Kawai K1 Visual Editors
Software for the Atari ST
Coupled with its success, the digital parameter access-editing of Kawai's K1 synthesiser has made it an obvious target for software editors - like these from Dr Ts, Soundbits, Drumware and Steinberg. Vic Lennard looks on.
Such has been the popularity of Kawai's K1 synth that there are now a range of visual software editors available to ease the burden of programming.
THE KAWAI K1 is a hybrid synth which derives its sound from a combination of samples and digital synthesis. It's been a popular late-'80s formula - other hybrids include the Roland D50 and Korg M1. But all these machines incorporate another aspect of '80s design philosophy that's left them short of the old knobs 'n' sliders that used to make synth programming fun. Consequently a number of third-party software writers have felt it opportune to provide users of these machines with the "soft" alternative to panel-editing of sounds. Here we'll look at editing programs for the Kawai K1 from Dr Ts, Soundbits, Drumware and Steinberg.
For those of you rusty on your K1 editing, here's a quick reminder of its programming structure; two internal sound banks (I,i), each contain 32 single patches, each of which is created by combining either two or four sound sources. These sources are drawn from 53 sampled (PCM) and 204 digitally synthesised (VM) sounds, each source having its own envelope. Up to eight single sounds can be stored as one of 32 multi-patches, giving eight-voice multitimbrality with eight-note polyphony. An external port is provided for ROM cards, with a similar bank set up as for the internal, and RAM cards for saving edited patches.
There are, however, a couple of problems with the K1 which affect sofware editors; firstly, there is no temporary buffer - edits have to be performed in one of the single slots so destroying the patch that existed there. Secondly, a multi-patch must have access to the relevant single patches in the correct positions. And thirdly, internal multi-patches cannot access external single patches and vice versa.
DR TS/CAGED ARTIST editors are already a well-established and well-respected line of software editors. On booting up, the program automatically obtains the internal banks from the K1 if connected via MIDI (otherwise a default file is loaded). The front page is divided into four principal areas; 64 single patches, labelled A and a, eight single patches constituting the currently selected multipatch, a menu column for moving between the various pages and a selector box for the four patch banks which can be resident in memory at the same time. Certain facilities are common to most pages: loading from/saving to disk, getting/sending sounds from and to the K1 and an undo buffer for the last edit.
Movement between pages is by use of the mouse or by the Atari function keys as labelled in the menus. From the front page, F1 moves to the Single Edit page where either the common parameters (volume, number of sources, vibrato, pitch-bend and so on) or the source specific variables may be edited. All four sources, including their envelopes, are displayed on the same page although it takes a little time to get used to some of the abbreviations that have had to be used to fit it all in. Changing values is accomplished in one of two manners; click on a parameter, "grab" it by holding the left-hand mouse button down and drag it up or down until the required value is obtained - the cursor changes to a hand and the slider on the left-hand side of the page moves up and down correspondingly - or else key in the value from the Atari keyboard and press "return". Individual source envelopes are edited by dragging small boxes acting as joints to the required position. As there are 256 waveforms to choose from, clicking on a source's wave number brings up four pages of waveform names which can be selected from - a welcome alternative to keeping sheets of paper to hand. There is a randomise function on the menu which allows a mask to be set up to include specific parameters for randomisation. Another function called Load Section permits the copying of any part of any source to that of another source.
Pressing F2 takes you to the Multi-Bank which lists the 32 multi-patches in one table and the eight singles for the currently selected patch in another - choosing a different multi brings up the relevant single. Pressing F3 takes you to Multi Edit which displays all data for the multi-patch in the form of a table and a key zone chart, complete with a keyboard to enable quick setting up of keygroups with the selected single patches shown in white if the polyphony is set to zero or in a choice of three shadings dependent on whether the velocity range is set to hard, soft or all. The virtual slider is again present for altering parameters.
The final page is the System page. Here you can set MIDI channels, Merge/Thru modes and access Mouse Play (a velocity-sensitive invisible keyboard exists on each page with high velocity at the top of the page and notes changing from left to right, played from the right mouse button). It's also possible to determine which of the K1's voice memories will be overwritten when editing - in lieu of the absent edit buffer.
Other facilities include a print option to list single and multi banks as well as the pages of edits and a disk format option - an important feature which gives some indication of the thoroughness with which the program has been written. The manual too is written in a helpful manner, Dr Ts can even afford to be tongue-in-cheek in places.
THE MASTER DISK for Voice Master comes with two complete banks of sounds as well as a number of single and multi banks. On booting up, a variety of questions are asked on-screen to ensure that the editor sets itself up correctly - is a K1 connected, does it have a RAM/ROM card, which MIDI channel is it on? After this the internal data is procured from the K1 and the front page appears. This presents the two banks of single patches (A,a), a transfer box for moving a patch to the Edit page, three other boxes entitled Rename, Copy and Editor and the usual GEM menu bar. A single patch can be selected by either dragging it to the transfer box or double clicking on it with the left-hand mouse button.
Double clicking on the Editor icon takes you to the Single Patch Edit page which has the common function parameters listed in the lower half of the page, and source mutes, source select and return to single bank in individual boxes in the top half. It also takes patch A1 in the K1 into use as an edit buffer. Clicking on one of the source select icons changes the screen to a large envelope with the envelope values at the side. These are edited by dragging the box joints. Underneath are the frequency and wave parameters. On this page also lies a problem; the best way to edit a K1 is to mute all sources bar the one being edited, alter parameters to taste and then go onto the next source, occasionally unmuting all of them to listen to the sum effect of the edits. But to mute or unmute sources here involves moving back to the previous page - most disconcerting, especially if lengthy alterations are intended. Another point which will slow down the editing procedure is that waveform selection is by a box which scrolls far too slowly for my liking. Also, copying part of the data from one source to another is offered on the bank page instead of here. All in all, the layout could have been a little more coherent.
The Randomise heading in the menu bar gives you two choices; option 1 will create a new patch subject to a predetermined algorithm, while option 2 works with a mask which allows selection of any variables from the sources.
General testing of edits is quite convenient. Clicking on the right-hand mouse button at any time will result in the patch being played at middle C, while the Atari function keys F1-F4 play different chords and F5 plays a pre-programmed sequence of notes. Alternatively, function key F10 produces a non-sensitive keyboard which can be played with the mouse.
"Goto" in the menu bar switches from single to multi patches, and takes you to the multi patch-bank page. This is identical to the single equivalent, but without the copy facility. Select a patch and enter the multi-edit page which has two main divisions. The first has eight numbered keyboards to represent the eight single patches, each with the patch number above it and with the selected one in black (the remainder being grey), while the second contains the details of the chosen single patch. Unfortunately, this means that only information for one part out of the possible eight can be shown at one time, which again makes editing awkward and the soloing of one single difficult.
The lack of an undo facility is a oversight, as is the omission of a MIDI Thru for editing either the modular or rack-mounted versions of the K1, because there is no way of testing the velocity sensitivity of patches without it. More encouragingly, a disk format option is offered, as is the printing out of bank names and edit parameters.
DRUMWARE'S MASTER DISK comes with five new banks of sounds - these consist of the two ROMs that Kawai sell in this country, another two from America and one of drum sounds (including a selection of synthesised Roland TR808-style voices).
The editor loads up with a default file requiring you to go to the menu heading of "Kawai", where there is a complete set of interface selections for the Atari and the K1, including getting internal bank "I" and loading it in as "i" and vice versa.
The front page is impressive as it shows all editing data for the single patches with separate boxes for common and frequency/wave/envelope parameters, key scale and velocity curves, a five-octave velocity-sensitive keyboard (which can be transposed by octaves up and down) and an area designated as the workspace (which initially shows single bank I but an option in the single menu allows this to be changed to bank i). The screen size means that abbreviations are necessary as with the Dr Ts editor, but overall the page is very well laid out and doesn't feel claustrophobic. Clicking on any one of the envelope displays changes the workspace to a large envelope window while keeping the rest of the values in view, and editing of this envelope is again achieved by dragging the small joint boxes which also show the changes in the smaller envelope windows as they take place. If Envelope Track has been selected from the menu, changes to any envelope will be applied as offsets to all the others - a more sensible option than simply copying the whole envelope.
Furthermore, the Copy Single option in the menu allows either a portion or the complete data set of a source to be copied to another. Mute options for each source are to be found here as are solo icons that allow one specific source to be solo'd with the press of one button.
Six banks can exist in memory at any one time and, by using the Banks option in the menu, these can be copied, renamed, viewed - which shows all 96 single and multi patches - and printed out. The Multi and Single menus also allow you to see the names of the currently selected banks of patches. These appear in the centre of the screen but leave the rest of the parameter values visible.
The Multi-Edit screen is as well laid out as its single counterpart with two large boxes housing all multi data, graphically represented key zones and the keyboard again at the foot of the page. A row of smaller boxes in the centre of the screen hold the following functions: Multi Select changes the key zone window to a selection box of the 32 multi patches; Map activates the zone grid which can be edited by selecting one of the single numbers on the left-hand side (notes are then dragged across their range from low to high and drawn as a black bar); Erase deletes the range; Fill sets the zone across the MIDI range and Hole removes a portion of a bar.
There are three different ways of creating sounds, these are accessed from Randomizer in the Single menu. The first two, Randomizer and Randopolate both use a mask in the same manner as the previous editors but differ in that Randomizer generates random numbers between a user-set upper and lower limit, while Randopolate takes this a step further and interpolates (selects a value at random between two choices) the new sound with the original. Basically, Randopolate combines a more musical result with a travesty of the English language. Interpolate, the third method, creates a patch whose parameter values lie between those of two user-selected single patches. Either a single patch or a complete bank can be created with each of these techniques - and they do work, especially Interpolate which is similar to the method used in Hybrid Arts' DX-Android.
The Undo feature is also worthy of note. When a patch is selected (single or multi) it is written into the undo buffer and can be recovered by pressing "undo" on the Atari, or updated after any edits by pressing "insert". It is conceivable that sounds may need to be temporarily held while further editing continues, in which case "Undo=>TempBuf' is selected from the menu and the sound is saved to a different buffer and can be recalled by using "TempBuf=>Undo".
Edits can be heard by playing them on the keyboard or by activating "Autoplay" which plays either a note or a chord, if Chord is selected (the specific chord can be programmed in Set Chord) each time the left mouse button is released following an edit.
While disks cannot be formatted from within the program, there is a monitor for "free disk space" and the option of deleting unwanted files from a disk to assist file management. All menu selections can be chosen by keyboard equivalents. The manual is clear and helpful and includes useful hints like how to correctly tune the PCM samples.
IN USUAL STEINBERG fashion, the copy protection of Synthworks K1 employs a dongle which must be inserted in the cartridge port (which means more changing of dongles or expense in the form of an expander). On booting-up, the Single Edit page appears which shows all edit data for the sound sources in the form of four flow charts - one for each source along with graphic spectrum analyses of the digital waveform where used. Clicking on any of the envelopes opens it up into a large window where the envelope can be dragged in the same fashion as the other editors - with a few extras features. Eight custom envelopes are displayed and any one may be selected as a starting point from which the required shape may be created; the envelopes for the other sources can be displayed as dotted lines in the same window; Undo works at two levels - one click removes the previous edit while a second click takes the envelope back to the start and any of the other envelopes can be selected and edited without exiting from the current window, so speeding up the process considerably. Four single voice buffers are shown at the top of the page as A, B, C and D and can be copied from one another by selecting with the right-hand mousey button and clicking on the destination with the left - no more dragging.
The single patch shown is that of A1 and the current bank in the K1 has to be imported before editing can commence. This appears on the Librarian page which can hold up to three complete banks as well as a buffer bank X, to which can be transferred either one multi patch with its eight associated singles or individual singles. Click on any multi and its single patches will be highlighted, or click on a single and any multi patches in which it is present will be shown. Using the same movement process as on the previous page, patches can be trashed, swapped or moved to one of the four edit buffers or bank X. Other facilities on this page include Alphabetize which displays the single patches in alphabetical order yet keeps the multi-single links, and Semantic, which can label each single patch with up to eight adjectives chosen from a list with 255 possibilities, and can then scan all files in disk to find those matching particular requirements, even to a chosen depth.
The Multi Edit page encompasses editing in a visual manner (similar to a mixing desk) with sliders for the volume control of each single (which can be dragged), pan pots for output selection and a Swap icon for flipping between the current patch and that selected in bank X. Even the polyphony is displayed as a number of quavers.
Randomisation has four options, each of which can create either a single patch (placed in buffer B) or 32 patches (written to 33-64) the first three of which use a mask; Slight and Medium variation each follow preset algorithms to generate random patches while Blind follows no pattern at all; Patch Creation chooses from three algorithms and scans the singles in a bank, creating new patches based on them so that a bank containing 32 similar sounds should give very usable results.
There is an onboard sequencer which will hold up to 3000 notes at 1/96 ppqn resolution and will record notes and controller info. Patterns can be loaded from or saved to Pro24 pattern files and the sequencer will keep merrily churning out the looped pattern while editing continues - a bit of a masterstroke. Alternatively, there is a velocity-sensitive onscreen keyboard which can control pitch-bend, aftertouch and modulation or an Auto note option which will play a note each time an edit is made.
Other facilities include all menu selections being available as equivalent keyboard strokes. 40 pages of Help (effectively an onboard manual) which can either be examined or set to screen the relevant page as a function is selected, a Disk Utility which replaces the standard GEM equivalent, and has a variety of new features (including a format option), Mouse Acceleration modes for setting different speeds for the visual icon to scoot around the screen at, Mouse Edit modes for setting the manner in which edits are carried out and a comprehensive choice of screen printing. The manual (all 58 pages of it) is well written and aimed at being a tutor rather than a guide.
Each editor has pros and cons - Steinberg's little sequencer, for example - but, personally, I found the Drumware editor preferable on the grounds of speed of operation.
Soundbits Voice Master has the distinct disadvantage of poor page layout which will slow down the speed at which you can edit, but is very simple to understand and use. Dr Ts editor is equally clear-cut in use and offers more banks in memory. However, neither of these offer you the ability to move between pages and select functions by key equivalents (Dr T's Atari function keys change from page to page).
Drumware's Editor/Librarian and Steinberg's Soundworks both employ high-quality graphics, and in the case of the Steinberg program, the speed with which you can edit is highly impressive, as is the idea of semantics and the choice of key equivalents. The Drumware program has the excellent Multi Edit page, permitting speedy setting up of a multi-patch, and an Interpolate feature for creating new patches, which is probably the best on offer from any of the editors.
The bottom line is that all four editors work well and all offer a desktop accessory which will load songs from disk into a K1 without exiting from a GEM-based sequencer. What more did you want?
Prices Dr Ts Editor Librarian. £99; Soundbits K1 Voice Master ST £75; Drumware K1 Editor, £99.95: Steinberg Synthworks K1, £99. All prices include VAT.
More from Dr Ts: (Contact Details).
Soundbits: (Contact Details).
Drumware: Hybrid Arts (UK) Ltd, (Contact Details).
Steinberg: Evenlode Soundworks, (Contact Details).
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Review by Vic Lennard
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