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MIDIsoft Studio Sequencer

Tony Wride takes a look at the Advanced version of MIDIsoft Studio, an easy-to-use, versatile 64-track Atari sequencer with a lot to offer.


Tony Wride takes a look at the Advanced version of MIDIsoft Studio, an easy-to-use, versatile 64-track Atari sequencer with a lot to offer.


I've just discovered a new disease which is striking down musicians faster than the plague! You may already have the fullblown disease, or just the early symptoms. The tell-tale signs are a tendency to ignore any articles on MIDI Sequencers, since they no longer interest you. What is it?? Well, I've called it AMSIDS - an acronym for Acute MIDI Sequencer Interest Deficiency Syndrome!!

When you consider how many different sequencer programs there are for the Atari ST, and the dedicated MIDI recorders, it is hardly surprising that people are falling foul of the disease.

The fact that you have read this far suggests that you may not yet have contracted AMSIDS, in which case it should be safe for me to continue and tell you about a new Atari MIDI recording program called 'MIDIsoft Studio'. The program comes in two versions: the 32-track Standard Edition (costing £99.00 + VAT) or the 64-track Advanced Edition (costing £159.00 + VAT). The latter incorporates all the features of the Standard program and more, and is the version under review here.

LOADSA TRACKS!!



"What on earth am I going to do with 64 tracks?" you may ask. Well, that was my first question, and one which wasn't answered until I had a chat with a studio engineer friend who said, "64 tracks? Marvellous! Think of the flexibility." After a few more lagers, I realised what he meant.

Let's take an all too familiar scenario. You are heavily into composing your latest masterpiece and have so far used eight tracks on what could best be described as 'first take' recordings, ie. drums, bassline, rhythm chords, sequence, brass stabs, string pad, lead solo, additional percussion. Now let's assume you wanted to try out a different bassline, or even several different basslines. Mute the original bassline track and use a fresh track to record a new version. Before long, you suddenly find that you have recorded a further eight bassline variations, and have swallowed up 16 tracks. Now start working on the sequence, the lead solo, etc, and you will quickly find out how useful it is to have 64 tracks available!

Admittedly, you may start running out of computer memory if each new track contains the part for the complete tune. MIDIsoft claim approximate note storage capacities of 320,000 notes on a Mega 4 ST, 140,000 notes on a Mega 2 ST, 55,000 notes on a 1040ST, and 15,000 notes on a 520ST. On my 1040 system, I didn't get anywhere near filling the memory, especially when I filtered out Aftertouch data, which MIDIsoft Studio will do for you as you record.

PIECE OF CAKE?



I personally prefer software that is easy to use (this might have something to do with the limited RAM capacity of my own grey matter!!), and the first thing that struck me about the program is that, for real-time recording, it is very straightforward.

Having made the necessary connections to your MIDI keyboard and 'booted' the program you are presented with the main screen (Figure 1), which is dominated by a 12-track display and tape recorder-like control buttons. To select a track for recording simply involves clicking the mouse on the track number, which designates the track, followed by a click on the Record button. (Alternatively, you can just press Function key 6 on the Atari - MIDIsoft Studio provides equivalent command keys for most functions.) Provided the track that you have chosen is clean, the track mode changes to Record and, following a count-in of up to four bars, you can start recording.

Once you have finished, clicking on the Stop button terminates the recording. You can rewind instantly to the start of the track by clicking the right mouse button on Rewind and, since MIDIsoft Studio automatically sets the recorded track to Play mode, listen to your efforts with a click on the Play button. Repeat the procedure with other tracks to complete the song. A piece of cake really.

Closer inspection of the track section of the main screen gives you some idea of what information is presented and also what can be adjusted. Working from left to right, you can select any of the displayed tracks - access to further tracks is achieved using the arrows under the Track Number column. Clicking on a double arrow scrolls the display in blocks of 12 tracks, whilst clicking on a single arrow scrolls one track at a time. Just to the right of the track number is a Track Protect selector, which MIDIsoft recommend using to prevent inadvertent modification or erasure of your handiwork - and from bitter experience I must agree!!

In the Track Description column you have space to enter up to 16 characters, whilst Track Mode offers a choice of Clean, Record, Play, Mute, or Solo. Tracks can be individually muted and un-muted whilst playing, which is very useful if you want to compare (say) the different basslines mentioned earlier. Solo mode does just what it says, in the sense that when selected only that track will be heard.

MIDI Channel, Program Change, Volume, and Octave (transpose -3 to +3 octaves) can also be adjusted in real time, which I found extremely handy. Especially the Volume adjustment, since it means you can balance the various tracks to taste without having to touch your mixer or stop the playback. If MIDI channel 0 is set, then the track will play back on whatever channel the MIDI information was recorded on. Otherwise, if a number between 1 and 16 is set, then MIDIsoft Studio re-channelises on replay. It is possible to use multiple MIDI channels within one track, but with 64 tracks available you should never really need to do so. It is worth mentioning that, although you have 64 tracks available you only have 16 MIDI channels to play with - unlike C-Lab's Creator or Hollis Research's Trackman sequencers, which can provide a multi-output MIDI box to increase the effective number of channels.

The Size column specifies the length of each recorded track in terms of measures, whilst the Play Thru box gives you the option to re-channel and re-route incoming MIDI data to the Atari's MIDI Out.

Moving to the right of the main screen you have an indication of available memory (either as a percentage or in Kilobytes of RAM), the Edit Marks box (more about that later), the Count box (which shows time in terms of Measures, Beats and Ticks), and finally the Tempo box. It's worth noting that the tempo range extends from a slow 30 bpm to a Concorde-like 480 beats per minute (that's fast!), and that you can alter the tempo while playing.

STEP RECORDING



My keyboard playing skills are not up to much and, like many other people, I like to 'cheat' when it comes to the difficult bits by entering the notes in step time. MIDIsoft Studio allows you to input single notes or chords into a track by playing your keyboard, specifying the note size, and the duration (a percentage value between staccato and legato). Rests can be entered instead of notes, and by using the Undo facility you can go back and alter any events just recorded. Since you can specify position, and indeed Note Size, in terms of Measure/Beat/Tick, you can start step-time recording from any position within a track and use this alternative method for Note Size entry.

You are free to enter the Step-Time mode at any point within a track, so you could use it to insert a complex section within the easy bits you recorded in real time - as I did! With a bit of practice, I found that step-time entry can be fairly quick to do.


WHAT? NO LOOPING!!



Let's take a look at how MIDIsoft Studio works in terms of manipulating or editing bits of MIDI information to achieve various functions. You can choose to work on either a Track, a Region, or an Event basis, which means that you have about as much scope as you are likely to need. Within the Track menu you can Erase, Move, Copy, Combine, or Re-channel a track.

For editing to occur, you need to define a Source area or 'region' in terms of time (Measures, Beats, and Ticks [96 ticks per beat]), and then, if required, a Destination. You can do various things with the defined 'region' (ie. Insert, Paste, Delete, Erase, Transpose, Quantise, Scale Velocity, or Tempo Change) by calling up the options from the Region menu. Since MIDIsoft Studio does not have any 'looping' facility, you have to use Region Editing to Paste the required section together as many times as you require it looped. Alternatively, you can use the Insert Region function, where you can select the number of times that the insert is to be repeated. In either case it can be a bit of a long-winded affair, and I would like to have seen a dedicated Loop or Repeat facility included within the Region Editing functions to make the job of entering repetitive sections somewhat easier. Having said this, once you get used to using the Region method, manipulation of data can be achieved quite quickly.

Quantisation ranges from a whole note to 64th-note triplets. I found that the ability to quantise on a regional basis could be used to great effect, since within a piece you could have a very 'tight' section with everything in perfect time and another section with everything looser.

To achieve tempo changes within a piece, you end up creating track 65. This becomes the Master Tempo or Conductor track, and within the defined regions you can choose either instant tempo changes or accelerandi and ritardandos. The latter is achieved by specifying the start and end tempo for a region, and the computer will gradually change between the two.

EVENT EDITING



I have seen numerous methods of tackling the problem of showing MIDI event data, and I have an inbuilt hatred of the number format which is normally used on MIDI recorder programs - especially if they start talking in Hex or Binary.

As you can see, MIDIsoft Studio actually presents you with a 'numbers' type event display, and my initial reaction was "Oh no, my brain just will not be able to cope!!" After a relatively short time of using the program, however, I soon found that the format that MIDIsoft presents you with is very logical and, what's more important, very understandable. Unlike most grid displays, the 'music' actually runs vertically, from top to bottom of the screen.

Once again, position (or as they call it, Location) is referred to in terms of Measure/Beat/Tick values, followed across the display by Channel, Event, Pitch, Duration, Velocity On (Attack), and Velocity Off (Release). A Pitch Bend or Program Change event is shown simply by the value appearing under the V OFF column. Division marks are used to separate Measures (a solid line) and Beats (a dotted line), while movement within the track is achieved using the scroll bar to the right. You have the option to filter out certain bits of MIDI information from the display to leave you with, for instance, just Note-Ons, and this helps to make editing a little less tiring. Another quite useful feature is that you can either play or step through the track, with an inverse screen cursor showing your progress. This makes the process of identifying the 'bum note' that much easier.

All in all, MIDIsoft Studio gives you more than enough facilities to edit, insert, or delete all manner of MIDI events, and the use of a separate 'Edit Area' above the event listing makes life really simple.

MORE FACILITIES?



One feature which MIDIsoft makes a point of highlighting is the ability to use their sequencer with the Hybrid Arts EZ-Score Plus program, to allow you to look at and print out your sequenced music in proper music notation form. Unfortunately, I was unable to test this facility but I am assured that it does work very well. Together, the two programs would provide you with a very comprehensive music composition package.

Extensive disk storage functions are available, including the ability to load individual tracks as well as complete songs. Not seen on many similarly priced sequencers is the ability to load a song while another is playing! When you stop the current song, MIDIsoft Studio automatically rewinds to the start of the new song and you are ready to play. This could be very useful if you choose to use your Atari in a live performance context.

CONCLUSION



From the above, you can gather that I liked MIDIsoft Studio. Unlike a lot of other Atari sequencer packages it takes a minimal amount of time to become completely at ease with its use. Whether it can make any inroads into a market dominated by the likes of Steinberg's Pro24, C-Lab's Notator/Creator, and Dr.T's KCS will have to be seen. But it is noticeably cheaper than any of these programs and, as far as I could determine, has more than enough power for most musicians' needs.

Combining it with Hybrid Arts' EZ-Score Plus as a package would leave you lacking little. I understand that MIDIsoft are, apparently, intending to add a grid-style input and edit screen in the near future to add even more power to MIDIsoft Studio. In the meantime, it is well worth investigating.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Advanced Version £182.85 inc VAT.
Standard Version (not reviewed) £113.85 inc VAT.


Protobase Ltd, (Contact Details).

MAIN FEATURES

  • 64 polyphonic, independently controlled tracks.
  • Supports 16 MIDI channels per track.
  • Fast real-time record, playback, overdub, rewind, fast-forward.
  • Will run on Atari 520ST (or larger).
  • MIDI event editing.
  • Supports MIDI Files (links with scoring programs).
  • Velocity scaling.
  • Automatic quantisation.
  • System Exclusive record/play.
  • Real-time volume, transpose, and instrument changes for each track.
  • MIDI Thru controls Program, Transpose and Volume on main screen.
  • Loads individual tracks from song files.
  • Load next song while playing.
  • Mouse-based but also keyboard command equivalents.
  • Full track, region and event editing lets you Combine, Move, Copy, and Erase any combination of the 64 tracks.
  • Flexible region editing lets you Insert, Delete, Erase, Paste, Transpose and Quantise to and from any part of the music.
  • Easy to use Step record and Step play for fast note-by-note entry.
  • Tracks may be protected, turned off, named with a 16-character description.
  • Selectable time signature.
  • Change tempo, track mixes, and other musical characteristics while music plays.
  • Comprehensive, easy to follow manual.
  • Free non copy-protected disk upon registration.


SET-UP OPTIONS

MIDIsoft have included lots of very useful set-up features to save time when using the program regularly, and most of these can be adjusted or implemented under the 'Setup' menu and saved. The options are as follows:
  • Beats per Measure (1-16)
  • Lead-in Measures (0-4)
  • Clock Select (Internal or External MIDI)
  • Real-time MIDI commands (send MIDI Clock, Song Pointer, and Start/Stop; Respond to MIDI Song Pointer and Start/Stop)
  • MIDI Channel Mode (individual MIDI Channel, Omni, Poly/Mono, and Local)
  • Screen Colours
  • 'Expert' Mode (removes most of the warning messages)
  • Fast Mouse (cursor moves twice as fast)
  • Auto Rewind (rewinds to last starting point whenever recording or playing is stopped)
  • Auto Quantise
  • MIDI Sense (invokes a symbol of notes on screen whenever MIDI data is received)
  • System Exclusive Filter (removes patch dump data if transmitted on Program Change)
  • Aftertouch Filter (helps save a lot of memory!)


Also featuring gear in this article



Previous Article in this issue

ART Multiverb

Next article in this issue

How to Set Up a Home Studio


Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.

 

Sound On Sound - Jan 1989

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Gear in this article:

Software: Sequencer/DAW > MIDIsoft > Studio


Gear Tags:

Atari ST Platform

Review by Tony Wride

Previous article in this issue:

> ART Multiverb

Next article in this issue:

> How to Set Up a Home Studio


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