Joreth System 7 & CZ Editor
Software for Commodore 64
Ian Waugh takes a look at this combined MIDI sequencer/librarian package, and voice editors for the CZ and DX synth ranges.
With Atari and Macintosh music programs in abundance, the humble Commodore 64 micro can still be an inexpensive and useful aid when assembling your sounds, provided you have the right software. Ian Waugh explores two helpful packages from Joreth Music: System 7 - an Editor and Librarian program for Yamaha's DX7 and TX7; and the Tone Editor for Casio CZ synths.
Let's face it: programming digital synths is a pain. It's not just the fact that you only get one slider or a couple of plus and minus buttons with which to alter 1001 parameters, but each synth has its own set of programming rules and requires a lot more effort and understanding than your average analogue synth (remember them?). Or are modern musicians just lazy?
Yamaha's DX7 and TX7 must be among the most difficult digital synths to programme. FM synthesis is not quite a chimpanzee's tea party and any help the programmer can get is to be welcomed.
Enter Joreth Music's System 7. Its aim is not to teach you to programme - there are already a number of books on the market to do that - but rather to help you to programme. It also helps you to organise your synth voices and once you use a disk-based library system you'll wonder how on earth you ever managed without one.
System 7 was written in PASCAL by that awfully clever chap, Jethro Hill - not a lot of people know that. It is mainly command driven with one or two key presses but access to the main modules is from menu screens. To help you get started, there is a 12-page Beginner's Guide which whisks you through the basics. From there you can consult the manual and dig deeper into the bits of immediate interest.
There are three main modules: the Sequencer, the Editor and the Librarian. A number of general commands operate in most parts of the system and all the disk handling routines are fairly similar even though they handle different types of files - a fact which need not concern the user. These routines are particularly well designed and appear to be quite reviewer-proof as well as idiot-proof!
Let's start with the Sequencer. Here you can record a short piece of music which will play while you work through the other modules. It lets you hear what the sounds are like in situ. The output can be routed to any MIDI channel and you can do other clever things, too, such as suppress the recording of performance control information so that you can cram more music in. There are also transpose and double tempo options.
The Librarian lets you store and organise your synth voices in groups of 32. Most manipulations take place directly on disk files but there is also an all-important Internal file which is used to transfer sounds to and from the DX/TX synthesizer.
You can load files from disk, select, copy, exchange and insert voices to create your own banks of sounds. During the process you can alter the voice names, use the program's Note Pad facility to write a short description of the voice (which the manual calls the Voice Legend) and edit the voice functions. You can also read Help files from the Note Pad.
The Function Editor has been culled from the Editor module and can be used to set up a favourite set of functions which will be applied to all voices. Another option, of special interest to DX7 owners, lets you assign a unique set of functions to each voice. Clever, eh?
You can load banks of sounds straight from disk to synth with the X7-LOAD program. After organising your files, you would use this to fill your RAM packs before a recording session or before going to a gig.
The Librarian has been designed to be flexible - and it is. At first contact it appears a little awesome, but the more you use it the more useful some of the more esoteric commands become.
On to the Editor, which has a sequence loader and Note Pad facility, too. The editing is divided into two sections: the voice parameters and the functions. The TX7 stores two functions for each voice; both are shown and DX7 owners can use them for comparisons.
The voice editor displays all the parameters and functions which make up a voice. The screen display does look a might full - it's crammed in fact - but it is well laid out. The central area contains details of the six operators (which are identical) so it's not as formidable as it first appears. As an aid, you can de-emphasise (turn a shade of grey) the areas not currently under cursor control: a nice touch which gives the semblance of simplifying things.
There are lots of functions to make the task of editing your sounds easy. You can turn operators on and off (although, of course, this is not retained when saved to a patch or library file); you can copy one set of operator parameters to another and exchange them.
A pull-down window draws the algorithm on screen and pressing 'G' on the Commodore 64's keyboard switches to a graphic display of the six operators' envelopes, output, keyboard scaling and pitch. After the first access, switching from graphic to edit screen is instantaneous and subsequent accesses only redraw the altered parameters.
You can also edit your voice from the synth if you have an attack of inspiration while standing over it.
File access in the Editor program is restricted to single voices only, so those you want to edit must have been saved as single voice files from the Librarian or be resident in the synth.
A Jogger card contains a summary of all the key commands in each module and there are lots of help files on disk, some of which contain material additional to the printed manual.
The program is compatible not only with Joreth's own excellent AL25 MIDI interface (see review last month) but also with those from Siel, Jellinghaus, Microvox, Steinberg and Sequential. There are options throughout to send details to a printer too.
You won't work your way through System 7 in a day as it's quite a complex program. The best way to get to know it is to play with it. The manual is quite comprehensive but the Beginner's Guide doesn't really go far enough. For such a complex program, more help is needed initially. You need to read the manual carefully to avoid missing some essential points.
System 7 also contains a small puzzle and the first three people to solve it will receive a free Real-Time Linker System (see review last month) worth £94.90. When the puzzle has been solved you end up in a random voice generator. It's a simple routine - crammed into 1K of code - but it's fun and it may just produce something worth keeping. Anyway, that's just a little bonus.
System 7 costs £79.99 and includes 10 banks of 32 voices. That works out al 25p per sound and you may like to compare that with the numerous DX ROMs reviewed in our December 86 issue. There are some excellent sounds there, too, although some you'll have already. But if you also look upon the system as an infinite ROM cartridge, it's exceptional value and you may like to think you're getting the program free!
Joreth are hoping to make available on two disks the 900 or so voices that the X-Series Owner's Club are currently distributing.
Whichever way you look at it, the System 7 is a pretty impressive piece of software at a nominal price. If you like to programme but have struggled with the DX7's editing facilities, then this will help enormously. You don't have to be an expert programmer: it even helps you to doodle! It may even encourage you to forsake the presets and get down to the programming you always promised yourself you would do.
Casio's Phase Distortion (PD) sound creation is not quite as complicated as FM but the CZ synths still require editing with + and - buttons. Joreth's Tone Editor and System 7 are similar in concept, although the CZ Editor was produced first and its modus operandi is slightly different.
The Tone Editor can handle Casio CZ101, CZ1000, CZ3000 and CZ5000 synths. Like all Joreth software, it will work with cartridge port interfaces from other manufacturers, which is good news for users.
The main menu has the following options: Record music, Save, Load, go to the Editor, Title Tones and Terminate. Like System 7, the Record option is provided to enable you to hear a continuous piece of music while altering a voice. The Tone Editor, however, only stores 35 seconds of music - although Joreth claim you can cram 4000 notes into it if you're fast enough. It has no frills but you don't really need them.
The Load and Save options are identical - apart from the fact that one loads and the other saves! You can select the single voice currently being edited or a bank of eight or 16 voices. Banks of eight can be selected from voice 1 to 8 or 9 to 16 and you can direct the action to the internal, cartridge and preset (which can't be overwritten, of course) memories. You can obtain a directory listing (this is slow) and send disk commands such as scratch and format.
Title Tones lets you name or rename any sound in memory which is saved with the file. Casio synths don't display the names, of course, but they are essential when organising your sounds.
On to the Editor screen which is where it all happens! It shows a graphic display of the synthesizer's two sets of DCOs, DCWs and DCAs. The waveform parameters are also shown numerically in a flip-through table at the bottom of the screen and the key follow values are shown on the DCW and DCA graphs.
You can zoom in on the envelopes by adjusting the time scale for close-ups of a particular section. There is also a rather clever scaling function which can be applied to the rate, level or individual node of any envelope. This is something the average Casio CZ programmer probably hasn't thought much about (okay, me neither), although the problem this seeks to ease must have caused a few wrinkled brows.
The rate (time) and level (volume) of the envelope sections are not linear (the manual includes some fancy formulae to show how they work), therefore to double the actual time is not simply a matter of doubling the rate value; you may just have to add 10 or so. If you've ever programmed a CZ you'll know the problem. The scaling function automatically calculates the correct value for any given increase or decrease.
The level has its problems, too. The position of a node in an envelope is defined by the rate and the level. If you alter the level and wish to keep the node in the same place, then the rate must be adjusted also. Tricky sums involved here, but the Editor will do it all for you. You can alter both rate and level quite independently, too, of course.
A small circle on the graph display moves as you shift from node to node to tell you exactly where in the envelope you are. Sustain and end points are shown, also. This really helps you see how important - or otherwise - a particular section is. Altogether brilliant!
It has lots of thoughtful editing features, too, like resetting sustain and end point nodes to their original values if you remove the sustain or end setting. The Casio synths do this but not all CZ editors are made this way. You can transfer sounds between the Commodore 64 micro and the Casio at the press of a key and editing changes are automatically sent to the synth.
The CZ Editor's file structure isn't the same as the System 7's and an internal file in which to store and manipulate sounds from a variety of banks would have been welcome. A single key 'compare' function would have gone down a treat as well, although I've probably been spoiled by the System 7. The easiest way to build up a bank of voices is to load disk files and store required sounds in the synth. Voice parameters can be sent to the printer for a hard copy back-up if required.
If the system crashes (which I failed to make it do), the Panic button on Joreth's AL25 MIDI interface will reset the system with the loss only of voice names.
The Editor can be used from the Edit mode of the Music Composer System (see review last month) if you want to load new voices for a piece.
Like the System 7 and, indeed, all Joreth's other software, the CZ Tone Editor is versatile but you do need to spend sometime using it to suss out its full potential. To this end, the manual could have been a lot more helpful.
Time spent, however, is well worthwhile as the program is the most comprehensive CZ editor I've seen. It's very attractively priced - far better than spending £29 a time on Casio's RA-3 RAM cartridge - and, I'd say, an altogether essential utility for any CZ owner.
System 7 £79.99, AL25 MIDI interface £138. AL25plus System 7 £199.99.
CZ Tone Editor £44.85. AL25 plus CZ Editor £172.50. Other special deals available. All prices include VAT.
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