MIDIMouse Sonicflight D50/550 Capture!
Software for the Atari ST
If you're drowning in ROMs and RAMs full of D50 patches but still can't lay your hands on the sound you need, an editor/librarian program like Capture! could be the answer to your prayer. Gordon Reid is captivated.
If editing and shuffling patches around in your D50 or D550 is stifling your music, Sonicflight's Capture! could be your salvation.
THE SCENE: THE track has just started coming together. Inspiration has been fired and the band are buzzing. But as the clock passes midnight, the guitarist can't come to terms with any of the sounds the keyboard player is giving him from his D50. He goes through scores of patches but the guitarist doesn't like any of them. The moment is lost.
As the band break down their equipment a lone figure works on another song in another studio with another D50. Again the sounds he seeks elude him. He sighs and looks at his watch; it tells him it's 2.15am and that the moment is lost once again.
What is actually needed is a system for loading up whole banks of sounds in seconds which at the same time makes it possible to edit patches quickly and easily. In addition, it should offer almost unlimited storage capacity for the D50's Tones, reverb settings and Patches in order to keep all sonic experiments for future reference (and probable disposal). In fact, what's needed is a MIDI controlled Editor/Librarian - and as far as MIDImouse Music are concerned, their SonicFlight D50/550 Capture! for the Atari ST is perfect.
For almost two years now the Roland D50 has remained one of the most sought-after professional synthesisers on the market. The reason for this lies in the quality and range of voices available from the instrument. The patch structure of the synth combines a limited number of PCM samples with four powerful analogue polysynths and enables the creation of complex sounds. The price to be paid for this flexibility is, however, ease of programming. In essence the D50 is quite straightforward, but the sheer number of parameters have confused many potential programmers. Any editor worth the name has to simplify the programming process as well as providing additional facilities and storage. Which neatly brings us to Capture!.
THE SOFTWARE IS supplied in the standard plastic box with cut-outs for a single 3.5 disk and manual. At 15 pages the manual is very compact but to its credit all the information is clearly printed and well laid out. Following more than a month's usage I could find no omissions or errors of any consequence. The software is "key-disk" protected and cannot be copied by normal backup procedures. To obtain a backup you will have to send away for a company-produced copy. Software protection is a sensitive issue, but you really should be entitled to a reserve copy of software for which you've laid out good money. To use Capture! (which works equally for the D550) you require an Atari ST520 (or better) and the synth coupled together in "hand-shake" mode - with the MIDI Out of the Atari connected to the MIDI In of the synth as well as vice-versa. This allows all editing and librarian functions to be carried out in real time. It also facilitates a Listen Mode whereby all modifications to a patch can be previewed in real time. A useful feature is Soft MIDI Thru which enables the Atari to transmit not only program-generated data out of the Atari MIDI Out port, but also any data coming from the D50 (effectively merging the two data streams). This is referred to as Merge Mode and can be switched on and off at the main menu bar. Also provided is a Send All Notes Off option to silence any of those annoying hanging notes that sometimes creep in.
TO LOAD CAPTURE! simply insert the disk, reset (or switch on) the Atari, and click on the "D50.PRG" icon. You will quickly be presented with the Control Window, and the ubiquitous menu bar. The program runs on mono and colour monitors without any fuss, and fully utilises the GEM interface - so seasoned Atari (and Macintosh) users will have no difficulty finding their way around all aspects of Capture!. In addition, many of the menu bar commands can be duplicated on the keyboard using the "Control" key, so all preferences are satisfied. The program loads fully into RAM so there is no need for the master disk to be inserted while running - a real plus point for users with only one disk drive.
The Control Window is neatly laid out and only takes up about 20% of the Atari screen - yet in many ways this is the heart of the program. There are eight icons in the Control screen. These represent: disk storage, an Edit Buffer, the D50 itself, a printer, and two banks each of Patches and Tones. If you click the mouse over any control icon the pointer changes to a "document" icon which can then be dragged to any other control icon. If the defined operation is valid the operation will be carried out - with appropriate prompts if necessary. If the requested operation is invalid nothing will happen. No crashes occur - in fact, no wobblies at all. All Patch and Tone banks are empty when the program is booted so you can start building sounds from scratch, or you can load patch banks from disk or the synthesiser if you wish.
To start editing you drag a Patch to the Edit icon, and you can then access any part of it from the Edit menu. There are three levels of edit screen available which parallel the internal operating system of the D50. These are: the Patch Factor screen, two Common screens (one for each of upper and lower Tones) and one screen for each of the four Partials. Each Partial can be thought of as a single oscillator eight-voice synthesiser. These can be combined into two dual-oscillator synths via the Common screens, and finally into one four-oscillator synth (which is what the D50 is) on the Patch Factor screen. In all the edit pages, parameters can be modified by clicking on the value to be changed and using the mouse buttons - left to increment and right to decrement. Alternatively, the old value can be deleted and a new value typed in, or finally, the "+" and "-" keys on the numeric keypad can be used to increment and decrement the values by various amounts. All tastes are catered for. A few D50 parameters are toggles, and clicking on the parameter name will switch these from one state to the other.
THE HIGHEST LEVEL of editing is the Patch window which contains the parameters that act on the whole of the Patch (obvious eh?). These include Reverb settings, Chase, Controller Allocations, Play Mode, Patch Tuning, and the Patch Name. Immediately below the patch window (in structural terms) are the two Common windows. These introduce graphics and, alongside numerical parameters such as LFO settings, Chorus, and EQ, the pitch envelope is shown graphically as well as numerically. If you wish to stay on the Common screen you can adjust the Pitch Envelope numerically using the values below the graph. However, if you click on the graph itself you are taken to the Graph Edit screen. This blows up the graph shown in the Common page to full size and you can then drag the cusps of the graph around on-screen using the mouse. For all you ADSR afficionados this is a far more satisfactory way of doing things (yes - it's a pitch envelope not a VCA, but the principle holds) and the Graph Edit screen is quick, simple, and intuitive to use. If you want to play with the numbers you can still do so because they're duplicated at the bottom of the Graph Edit screen. The lowest building block of editing is the Partial Edit screen which is where the real meat of programming the D50 takes place. If a PCM sample is selected parameters that are not relevant are "greyed out" - that is, the TVF and wave areas are deselected for you - which greatly simplifies programming. There are two graphics windows available from each Partial Edit page - TYF envelope and TVA envelope. These are accessed and used in exactly the same way as the Pitch Envelope page providing consistency throughout the program.
Editing is quick and easy, and a number of shortcuts have been provided to enable you to get results as quickly as possible. All edit pages are available through the Edit menu which is always present at the top of the screen and this avoids you having to step up and down through the structure of the D50. In addition, parameter changes can be speeded up by use of the Shift and Alt keys which change stepping "in ones" to stepping "in fives" (Shift/Click) and selecting the maximum or minimum value possible for the chosen parameter (Alt/Click). Another useful feature is the inclusion of a Copy menu which allows you to duplicate and swap around Tones, Partials, or even parts of Tones and Partials. This greatly speeds up the editing process when new sounds are closely related to existing ones, and also introduces some novel experimental possibilities. On the down side there is one seriously annoying flaw in the editor. Because Partials can only be muted or un-muted from the appropriate Common page - not even from the appropriate Partial Edit page - a sequence of commands can be necessary to switch Partials on or off whilst editing. Strangely, many other editors suffer from this flaw, although it could be easily solved by having the partial mute "buttons" on the menu bar and therefore permanently available.
RANDOMISING PATCHES IS a novel way of creating new sounds and the optimistic among you may hope to stumble across an earth shattering new Patch by accident. I suppose that if you try randomising enough times you must eventually come up with something worth using. Perhaps. In truth, there are (literally) infinitely more unpleasant noises than there are aesthetically pleasing ones, so complete randomising is a waste of time. To make the process more meaningful, Capture! has a randomising Mask which acts like a template on top of the Patch. Tone, and Partial parameters. The mask enables you to switch on - or off - the randomising of any given group of parameters (such as TVA or TVF) but unfortunately there is no facility to mask individual parameters. The effectiveness of the randomising algorithm can be varied on a scale of 0 to 100 where zero has the least effect and 100 has the most. This scale acts uniformly on the whole mask and therefore only provides crude control over the randomiser. It would be nice to see each parameter group split further into individual parameters, each provided with its own randomising factor. Nevertheless, through frequent playing with the randomiser you can build an interesting experimental library and, who knows, some of your patches may eventually find their way on to vinyl.
WITH RAM AND ROM cartridges costing anything up to £100, Capture! justifies its purchase with its librarian functions alone. It will save complete banks of sound on to disk, and load and dump them to the D50 in about 20 seconds. During this review 14 banks of Patches were created. These used up 376kBytes on one 3.5" disk. At 27K per bank I reckon that you'll get 30 banks on one disk (costing £3.50) - or, to put it another way, 12p per bank of 64 patches.
D50 Capture! comes with two complete banks of Patches. The factory presets are on the program disk and therefore free up the backup RAM cartridge supplied with the synth. This alone is worth £55 and gives you the option of loading up the cartridge with your own sounds and using it live - giving 128 patches immediately available onstage. A bank of additional Patches is also supplied. I wouldn't rush out to buy these but there are some usable sounds provided, and a few that responded very well to a little tweaking. You could write off another £10 or £20 of the price of Capture! against these.
The program not only holds Patch banks but also Tonebanks - vital if you want to experiment with combinations of Tones into Patches. Two complete banks of Patches can be loaded simultaneously alongside two complete Tone banks - five windows in all. This facility is invaluable when building libraries from diverse sources and enormously simplifies the process of configuring Patch banks. Because of the real-time Listen mode new Patches can be auditioned instantly on the synth. Neat.
MIDIMOUSE HAVE INCLUDED a comprehensive set of printing capabilities within Capture!. By dragging Patch, Tone, or Edit icons to the Printer icon you can print any sec of parameters making up an individual Patch or Tone. In addition, a listing of all Patch and Tone names held within a bank can be printed. Most exceptionally of all, Capture! allows you to print all the parameters of all the Patches in a Patch bank - each Patch is split into 1 Common page, 2 Tones and 4 Partials. This takes a little over three pages of A4 per Patch, but 200 pages will accomodate every parameter in every one of your Patches. In addition, you can of course screen dump any of the edit windows and screens. Unfortunately, the TOS control panel is not included on the MIDImouse disk so, if you want to perform a screen dump on an 80 column printer you'll need to copy the control panel or boot from another disk. Otherwise, Capture! defaults to 1280 pixels per line and the screen will not fit onto a page.
TW0 DESK ACCESSORIES are supplied with the program. Keyit! brings up a picture of a one-and-a-half octave keyboard onscreen. This can be transposed up and down by 52 semitones (four octaves) as well as by an additional octave - giving an 11 1/2 octave range. Since velocity can be adjusted between 0-128 the whole MIDI note and velocity spectrum is available and a Patch can be tested to its extremes quickly and easily. Keyit! enables you to play the synth from the bottom two rows of the Atari keyboard or by using the mouse - just point at the appropriate note and click.
D50 Sender is every bit as useful as Keyit! and has been provided to allow you to load Patch banks from disk and dump them to the synth even while in another program. But be warned - it's a large program in its own right and will not run alongside many sequencers and cannot run in conjunction with Capture! on a 520ST. Sender can hold three Patch banks simultaneously as well as reverb data, making it ideal for use within professional sequencing applications.
DESPITE ONE OR two shortcomings Capture! is an endearing program. Time and again I found myself playing with the package rather than studying it. The temptation to experiment is enormous, and the ease of doing so makes it almost inevitable. The librarian functions and the desk accessories are first rate and overall D50 Capture! is as good as any other editor/librarian at the price.
Price £99.95 including VAT.
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Review by Gordon Reid
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