If you’re tired of playing keyboards and want a more imaginative way to create music, then this mouse-driven MIDI controller may prove an ideal alternative. Martin Russ investigates.
When I reviewed MIDIGrid and MIDIDraw [SOS May 1989], I commented on how these two programs turned the Atari ST computer into a new and very different type of musical instrument. Mousterpiece, from the American MIDImouse Music company, takes some of these ideas and adds them to a comprehensive MIDI controller.
The basic idea behind Mousterpiece is to provide a three-dimensional MIDI controller: two directions are controlled by horizontal and vertical mouse movements, the third is obtained by using the left and right mouse buttons to increment or decrement the extra dimension. In order to graphically represent a 3D space the screen shows the two main axes crossing in the centre, with the third dimension indicated by a square which changes size as you move back and forth along that axis. This works much better in reality than it sounds on paper!
Mousterpiece provides an example of what can be achieved for you to try - 'maps' (10 on a 1040ST, five on a 520ST) can be called up by pressing the function keys (F1, F2, etc). Each map sets how the axes are defined - the term 'map' gives away the major purpose here, because each of the three axes can be set to map to notes, velocity, aftertouch, program changes, pitch bend, modulation wheel, breath control, etc.
The 10 examples tend to concentrate on the possibilities using notes - so you get all sorts of three-note chords, scales and modes to play around with. The real power is only hinted at by a couple of the examples - one controls volume with position, for instance. Using Mousterpiece to control notes is further enhanced by the provision of two sequencers. Ten steptime sequences of up to 2000 notes can be entered from the ST's keyboard or from an external MIDI controller (synthesizer, MIDI guitar, etc), whilst the real-time recorder is used to capture any performance that employs the mouse as a controller.
The step-time sequencer can be programmed to play notes at the same time as the mouse is used to control MIDI parameters; thus you can try out notes, controllers or any other mapping against a pre-recorded sequence. You can enter notes and rests in a variety of ways, and choose between the real-time or step-time sequencer with the Atari's numeric keys, located just below the function keys. Due to the problems of outputting large amounts of MIDI data fast enough, the step-time sequences do tend to slow down when you use rapid mouse movements - so this is really only a way of trying out ideas. However, since it is possible to store the results of your realtime recordings and to convert them into standard MIDI files using a supplied extra program, you can incorporate 'mousterpieces' in your sequenced masterpieces.
Mousterpiece uses a variation on GEM to prevent accidental access to the menu bar. This makes some of the editing and control features awkward to access and use, and the layout of the menu is unusual too. The 'feel' of the editing/menu side of the program definitely suffers from the attention which has been concentrated on making the mouse/MIDI control so smooth and efficient - the response to 'OK' buttons seemed to be rather unreliable, for example. When using the mouse for three-dimensional control, the Atari's QWERTY keyboard is used to control the program functions, so you can make rapid changes by using both hands simultaneously — the commands are often mnemonic: 'P' for play, 'R' for record, for example.
There are also a number of performance short-cuts. The left and right cursor keys can be slow in moving from one end of the range to the other, so a Snap Zoom feature lets you use the bottom row of alphabetic keys to select any value you have set. Controller information can be channelised - in fact, the controllers can each be on any of the 16 MIDI channels. Pressing the letter 'O' will transmit the All Notes Off message, or - if things are really bad — the minus key will send a Note-Off message for each note number, on each channel; this should eventually stop any hanging notes.
Editing lets you create your own mapping between the axes and MIDI. You can include any MIDI message you like, even up to 127 System Exclusive messages. As with the performance mode, there are several utilities which can help you create scales, copy or replicate parts of the map, fill a section with a specific value, transpose and reverse, etc. You can save maps, sequences and any other useful information to disk with a very helpful extra dialogue box, which always precedes the normal file selector. Additional map sets are also available from MIDImouse Music.
Despite the over-enthusiastic advertising copy on the back of the ring binder for Mousterpiece, this is actually a comprehensive MIDI Controller mapper. The compositional possibilities are similar to those of Intelligent Music's MIDIDraw and somewhat limited in comparison to MIDIGrid - but as a sophisticated three-axis MIDI Controller, Mousterpiece takes some beating. If you are looking for a solution to a complex MIDI control problem, then try looking at Mousterpiece!
Protobase Ltd, (Contact Details).
Review by Martin Russ