Wodger's latest offering takes the Paul Fishman test
This new Sequencer from Linn Electronics is the first product from this company that is a departure from the drum machines they made their name and fortune with — and deservedly too! The arrival of this Sequencer isn't such a great surprise to those already familiar with the Linn 9000, but if you haven't seen or heard of the Linn 9000, it is a computer instrument that combines the latest developments in drum machines with a 32-track MIDI-keyboard Sequencer. The Linn Sequencer is basically the 32-track recorder part of the 9000 without the drum machine, so if you know your way around the 9000, operating the new Sequencer should be a doddle.
When the 9000 first turned up earlier this year, there was much interest and excitement about what was a potentially stunning musical tool, especially since it was coming from a company that produces very few new instruments but was responsible for inventing the most significant one in the last 10 years — the Linn Drum. Unfortunately, things didn't go quite as planned, which was rather boring for Linn and must have caused Roger Linn (from hereon referred to as 'Wodger'), to pull large chunks of hair out. The initial shipment had technical problems involving the operation of the computer and functioning of the software, coupled with an unsuitable power supply. Basically, what I'm trying to say is that it was an oily heap of shit. I think it's good to come out into the open and call a spade a spade, but instead, I'd rather call it an 'oily heap of shit' because that's a far more appropriate and accurate description of what was first produced.
This opinion was shared by a large number of people, some of whom even comically demanded their money back. Now it has to be said that this reaction to Wodger's latest and greatest invention was a bit of a kick in the eproms for him, but not being one for lying down in the corner, banging his fists on the floor and hysterically screaming 'Why me?', Wodger promptly got up, brushed himself down, and immediately sacked the clown who had written the software for him; a cruel but fair decision.
But a lot of damage had already been done from a marketing point of view. If you are going to lash out and pay over £5,000 for an instrument, the least you can expect it to do is work. Crashing was a day to day occurence — (What am I saying? — that should be minute to minute). The repair shop of the UK distributor, Syco, looked something like an elephants' graveyard for Linn 9000s.
Now if the Linn 9000 was a complete and utter waste of space, I wouldn't bother to tell you all of this. The point is that in principle, and eventually in practice, the 9000 is a brilliant tool and in many ways wipes the floor with everything else on the market. From the sentiment of these words, you can guess that I like it. But it took time to repair the damage initially done.
Consequently, Syco have sat back and waited, wisely refraining from placing adverts exclaiming — 'It Now Works!' I am told that there is a software release to come which should be available by the time you read this, and this software will cure all the remaining sins and truly bring the instrument up to its impressive specification.
As I have already mentioned, the Linn Sequencer and the keyboard portion of the LinnDrum are exactly the same, with a few minor exceptions. The Linn Sequencer comes as a very tidy rack-mounted unit that weighs in around the £2,000 mark.
Since the arrival of MIDI-keyboards, sequencers to match (and I'm not talking colour here) were a logical development. The problem with most Sequencers is that they tend to get in the way of actually making music, as opposed to 'let's play with computers'. If you are suddenly struck by some stroke of genius and your latest composition is bursting to get out, the last thing you need is to have to fart around wasting your creative time wading through vast quantities of technical manuals so that you can play the first two notes. What is needed is something instant and easy to use that doesn't get in the way of making music.
Despite the fact that over the years sequencers have been used primarily to create love songs for Daleks, they can be used far more creatively and don't actually have to get in the way of fashioning music. I'm sorry, but I haven't finished with the thought of 'Music to Exterminate your Girlfriend to'. You must excuse these indulgences of mine, but I've never been the same since I started taking two Haliborange a day.
Right. Where was I? The Linn Sequencer is a 32-track MIDI-sequence recorder designed to operate similarly to a multi-track tape recorder, using such common commands as 'Play, Stop, Record, Fast Forward, Rewind and Locate'. Now if you find any of these too tricky to handle, my advice to you is 'give up' as you are mentally subnormal, or a big fan of Madonna — whichever comes first.
A maximum of one hundred sequences can be recorded, each with 32 simultaneous polyphonic tracks which, individually, may be assigned to any one of 16 polyphonic MIDI-channels.
Operation of the basic features is obvious — which is how it should be. Pick a track, hit record and play, and away you go! You can choose to record in a loop mode, which is very handy as single tracks can be layered, adding or erasing information each time the sequence passes around, therefore existing notes are not erased unless desired. All timing errors can be corrected via the internal timing correction. When you've finished creating one track, simply select another and a second part can be recorded, and you can choose to either mute or solo or hear any other existing track. MIDI-information such as pitch bend, modulation, velocity, aftertouch, sustain pedal, and program changes are stored as part of the sequence.
Any sequence can be whatever length you want, but the Linn Sequencer scores wonderfully by using fast forward, rewind, and locate to enable the user to speedily locate and work on any particular bar of the sequence.
Erasing notes is a simple matter of holding the erase button and pressing the desired note on the keyboard, or choosing to erase all, or selected bars of any track. A step editing facility is rumoured to be on the way, but then again, so is Halley's Comet.
Once a sequence has been recorded, it is possible to edit it by using the Insert/Copy function. Bars can be selected from one sequence and moved to any point within another sequence. For example, if within a long sequence you find a couple of bars that feel they are 'happening bad', as they say in the trade, then these can be duplicated and used to develop the rest of the composition's structure. [Enter Trevor Horn],
Linn have provided two separate ways of creating composition structure. First, because the editing facilities are so comprehensive, any sequences can be bounced to a new location and appended to each other to evolve the required structure and, if this doesn't give the result you're seeking, they can be edited out. The second facility is the 'create song' mode, and there's only one location for this. Here, sequence numbers are listed in a chain and finally copied onto a new sequence location with the opportunity of being able to have the final few bars repeat infinitely for fade out/monotony purposes.
The entire memory may be dumped onto disk or cassette. I know Linn are intending to make the 3½" disk drive optional, but if you are seriously considering buying this Sequencer then you have got to have the disk drive as it is stunningly fast and so easy to use. Not that there is anything wrong with the cassette interface — as this works perfectly well — but let's face it, life is short! Get the disk drive — don't even think about not having it. One disk will hold over 110,000 notes.
One or all tracks may be transposed by simply pressing a key for the new transposition point. Another handy little feature is the repeat button. When held down, this allows any note or chord to be repeatedly re-triggered relative to the setting of the error correction, so any passages of pulses are easily created. This feature also opens up vast areas for exploring dynamics, MIDI-controlled effects, and vast quantities of rhythmic insanity.
Operation information is displayed on the small but compact 32-character LCD display (this is not too dissimilar from the one found on the EII and a host of other keyboards). The LCD display shows the current status of each function. There is also a 'Help Program' for the times when one needs a bit of spiritual guidance, or failing that, the Users' Manual.
There are two footswitch inputs which may be assigned to remotely control many of the most common functions, eg, erase, repeat, play, stop and locate. Two trigger outputs program pulses at any value — except 96 pulses per ¼ note — come on Wodger, give Oberheim a break!) An extremely frustrating corner that is cut on a lot of Sequencers is the increments of tempo adjustment, and being able to store and recall with each sequence, as well as having tempo changes within a sequence with smooth transitions (if desired), and multiple time signatures. Linn have well and truly covered this aspect. Tempo adjustments can be set to a minimum of a tenth of a beat. Tempo can be specified in either Beats per Minute, or Frames per Beat at 24, 25 or 30 frames per second which, if you are doing music for films, is exceptionally useful, and if you're not, is a complete and utter waste of time. Tempo can also be set by employing the tap tempo button.
Linn are making optional extras available for this Sequencer. One expected soon is the SMPTE time code synchroniser which is an alternative to the already incorporated Linn Sync. For those who haven't previously come across the SMPTE, it is of immense value when recording. Another option is the remote control unit for those sneaky little overdubs. This allows control of fast forward, rewind, locate, record, stop, play, erase, repeat and tempo functions.
If Wodger does happen to get to read this feature, here are one or two requests that I am sure would be of extreme value. It was rumoured that there was to be an available software package to couple the Sequencer with an Apple Mac, or some other computer, to permit on-screen editing and musical display of recorded information. For any interested manufacturer, the most stunning and creative aspect of the Fairlight is Page R which displays music on screen, as you play it. I would add that this single page alone has been the Fairlight's greatest selling tool. Another small point is that it would be nice to be able to bounce information from one track to another within a sequence.
Neither of these points are make or break as to whether or not the new sequencer is good. I whole-heartedly recommend this Sequencer and can't really think of anything that comes close to its potential for the money. There are various computer software packages available in this field, but for compactness and use simplicity, the Linn Sequencer is musically and technically the best on the market.
Have any of you noticed that over recent months the reception at Syco's sales showroom is starting to look like a mad hatter's tea party? See — they're showing their true selves!
Review by Paul Fishman
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