John Renwick leads us through the changing colours of this universal patch librarian - Chameleon
John Renwick rolls his eyes at Chameleon, a universal patch librarian with plenty to offer ST owners
New company, new idea, new product; Chameleon certainly has a lot going for it. Just wait until you find out what it can do, and how little it costs! The problem with having a large synthesizer set-up, as some of us have discovered, is that the more sound-producing options you have, the more time you spend sorting and tweaking sounds rather than making music. If you have one computer doing all the work - sequencing, sound editing and archiving - things get even more time-consuming.
Chameleon addresses some of these problems, and comes up with impressive results. It's the first product from a new music software company, Keynote, based in Bath, so if nothing else, you should consider it because it's British!
Since digital access editing became the norm on MIDI synths, the software patch librarian has become invaluable. Allowing you to transfer sound patches into your computer using MIDI System Exclusive data, patch librarians let you sort and save sounds in organised banks, in a way which is much faster and more economical than any of the cartridge, chip and memory card systems built into some synths.
Problems arise, of course, when you have more than one synth, and have to load a different software librarian to deal with each one, or, indeed, when you are using a sequencer package on the computer, and don't want to have to dump it to access a new set of sounds.
The concept of the universal patch librarian, which deals with data from any type of MIDI synth or sampler, has been around for some time - GenPatch from Hybrid Arts springs to mind as one example. But Chameleon not only has the ability to archive sounds for many types of synth, it can also function as a GEM desk accessory, taking up a reasonable 65K, so you don't need to dump your GEM sequencer to access Chameleon. It even works with Steinberg's Pro-24, which is notoriously unreliable when used in this way. In fact, even as I sit word-processing on my ST, Chameleon is happily hiding in memory as a desk accessory, and I can pull it up at any time to check its functions. One thing to bear in mind is that Chameleon is not a patch editor, it will sort and archive sounds, but will not allow you to edit them. This would require a much more complicated program like Dr. T's X-OR, and Keynote is in fact working on just such a program.
The program works on any ST in medium-res colour or mono, can be copied to hard disk, and comes in a ring-bound folder with a comprehensive 50-page manual. The first release will handle many popular instruments including the Akai S612/S900, Kawai K1/2/5, Korg DW8000/6000, Poly 800II, and M1, Oberheim Matrix 1000, Sequential Prophet 2000, and Yamaha DXs, both 4-operator and six-operator instruments. Chameleon comes with a bank of MT-32 sounds, and future software updates and sound libraries will be free of charge to registered users.
Chameleon is written in pure machine-code and doesn't use GEM, so it's fast and efficient. The main screen display is quite complex, but boils down to a list of the instrument libraries available, on the left, a display of the sound patches in the currently selected bank and a series of icons for selecting various save/load, data transfer and sorting options. Your first step after connecting up your synths and booting the program is to load the Library File for the synths you want to work on. You can have up to 9 library files in memory at once, just highlight a position in the libraries menu and click on the Load icon.
The file selector, which works in a similar way to GEM's, also shows the size of each file and the unused disk space, and there are some handy file extension buttons which allow you to change the current folder.
Using the Options feature, accessed by clicking on the Keynote icon, you can define a list of auto-load libraries, so unless you buy a new instrument you should only have to do this job once. After loading the libraries, you set the required MIDI channel on the main display, using the right mouse button to increment, left to decrement. Dragging the current library name to the GET icon then automatically transfers all the patches from your synth into the computer, and, for those synths which allow you to name patches, you'll see the names appearing in the patch list. For those which don't, a form appears allowing you to type in a name for each patch. Incidentally, the Options section also lets you define remote control keys for scrolling functions, so you could, for instance, play through a set of sounds on your synth, then hit C Sharp to scroll on to the next page of the list.
If you have any problems in data transfer, clicking on the chameleon icon brings up a page of transfer instructions for that particular synth. This contains the information needed to initiate MIDI system exclusive operations, expressed in Hex or ASCII form. Using a programming language called MPL, you can create strings of commands and data bytes which will allow you to design your own Library files. There's also a MIDI Monitor display which can show the entire contents of the MIDI memory buffer, but unless you have some knowledge of SYSEX programming these aren't going to mean a thing to you. If you have the knowledge, you can use MPL to do some interesting tricks, for instance, storing a sequence of MIDI note on/note off commands as a library, so that clicking on the GET icon causes your synth to play a tune, creating multi-instrument libraries where sounds played on different synths are layered together; or controlling features which cannot be accessed from the front panel of a synth, like the reverb modes of an MT-32.
Let's assume that you have loaded a Library file then a bank of sounds for a particular synth, either from the synth itself, or from a Chameleon disk file. What can you actually do with them? To 'audition' a sound, you click on the Play icon. Clicking the mouse around the screen will then play the sound selected, pitch is controlled by the left/right position, velocity by up/down position. To play a chord, click the right-hand mouse button. Alternatively, if you have the MIDI Thru icon selected, you can just play a controller keyboard connected to the computer, and it will transmit the MIDI data on to your synth. The MIDI input channel is automatically rechannelised to the output channel you set earlier.
The best feature of Chameleon is the display filter function. Using any other patch editor, however clearly you label your sounds, you will still have to play through dozens of them before you find just the right one for any specific application. Chameleon saves you the effort by allowing you to search for specific types of sounds, not just particular names.
On the right of the screen are the 36 labels of the display groups. These describe qualities of sound such as Bright, Realistic, Active, Dirty, Fat, Soft - but you can redefine these to read anything you want. When you name a patch, by clicking on the INFO icon you bring up a display which allows you to 'tag' it with any of these labels. To search it out, you then use the display groups, clicking on the qualities you want, and selecting patches for audition from the ever-diminishing patch list. For instance, from the MT-23 demo library, say you want a sound which is bright and fat, with a sharp attack. Highlight these three options and you get a list of sixteen possibilities. If you also want it to have a string-like quality, highlight String too, and the list is reduced to two, Atmosphere and Fantasy.
But Chameleon is even more flexible than that, because you can search according to different parameters. For instance, by altering the filter above the display groups you can select sounds which are NOT of the highlighted type, which are in at least one of the groups but not necessarily all of them (OR), or in all of them (AND), or in all of the selected groups and none of the deselected ones (EQU). In this way using Chameleon is faster than using any other patch librarian, once you have filed and labelled all your patches.
Some Chameleon libraries are set up in such a way that a single patch, in fact, contains a whole bank of sounds - the MT-32 is one example. Clicking on the Bank icons shows up to 64 sub-patches at a time, and allows you to edit their arrangement using Swap, Copy and Rename facilities. There's a clipboard which lets you stack up patches until you have filled a whole new bank, which you can then save. An alternative procedure is to use the display filters to create banks made entirely of one type of sound, you can then drag the whole library to the clipboard, and save this as a new bank.
Chameleon has several special features which are worth a mention. In hi-res mode you can invert the screen colours for a white-on-black display, you can also activate a wrap-around mouse effect, so that if the cursor goes off the edge of the screen, it reappears on the opposite side. Neat! There are also keyboard alternatives for practically every command, so once you are familiar with the program you can operate it even faster.
I'm very impressed with Chameleon, especially since it's been released at a price which makes it a practical proposition for most computer musicians. Unless you insist on a universal librarian and editor, such as X-OR, Chameleon should do you proud. It's a great start for a new company.
A demo version of Chameleon with save and load functions disabled, is available from public domain sources, or for £3 from Keynote.
Format: Any Atari ST
Supplier: Keynote, (Contact Details)
Review by John Renwick