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Lab Notes: Blessed are the Seque

Article from Polyphony, November/December 1978

Last time, we looked at the live performance features of SEQUE 1.0. Now we turn our attention to the studio-oriented options offered by this "universal" monotonic sequencer program.

Some of the distinctions between stage and studio use are somewhat arbitrary.

For example: EVENT PROGRAM

The real-time SCORE melody programming mode that we examined in this first section of this piece can obviously be used in a recording studio as well as it can on stage, providing that you're interested in recording only those things that are within the limits of your physical abilities. But the real promise of a small studio (or a big one, for that matter) is that it allows us to produce music that we don't have the chops to do in real time. After all, not everyone has the hours per day that it takes to gain physical mastery of a keyboard — but that doesn't mean that we don't have valid musical ideas, only that we need a little help in expressing them.

If a recording studio is a single thing, it's a time machine that allows days or weeks of work to be compressed into a few minutes of music. One of the programming modes that we have available (EVENT) is specifically designed to operate in this type of time-compression environment. In this mode we enter the music not so much as a melody, but as a series of notes and rests. A series of events which, when reproduced by the computer, turn out to be a melody (maybe).

There is of course nothing new about this mode of operation, this is the way sequencers have always worked. About the only new part is that instead of entering the events as positions of a knob or a series of numbers, we have an AGO keyboard on which to program.

Figure 1

Touching the command keyboard's PROGRAM EVENT pad puts us in this programming mode. (See Figure 1.) Melody lines are entered much as they were with the SCORE mode, except that the computer is no longer watching for how long we hold a key down or how rapidly the notes are played. It is now only interested in whether a key is up or down.

One of the major implications of this is that notes in the melody are "jammed" together in time, and on playback will come out exactly equally spaced, one note per beat. While this is OK in some cases, as a general rule it is unacceptable; because it is unacceptable, we have a REST pad on the command keyboard. The REST pad provides for syncopation. It is a means of "extending" an event so that it takes more than a single beat.

If you're familiar with the operation of the rest key on something like PAIA's Programmable Drum Set, you already have a good idea what's going on, but there still are some surprises here.

Your first thought may be that when you press and release a key on the AGO keyboard, that constitutes an event. Actually, it's two events as far as SEQUE 1.0 is concerned — the first when the key was pressed and the next when it was released. It's important to keep in mind that the REST pad can extend either of these events.

For example, this simple phrase:

Figure 2

would be entered from the keyboard by pressing F and releasing, press A and release, press C, release, press D, release, press F and while holding the F key down, hit the REST block on the keypad, release the F key, tap the REST block, play A, touch the rest block before letting up the A key, release the key, and hit the rest block once more. The measure is now completely entered, and may be played by using the REPEAT or SINGLE keys as described last time. Note particularly that on the fifth note (the second F) where we wanted to extend the note to a full beat, the REST pad had to be touched twice; once to extend the "key down" event and again to extend the "key up" event.

At first, having to enter two RESTs when we actually want to extend a note for a single beat may seem a pain in the neck (undeniably, it is) but the slight inconvenience buys us a number of things. For example, the ability to slur notes.

In the above example, the D could have been slurred into the F by first touching the REST pad before releasing the D key. This will lengthen the note to occupy the time normally used when the key is released. Then press the F key before releasing the D. This will cause the D to be entered in the next time slot without any articulation (triggering). Now, while holding the F key, touch the REST pad to lengthen it to a quarter note as covered earlier. After releasing the key, enter the additional REST required and proceed as usual.

Having each REST pad activation correspond to a "half" event (kind of) also allows us to produce dotted notes as the exceptions that they are rather than having to make specific tempo provisions for them which must be carried over to all notes in the sequence.

It is also possible to generate articulation changes whenever a note is extended beyond a basic "dual" event. If, for example, you are generating a series of notes where each note uses a key depression plus a REST and a key release plus a REST (four events), these notes can be performed in three different manners. If entered as listed above, the note has equal time allotted for note performance and release. For a staccato style, the note could be entered with a key depression, release, and then two RESTs. For legato styles, the two RESTs could be entered while the key is held down, yielding three "on" events and one "off" event. Each of the above would occupy the same execution time during playback, but would reflect the different articulation styles.

Once the melody is in the computer's memory, it makes no difference whether it got there with SCORE or EVENT programming modes as far as the playback and options are concerned. All of these features (real time or programmed transpositions, single or repeat play, tempo up and down, and tape saves or loads, etc.) work the same.


Even more powerful in the studio than the EVENT programming mode are the features added by two other command pads; CLIK and (in the option box) SYNC. These provide a means of synchronizing multiple tracks of sequencer operation.

Once you start using a sequencer for recording, you begin to find more and more places where it can be used to relieve a lot of tedium. The problem in the past has been that it is, for all practical purposes, impossible to manually synchronize a sequencer to a track that's already on tape. Even slight differences in tempo soon build up to an intolerable variation in when a note is supposed to happen and when it actually does happen. Maybe there are people who could manually twiddle a tempo knob and keep things locked together, but that's a hassle.

Most of us are familiar with the classical "click track" approach in which a metronome-like "tick" is recorded on one track of a tape so live musicians can easily maintain the tempo of the original work in over-dubs. Our CLIK and SYNC command pads are simply this old concept extended into the realm of automation.

Touching the CLIK pad causes SEQUE 1.0 to begin producing a very rapid series of "clicks" that are machine readable and represent a standard clock rate which the SYNC option can read and synchronize to. The click appears at the normal cassette output jack (where programs, etc., that are to be saved to tape come from) and when using this option, this output is tied to one of the channels of the tape recorder on which you're recording your audio tracks.

To use the click track option, the tape that you will be recording and mixing your audio onto must always be prepared first; you can't record a lead part and then come back and lay down the click, it won't work like that. Before doing anything else, connect the 8700's cassette output to the input of one track of your recorder, start the tape rolling in record mode, and after allowing a comfortable quiet leader, punch the CLIK pad. Allow the tape to run much longer than you think you'll ever need for what you're going to be recording, one thing you don't want to do is run out of click in the middle of things.

Synchronizing to the click track is simply a matter of connecting the output of the tape channel that contains the click to the normal cassette input jack of the computer, but note that some juggling of the record and playback levels of this channel may be necessary for the computer to properly write and read the channel. In many cases, unless your recorder is capable of providing very high outputs (similar to the earphone levels from the cassette recorders which the computer was designed to work with), you may need to use a small external amp to provide the extra gain and current drive required. If your SYNC fails to respond, try using the earphone jack signal usually provided on multi-track recorders. If this doesn't provide enough power, try using a small portable practice amp (such as a Pygmy or Pignose) whose earphone output should adequately drive the cassette input jack of the computer.

Assuming that you have some rhythm sequence (ordinarily the first laid down) in the computer memory and that you're getting ready to record it as audio, proceed by first punching into the T-SEQ option (if you plan to use it) then touch the SYNC control pad. Roll the tape with the click track channel set to playback and the audio going to one of the other tracks which is naturally in record mode. Before the quiet leader ends, touch the REPT/PLAY command pad and hold it. When the click track starts, so will the sequence. When enough of the track is laid down, terminate the play mode by touching the NORMAL pad.

It is necessary to select the SYNC OPTION last in the above sequence of events because once this option is asserted, a click track must be coming in on the cassette port for the computer to recognize any further commands. If you find yourself with a "dead" computer caused by CLIK being selected with no click track present, you can either run a tape which has a click track or reset the computer and run the program again.

In situations where the sequence is not to be played from the first down-beat, the SYNC OPTION should be enabled before rolling the tape and REPT/PLAY punched in when the time comes for the sequence to start.

A little constructive play will go a long way toward familiarizing you with the capabilities of this powerful option. Here are some we haven't mentioned yet:

You have probably already noticed the somewhat cryptic METR designations that appear in both the OPTION and TEMPO control boxes. And probably you've figured out that it means metronome (a handy thing in any studio). But this is kind of a super metronome because not only does it have a "pendulum" (which shows in the computer's twin displays) and an audible click (which you hear from the beeper) but it also provides an electrical output in the form of a short positive going pulse that appears as D7 of the D/A output channel (which in turn shows up on the Flag 2 pin jack of the D/A's front panel). This pulse is enormously useful in synchronizing external devices (a Programmable Drum Set, for example).

Since both the SYNC and METR options may be asserted at the same time, the external device can be synched to a pre-recorded audio track.

The METR pad in the TEMPO control box is obviously the tempo control for the metronome. Like the other tempo controls that we looked at last time, this one works in octaves. Each time the pad is touched the metronome tempo doubles until the maximum rate is reached, then the next touch causes the tempo to "fold back" to the minimum rate.

It may be somewhat out of sequence (?) to mention here that the tempo of the metronome is the tempo at which sequences stored in EVENT mode will play back, though of course, the TEMPO UP and DOWN command pads will also alter the tempo of the sequence once saved, as outlined last time.

Another point — When electrically synchronizing things to the click track, the METR TEMPO can still be varied to accomodate different timings, and since it operates by octaves the integrity of the timing will be preserved.

And a hint — the metronome "beep" can also be recorded on tape to provide a "human readable" click track (though it must be saved on a different track than the CLIK).

The only other command pads that we've added are STOP/STEP (a means of stopping the sequence without "forgetting" where we were as well as single stepping through the sequence) and CONT (continue) which allows us to pick up from the point where we STOPped. This feature can provide easy introductions to songs. STOP/STEP through the piece until you reach the REST just prior to the point where the introduction should start. When the CONTINUE pad is touched, the introduction will play, leading into the repeating sequence.

I wish I had the space and time (and for that matter, knowledge) to go into some expository statements on the art of small studio multi-tracking, but I leave that to an old friend and new-comer to Polyphony's pages, Craig Anderton. I hope that Craig's and my work will complement one another in this area — I think it will.

I also wish I had the space to go into a detailed analysis of how SEQUE 1.0 works. I don't. If you're really interested, the documented assembler listing which follows is tremendously meaty (though sketchy in parts). Careful study of the code used, in conjunction with the comments given, should be valuable in learning more about software generation and execution.

(Click image for higher resolution version)

(Click image for higher resolution version)

(Click image for higher resolution version)


SCORE — Saves melody sequence in real time.
EVENT Saves melody sequence as regularly spaced events.
TRANSPOSE — Saves transpose sequence as events.

REPEAT — Plays sequence from beginning, cycles until stopped.
SINGLE — Waits for key on AGO then plays sequence from the beginning. Stops at end of melody.
STOP/STEP — Allows stops or pauses during playback.
CONTINUE — Starts melody playback from where you are in memory.

SAVE — Dumps current Melody and Transpose sequences to mag. tape.
LOAD — Loads M & T sequences from tape.

TABLE — Selects transpose sequence table as source of transpositions (otherwise AGO is source).
METRONOME — Initiates visual metronome display and a "beep".
SYNC. — Shuts down internal timing and accepts prerecorded click-track for timing information.
CANCEL — Turns all selected options off.

UP — Doubles tempo of melody sequence.
DOWN — Halves tempo of melody sequence.
METRONOME — Doubles speed of metronome display and "beep".

NORMAL — The "normal synthesizer" mode. Does not alter stored sequences.

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Previous Article in this issue

The Sohler Keyboard System

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Home Recording: Frequency Balancing

Publisher: Polyphony - Polyphony Publishing Company

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Polyphony - Nov/Dec 1978

Donated & scanned by: Vesa Lahteenmaki




Gear in this article:

Sequencer > PAIA > 8700 Computer/Controller

Gear Tags:

CV/Gate Sequencer

Feature by John Simonton

Previous article in this issue:

> The Sohler Keyboard System

Next article in this issue:

> Home Recording: Frequency Ba...

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