The AFM editor is divided into two screens.
The Operator editor lists the six operators, their sensitivity, phase, frequency and scaling sections, well laid out in table form. The current algorithm is shown in the top right of the screen below which are LFO settings. If you switch an operator off it turns white and the algorithm and operators which modulate it become grey to show that their direct influence on the sound has changed. Neat. One operator's parameters can be copied to another with a couple of clicks. Click with both mouse buttons on the keyboard scaling parameters and up pops a window which lets you set the curve by dragging four nodes around the screen beneath a keyboard. Also neat.
A click on the Edit EG icon replaces the operator display with an envelope display. Parameters are shown in bar graph form and graphically. Clicking on one of the graphs produces a larger graph on which the envelope can be edited directly.
The Algorithm editor lets you add noise, AWM and feedback to an algorithm. It does this brilliantly by letting you drag connectors from a source to a destination. However, the program lets you make connections which are not allowed by AFM architecture and subsequent accessing of this window will only show permitted connections.
Each element has two filters and, consequently, its own Filter Edit page. You can select band pass, low pass 24dB and free variation mode. Selecting either of the first two options automatically activates the simultaneous edit function which maps the filters to each other.
The Filter editor uses graphs, again in multisegment envelope format linked to the dozen or more parameters. I sort of think it would be rather helpful if they were actual filter graphs but that would be rather more difficult to program.
SELECTING THE DRUM algorithm in the voice common page and then clicking on it reveals the Drum page. This has a chunky display showing one octave at a time with associated drum parameters. The waveforms are shown as numbers but if you move the cursor over a number, the waveform name appears in the top left of the screen. You can see all the wave allocations by clicking on the View icon although you can't select new waveforms from this display. There are copy options to move data from one octave to another - functional and easy to get to grips with.
The Micro Tune editor has similarities with the Drum page, not least of which are the graphics. Although you can load and save micro tune files, there are no computer aids to help design your own. You can't flip between the two programmable tunings without first going back to the Voice page.
"The Softworkstation is going to be of enormous benefit to anyone doing more than twiddling a few parameters - you're never in any doubt about what you're doing."
The Effects Edit page features more bold graphics and is a greatly expanded version of the SY77's LCD effects layout. Select the mode, select the effects, twiddle the parameters and turn the stereo mix on or off.
IN THE MULTI editor, the 16 MIDI channels are listed down the left-hand side, followed by source, voice name, volume, tuning, note shift, pan and output routing columns. You can select the source parameters by scrolling through them or from a voice list. You can load a multi into the editor from the Stack (and save it back again). Another easy-to-use page.
LET'S LOOK AT how the program can help create new sounds. There are two aids - algorithmic and random sound creation - although both only work with AFM elements. For algorithmic creation you select three elements which have been saved to the local Stack, give each a range value and select one of five algorithms. These are not to be confused with AFM algorithms but they work in a similar way by using parameters from one source to influence another. You can exclude frequency, envelope and scaling factors from the process.
You can send the result to the Edit page or back to the local Stack. You can create up to 20 sounds in a row but retrieving them is the problem. From the local Stack it's a one-at-a-time job and the screen updates after each access are painfully slow.
Although you can go on to combine the AFM results with AWM for a fuller sound, a fully integrated voice creation process - and one more easily accessible - would have been better.
The program disk contains a utility to convert DX7 sounds to SY77 format. It can read files from a number of editors including C-Lab's X-Alyzer and Steinberg's Synthworks.
THE MANUAL SUFFERS immensely from Germenglish which is intensely annoying. After all these years I am still at a loss to understand why foreign companies don't get English musicians to proof the things. Can they not understand that the manual isn't incidental to the program, but every bit as important. However much our continental counterparts put us to shame with their knowledge of our language, they obviously still can't translate a manual. Sorry chaps.
AS A BONUS, the program comes with a 24-track sequencer called 1st Track. It appears to have been written before SWS - and the manual is just as bad, if not worse. However, being a sequencer, it's not too difficult to fathom out.
It has drop in/out functions, cycle mode, locators, internal and external sync, reversible quantise, - all the basic sequencer functions. You can name the tracks, solo and mute them, specify a MIDI channel for each track on playback and name the instrument associated with that channel - fine.
Editing includes move and copy and there's an event editor with a filter for removing unwanted info such as control data from the display. There are step-time input facilities using the ST's keyboard, too, which involves pressing note letters (C, D, E, F and so on) for pitch, numeric keys for duration and the cursor keys to enter velocity. Novel, but it works. It supports MIDI files, too.
1st Track compares favourably with some of the lower-end budget sequencers and could well be used as a stand-alone program. However, its main use within SWS will be to play back music while you fiddle with the voices. In fact you can transmit a piece from the SY77's sequencer to 1st Track, set it to loop and access the editor to create the multis. This is a great way to work.
You can fiddle with the voices, too, although this will put the SY77 into Voice mode. If you've been playing an arrangement from multi mode you'll have to save changes and re-enter multi mode.
THE MANUAL AND bugs are an irritation and I do think the program should be more helpful in many areas. For example, it should allow you to go back to the original setting after calling a menu selection option (voices in the multi and voice editors and effects in the effects editors, for example). It should give some aural feedback about the sound from the main screen (1st Track notwithstanding) and it would be useful if it altered values of envelope parameters while you drag nodes around the screen.
Screen updates are painfully slow especially when you have to work backwards or forwards through several pages. It would be reassuring to see a little more "computer assistance" too, apart from that which transfers the SY77's parameters to the screen. In summing up, the word which springs to mind is "functional".
The visual assistance of a software editor is of enormous benefit to anyone wanting to do more than twiddle a few parameters and you're never (or rarely) in any doubt about what you're doing. Some editors can be quite complex. If you don't yet have a sequencer and want something a bit more flexible than that built into the SY77, SWS's combination of editor plus 1st Track for the price of an editor may prove tempting.
Price £149 including VAT
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