IN A LITTLE less than a year, over 30 MIDI software packages have appeared for the Atari ST series of home computers. Most are aimed at the professional and have a professional price tag to boot. Not so Hybrid Arts' EZ-Track which, at under £60, is the cheapest dedicated ST MIDI sequencer on the market (not counting programs which use the ST's sound chip and just happen to have MIDI facilities).
Like much MIDI software these days, EZ-Track aims to simulate the workings of a tape recorder. All operations take place on one main screen, which has a track display on the left and a control display on the right. The track display lists all 20 tracks, and as you record on them, a line of information builds up from left to right. There's the track number, track name, track on/off arrow, an end of track marker, an activity indicator, a change marker, the MIDI channel number, a protect marker and a figure showing the memory used as a percentage.
Here's an explanation of the ones which may not be self-explanatory. The end of track marker appears when a track has reached its end (easy, see). The activity indicator flashes whenever information appears on that track, and there are 10 symbols which show how many notes are playing at the time. This is really just a convenient way of seeing which tracks are active. The change marker, a small red 'c', shows if you've altered a track since the song was last saved to disk, and the protect marker shows if a track has been protected so you can't record over it. Protect is selected from the Track menu.
The right half of the screen displays the controls. Here are the record/play, stop and pause buttons, and here you can alter the tempo and transpose the song. You can also switch in the ST's MIDI Thru facility, which sends info appearing at the In socket through to the Out socket.
File handling is very comprehensive. You can save a song as a new file or update an existing one. Thoughtfully, this doesn't remove the old file just in case you made a mistake. There are format disk and delete file options, too.
The editing facilities are probably EZ-Track's weakest area, though there are enough to enable you to produce good solid recordings. The good news is that an enhancement disk with better editing facilities (including looping and punch-in) is on the way.
As things stand you can copy a track, mix tracks and time-correct a track. When you mix tracks, the original channel assignments are maintained, although you can assign the track to another channel if you wish. The correction value in time-correction can vary from a half-note (minim) to a 32nd-note triplet, and the correction is accomplished by copying to another track. All these operations leave the original tracks intact.
Although a punch-in option is yet to come, you can simulate a punch-in by recording on an empty track and mixing the two together. Simple.
The MIDI menu has two options: Mode and Out Enables. The latter turns the transmission of MIDI clock data on and off, while the former is used to select the output mode. Individual channels can be given MIDI assignments, but the program doesn't display the last selected option, which is rather a nuisance. It also lets you switch Local control on and off, a useful facility in certain circumstances, but rather esoteric - I'd have thought - in this package.
The manual cops out of explaining the MIDI commands by referring you to your instrument's manual - okay, you guys, who's gonna explain this one? It's a shame, because this is one area where users need all the help they can get. Otherwise, the documentation is very helpful.
Real-time recording is a doddle. The program is always in record mode, so whenever you play anything, it records it. Before it stores it, however, you must click the Keep icon. If you're about to overwrite an existing track, the program asks for confirmation and you can save it to another track.
You can increment the tape counter (but not decrement it) by beats, 16th-notes and clocks. At each stage you can play a note or chord, which gives you limited step-time facilities. I found this too awkward to be practical and would suggest you record the hard bits in real-time - very slowly.
EZ-Track is a nice introduction to MIDI, and it'll be even better with the enhancement disk. If you want to test the MIDI water without spending an arm and a leg, then it can certainly be recommended. And if you like splashing around and decide you would like to upgrade to one of Hybrid Arts' bigger programs, you'll qualify for a discount, which is nice.
However, EZ-Track isn't just an introductory package; it's quite capable of being used to produce good results and good music - as the demo pieces prove - and it's incredibly easy to use.
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