Intelligent Music UpBeat
Software for Apple Macintosh
This Mac program from New York sets out to bring the flexibility of computer programming techniques to drum programming. Jim Burgess drums up his enthusiasm.
From the people who brought you the enigmatically titled "M" software package, comes a program that brings the flexibility of computer-based sequencing to drum pattern programming, and throws in a few tricks for good measure.
INTELLIGENCE. INTERACTIVE FACILITIES for composition and performance. Imaginative use of graphics. Easy operation, yet advanced enough for professionals.
These are some of the qualities that identify what Americans call "smart software" - a new breed of music software designed to let computers play a more active role in the creation of your music. While sequencers concern themselves with recording, editing and playing back notes, smart software helps create new and original music. And while computer-generated music is by no means a new thing, the selection of commercial software packages of this type has been extremely limited in the past.
Not any more. The Apple Macintosh computer now offers a respectable selection of smart software for music composition, improvisation and performance. Leading the pack is US software house Intelligent Music. With a single mandate to create "music software with a mind of its own" and a track record that includes landmark programs like M and Jam Factory, it seems this company can do no wrong.
UpBeat, written by John Ken Offenhartz, is Intelligent Music's latest offering. UpBeat is smart software designed especially for rhythmic music-making. It's fast, fun, and easy to use.
UPBEAT WORKS LIKE the world's best drum machine. You start by creating Patterns and finish by linking them together into Songs. Simple, right? It is. But UpBeat also offers a degree of creative interactivity that goes well beyond any normal drum machine.
Of course, UpBeat doesn't make any sounds of its own. It's designed to "take over" the sound-producing part of your drum machine by playing sounds via MIDI. But don't stop there: UpBeat can also be used with samplers and synthesisers.
Like most Mac music software, UpBeat uses a number of key windows to provide access to its various operations. UpBeat's main windows are:
1) The Pattern Window: a rhythmic grid for displaying "strikes" or notes, not unlike Fairlight's famed Page R, or the LCD grid of a Roland TR707/505 beatbox. UpBeat's Pattern Windows offer a choice of six different "views" or data displays for various Pattern parameters.
2) The Control Strip: all transport controls for recording and playback functions are located here, plus an echo channel select and UpBeat's Movie control.
3) The Cursor Palette: a MacPaint-type palette for selecting a variety of tools used to create and modify UpBeat Patterns.
4) The Library Window: storage space for Patterns and Songs.
5) The Song Window: a window used to arrange individual Patterns into a Song.
6) The Device Window: used to "teach" UpBeat about your MIDI system, the instruments and their sounds.
Like all Intelligent Music software, UpBeat uses a variety of custom icons and other graphic symbols, in addition to the now infamous "Numerical", created by David Zicarelli.
BEFORE YOU MAKE music, start out by "teaching" UpBeat about your MIDI system. The Device List creates a master list of your drum machines, synths and samplers. UpBeat keeps track of your instruments by remembering the MIDI channel each is assigned to - thus the Device List is essentially a grid designed for setting up the MIDI parameters of each device in your system.
For each instrument, you select a MIDI In and Out channel, an Out socket, an echo on/off control, a record mode and an instrument disable/enable control. Devices may be moved from one position to another in the window, and you can clear a device at any time.
Instruments can be named in their individual Device Set-Up windows. You can even let UpBeat know which sounds are on which instrument by recording and naming sounds one at a time in the Sound Set-Up window, which features a "skyline keyboard" similar to the one first introduced on the M program. By keeping track of sound names and note numbers, UpBeat can tell that any D2 coming in on channel 4 is a crash cymbal, for example.
Once you've gone through setting up your devices once, you can store the setup forever (or at least until you buy more gear). By selecting "Save Device as Start-Up", UpBeat will boot up, ready to make music with your system. Of course, you can save and load a variety of Device Configurations to accommodate several different system setups.
NOW, DOWN TO the fun stuff: making music with UpBeat.
All UpBeat music starts out as individual Patterns. Each Pattern may have a unique length, tempo and time signature. Although Patterns are actually stored in the Library, you manipulate them in their respective Pattern windows.
The main display of the Pattern window, known as the Strike View, is a grid display that shows tracks (corresponding to pitches) on the vertical axis and time (in bar units) on the horizontal one. "Strikes" or note events are displayed with a variety of symbols that depict different velocities.
When UpBeat records, it behaves just like a drum machine: it loops continually over the entire length of the selected Pattern. As it loops, strikes or notes from previous passes are played back. Meanwhile, UpBeat stays in Record Mode, enabling additional notes to be added. A cursor scrolls across the top of the window from left to right as UpBeat loops in Play or Record modes. You choose which instrument(s) you want to record with using the Echo control on the Control Strip.
You can record in either of two ways:
1) Real-time recording is just like recording into your drum machine; you play the sounds from drum machine pads, a keyboard, an Octapad, a MIDI guitar, or whatever. As you play each note, it appears as a graphic symbol on the Strike View of the Pattern window.
2) Paint-style recording lets you enter notes by placing them on the grid with the mouse. There are five different strikers in the Cursor Palette, and each represents a specific velocity. There's even a random velocity striker, just in case you want your computer to decide dynamics for you. And you can toggle between strikers on the Mac keyboard rather than selecting them with the mouse, if you prefer.
The Edit Numerical determines the density of the rhythmic grid that UpBeat uses to record strikes. For example, if it's set to 16, UpBeat will record all strikes as 16th-notes (regardless of whether they were recorded in real time or painted in). Although this has the same effect as input quantisation (or auto-correction), it's not quite the same thing. UpBeat actually records all events with the same resolution - 96 subdivisions per quarter-note. Nonetheless, your last take replays "quantised" as you continue to overdub.
If you record in Drum Machine Mode, each new pitch or MIDI note number automatically opens a new track for itself - therefore each track represents a single pitch or drum sound. In Synthesiser Mode, each track may contain a number of different pitches. However, since UpBeat tracks are essentially designed to play only a single note at a time, playing chords causes new tracks to open automatically.
PATTERNS AND SONGS are stored in the Library window. When you select a Pattern or Song from the Library window, it plays with an endless loop. Individual Patterns can be named in this window, and you can open any Pattern window for note painting or editing. Within the Pattern windows, UpBeat lets you mute individual tracks or solo any group of tracks.
"Fills" are notes or beats that UpBeat generates automatically, based on your recorded strikes and the fill setup parameters (described later). You can enable or disable Fills for each individual track within a Pattern.
As if that wasn't enough, there's the Jam Tool. Although it looks like an innocent little drummer-man, don't be fooled - the Jam Tool is a monster player in his own right. Just select the Jam Tool and click the mouse on various tracks within the Strike View of the Pattern window. You'll hear some heavy-duty jammin' going on, as the Jam Tool generates continuous rolls and superimposes track rhythms on top of each other.
WITHOUT ITS GRAPHIC editing capabilities, UpBeat would be simply an incredible program. Yet it manages to offer some fantastic editing features that should help you get your track sounding just right in no time.
To start with, patterns may be edited using the striker tools; new notes can be added or the velocities of existing notes changed. There's an eraser tool for deleting notes from the grid, and you'll even find a magnifying glass for editing parameters such as the pitch or velocity of a single strike.
You can also select a group of strikes for editing using the highlighting tool. Selected areas can be cut, copied and pasted using the standard Mac commands, but with a twist: a variety of special Paste modes.
Swap Paste behaves just as you might expect it to - it replaces the selected strike data with the clipboard data. A Merge Paste, on the other hand, superimposes the clipboard on top of existing strike data, in effect "layering" the two on top of each other.
There's Repeat Paste for "filling out" sections (eg. taking two bars and creating a 16-bar Pattern). And, my favourite, Fill Paste, which scales strike data to fit into the desired destination. In other words, you can "squeeze" an eight-bar Pattern into three-and-a-half bars, or "stretch" a one-bar Pattern over five. The mind boggles.
Generally speaking, all the editing features described so far are designed to facilitate moving notes around. These tasks are accomplished in the Strike View. UpBeat's Pattern window, however, offers a variety of other "views" to let you interact with your music.
The MIDI View is the one I found myself using almost as often as the Strike View. Its informative display lets you see which machines are assigned to which tracks.
You can also set up a specific MIDI program change for each device from within this window. UpBeat sends program changes at the beginning of each Pattern loop, which can sometimes lead to problems with instruments that take some time to react to a program change command. If the instrument you're sending the change to is supposed to play on the downbeat, you may experience the dreaded MIDI hiccup.
The Velocity View lets you change velocity values for each of the five striker tools. You can even set up a "velocity deviation" - a certain range of values within which the velocity may vary. For example, with the loudest striker set at 110 and a velocity deviation of 15, those strikes may vary between 95 and 125.
You can also change the note densities and durations for each track, using the Staccato/Legato View. By varying the Note Density slider from 0% to 100%, you determine the amount of notes that the computer plays. For example, at 50%, notes on a given track will play about half the time while silence reigns for the rest of the time. A similar slider is available for durations, to determine the number of clock pulses each note will play for. Naturally this function is more useful with synthesisers, seeing as most drum machines do not respond to a MIDI note-off command anyway.
UpBeat's cool Fills can be altered easily using the Fill View. You can affect various parameters that control the timing, probability, speed and quantisation of fills. You can even assign one track to "fill" with the sound of another.
Even more control over the fills is provided with the Fill Velocity View, a graphic display designed to set up velocity probabilities for fill beats.
OK. NOW YOU'VE got a bunch of great Patterns. It's time to put them together in the best possible arrangement and make a Song. Select New Song from the Song menu, and a brand-new Song window pops out onto the screen.
Building a Song couldn't be easier. Just drag individual Patterns from the Library window into their desired location in the Song window. Now you can specify a number of repeats for each Pattern. Changed your mind? Change arrangements simply by dragging the Patterns to wherever they're needed. The Song window has a handy Play Position display that lets you know which repeat number it's at, out of the total number you've specified for that Pattern. You can also see which Pattern is playing at any time, since the selected Pattern is highlighted.
You can specify overall tempo changes from the Song window as well. As outlined previously, individual Patterns may have individual tempos. However, the Song window provides an opportunity to affect the tempos of all Patterns as a percentage.
By the way, your Song will also appear in the Library window. If you play it from here it will loop continuously; just like Patterns played from the Library window do. Furthermore, you can create Songs within Songs by dragging any Song from the Library window and inserting it into a position in a new Song window.
NO TOUR OF this program would be complete without mention of Movies, UpBeat's means of storing complete performances. You can "make a Movie" just by selecting the Movie icon and playing your tune.
And once you've created a Movie, it can be saved as a MIDI File. As you may know, the MIDI File standard was proposed by Dave Oppenheim of Opcode Systems as a means of permitting musical data created on one music software program to be loaded into another directly. Through his proposed standard file format, Oppenheim hopes to make it easy for musicians to move compositions around from one program to another, using the unique features of each for the job at hand.
The advantages? More flexibility for composers. No wasted time bouncing tracks one at a time. No need to use two sequencers/computers for transferring data. And, perhaps most importantly of all, MIDI Files will have a profound effect for software developers, and ultimately, end users like us.
Right now, you can transfer music created on UpBeat into M or Jam Factory, as well as Opcode's Sequencer 2.5. Naturally, you can also go the other way and dump things into UpBeat. Either way, this is one program that's committed to talking to as many other programs as it can.
I DON'T KNOW about you, but I've been waiting for a program like this for years. It's got almost everything going for it: cunning, interactivity, great graphics and, best of all, it's fun and easy to use.
Frankly, I don't understand why the loop-in-record features of drum machines have not been incorporated into music software up until now. Sure, there's a few exceptions, but think about it: how many software sequencers can you think of that are capable of looping a pattern over and over while recording it?
UpBeat makes sense even if you only use it to create drum tracks, and then finish off your composition using a regular sequencer. However, I also created several complete compositions with UpBeat that featured lots of synth chords and melodies.
I'm not suggesting that you throw away your sequencer because you'll never need anything else; many will still prefer to use an ordinary sequencer for synth-based parts. The point is simply this: don't limit your creative options by thinking of UpBeat only for drums.
On the bug front, I noticed only a few unusual quirks, and never experienced an outright crash. It should also be noted that I was using a pre-release version of the program. Given Intelligent Music's impeccable past record with bug fixes, any problems that do exist will likely be worked out before you read this.
But as with any first release of a software package, there are improvements to be made. For example, the ability to start playback directly from a specific bar number within a Pattern would be appreciated by many. And what about a Swing feature? Lots of dedicated beatboxes already have one.
Still, anybody who makes Mac music owes it to themselves to check this program out. In fact, I can't imagine any serious Mac/music user not wanting to "get happening" with UpBeat right away. How can you possibly lose?
Price £105 including VAT
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Review by Jim Burgess
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