Master Tracks Pro
Paul Overaa gives the once over to this new Amiga sequencer.
Paul Overaa gives us the low-down on the new Master Tracks Pro Sequencer for the Amiga
The Commodore Amiga has lacked sadly behind the Atari ST as far as quality MIDI software goes. This software shortage has been due to many reasons including the fact that the Amiga is quite a difficult computer for programmers to work with. Knowing this however is little comfort for music/MIDI orientated Amiga owners who have been itching to get their hands on some decent Amiga MIDI software. Now, at last, serious software is beginning to appear and one of the latest MIDI packages to arrive is Passport Designs Master Tracks Pro sequencer.
Master Tracks Pro will run on all the Amiga models including the A-500 (although you'll need the memory expansion fitted because the sequencer needs 1 meg to run). The program is supplied on a single unprotected disk and comes with the now standard A5 ring-binder type manual used by almost all serious packages. The manual is good, readable and, with the help of some well laid out early tutorials, you can be sequencing within half an hour of seeing the package for the first time.
Perhaps the first point to be made about the Master Tracks Pro package is that it's available on a lot of machines - the Apple Macintosh, the Apple IIs, IBM PC's and clones, the Yamaha C-1 and of course now the Commodore Amiga. Whilst there are certainly differences between the various versions the basic operations remain the same.
What do you get for your hard earned cash? The short answer is a pro quality 64 track sequencer which uses a multi-window, graphics based, editing approach. The record and play facilities are centered around a transport window which is the screen equivalent of a tape deck containing all of the usual play, record, fast forward, rewind and stop type of controls together with a few other goodies as well. Operations which need time references use the transport window's clock/time indicator panel... to locate a time reference point you just type in it's value and Master Tracks Pro, which internally uses a resolution of 250 ticks per quarter note, will locate it for you. It's via the transport window that you also set punch-in/punch-out parameters, 'count in' etc. Using the transport window controls is dead easy - they are well laid out and if you can drive a tape-recorder you'll be quite at home.
Another important window in the Master Tracks Pro display is the Track Sheet window and this serves several purposes. Firstly it holds details of the sequences - track name, number, on/off mute status. Secondly it lets you control track looping on an individual track basis. The track sheet also lets you set an initial program change number which is sent as the track starts. You can of course place program change commands anywhere in a sequence but often you'll want them at the start and this facility offers a convenient way of doing just that. Last of all there's a channel assignment field which provides a sort of 'global remapping' of MIDI data allowing you to override stored channel info and play back the data on a specific channel.
Master Tracks Pro makes good use of the Amiga's multi-window facilities and six windows are provided for editing program change commands, modulation, controller data, pitch-bend, channel pressure, and key pressure. Data is displayed graphically on a grid and using the mouse you can pick up events, move them about, and generally edit to your hearts content. As well as the graphic display there are accurate bar clock and event value indicators available, so pin-pointing specific events is easy. All of these facilities are accessed via a window menu which incidentally also provides a similar window for controlling tempo. It's powerful stuff, but very easy to use because all of the edit windows use the same approach... once you've learnt about one window, you'll know how all of the other windows operate.
In case you've not seen the Master Tracks Pro's track editing facilities on other implementations it's worth mentioning that they're quite impressive... operations are graphics based and everything from song level editing, where you're working with whole sections of music, right down to detailed event editing is catered for. The song editor lets you cut, paste and duplicate whole sections of music and works with one bar as the smallest unit. The step editor, which uses a bar/note grid arrangement allows you to zoom into sequence areas for detailed editing, and lets you hide and display particular classes of events. Playback scrolling, pitch and time indicators are all included and go to make sequence editing very easy indeed.
As you might expect from a heavyweight sequencer package. Master Tracks Pro is provided with a whole range of sophisticated options... a multitrack mode for remapping MIDI channel data during input, conductor tracks for controlling tempo, selective event stripping etc. All the facilities which are vital for serious work, are there but one particular area where the Master Tracks Pro positively shines is in it's quantization options... as well as quantizing existing sequence data you can quantize on input and can specify whether notes are pulled completely onto the quantize grid or just brought nearer. You can even specify how near notes must be to the grid center before they will be pulled into line.
Master Tracks Pro supports SMPTE and includes options for squashing or expanding sequences so that they fill a defined time slot. It's even possible to lock particular events to a specific SMPTE location. Support for MIDI Time Code, SYSTEX recording, and controller chasing are also thrown in for good measure. On the whole the porting of the Master Tracks Pro to the Amiga looks to have been successful, but there does however seem as though there are a few Amiga orientated implementation problems lurking around. When, for example, you select a directory rather than a file in the file requester it doesn't get placed in the directory box and expanded into a list of filenames... it gets placed in the filename box. That in itself isn't an impossible problem to overcome, you just have to type the directory name manually into the directory area. Unfortunately the sequencer has also crashed a couple of times whilst I was attempting to select files. It only happened twice (over a period of a couple of weeks) but it certainly looks as though this is one problem which ought to be looked at as quickly as possible!
There are a lot of things I liked about the Master Tracks Pro sequencer and even with a couple of teething problems the Master Tracks Pro package is likely to give the other heavyweight sequencing contenders a run for their money. Who are the other contenders? Well, Amiga users now have four products to choose from.... Passport Designs Master Tracks Pro, Dr. T's KCS, MicroIllusion's Music X and Steinburg's Amiga 24000 package. At the moment all of the packages have many good points, a few weak areas, and a small number of rough edges. One thing is certain - all are capable of being put to good use by the serious musician.
Product: Passport Designs Master Tracks Pro Sequencer
Format: Commodore Amiga 1Mb minimum
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Review by Paul Overaa