Proteus Editors - DR T'S Editor & IMS Protezoa
Atari ST Software
Every new synth seems to herald a new generation of software editors - and so with IMS and Dr T's Atari ST editors for E-mu's Proteus. Vic Lennard gets in shape.
Another instrument, another batch of software - so it seems to go. And with E-mu's Proteus making friends very quickly, Proteus editing software is very much in demand.
Back in November we looked at the E-mu Systems' Proteus sample reader. Good as the machine is, it suffers from a problem shared with almost every other rack-mount expander - that of clumsy front-panel editing procedures. Also like other expanders, there is software available from various third-party manufacturers intended to ease the situation. Let's have a look, then, at the visual editors available for the Atari ST.
First of all let's have a brief recap of Proteus itself: the memory is organised into presets which each have two Tones, primary and secondary, selected from 125 onboard Tones. There are a total of 192 presets - of which 64 can be front-panel programmed in terms of features such as envelope and delay - and up to four presets can be linked to effectively give you eight overlaying Tones. Proteus also boasts 32-note polyphony and 16-bit sound quality. The module's modulation facilities are particularly comprehensive, with various real-time and MIDI controller features, two LFO's and an auxiliary envelope being available. These features, along with tuning tables, patch map and multitimbral settings, justified the existence of visual editors.
DR T'S ARE already renowned for their KCS sequencer and impressive array of visual editors for the Atari ST. However, the Proteus editor breaks new ground in that it is the first of their programs to be GEM-based, and as such is compatible with the desktop accessories of other pieces of software using GEM. An Amiga version is also available.
On loading up, the editor searches for a Proteus at the other end of the MIDI highway for ten seconds, after which it loads in a default set of parameters. Hitting Return immediately achieves the same result.
In general, editing is achieved by clicking on a parameter on screen - which turns into inverse video to let you know it's active - and by grabbing the scroll bar on the left-hand side of the screen (although you don't have to actually go to the bar). Simply moving the cursor above or below the position of the slider marker anywhere on screen and dragging it up or down alters the setting - it's like having an imaginary vertical fader wherever the cursor is currently positioned.
The Dr T's editor consists of seven pages. First port of call is to the System page, from which you can set the Proteus ID number so that if you happen to have more than one of them, you can deal with them individually. Dr T's editors use an imaginary keyboard which can be played from the right-hand mouse button. The pitch increases from left to right of the screen and the velocity from bottom to top. Various play modes are available, such as individual note and glissando. Merge mode can be selected which allows you to connect a MIDI keyboard to the MIDI In of the ST and to effectively play Proteus while editing on-screen. To this end, the MIDI input can be rechannelised if needed. Randomisation percentage can be set, as can the method for numbering the MIDI notes (Yamaha number C1 as 36 while Dr T's use 24).
Preset Bank lists the 64 user-defined patches from which you can select the one to be edited. You can also copy from one slot to another or swap patch positions between banks. Up to four banks can be held in memory simultaneously and so the setting up of custom banks is easily achieved.
Most of the basic editing takes place in the Preset Edit page which has three headings: Instruments shows all parameters for primary and secondary instruments neatly laid out in block tables with the crossfade characteristics and two separate graphs for the alternate envelopes. These can be altered by grabbing the boxed corners and then moving them into the required position. MIDIpatch deals with the real-time and key modulation parameters as well as the assigning of footswitches, setting up of the two LFO's with the optional auxiliary envelope and the maximum controller amounts. And Links/Ranges shows the key ranges for the preset and the primary/secondary Tones, along with those of any presets linked in with the current one, as visual bars above a keyboard and written as notes in a block. Alterations are made by either dragging the bars to the required positions or by simply pressing the keys on a connected MIDI keyboard. Generally, there is a compare facility for checking your edits against the original sound, and you can set up a randomising mask to choose certain elements which will be altered according to the percentage set in the System page.
The multitimbral aspect of Proteus is one of its most powerful features. This is covered by the Dr T's editor on the Setup Edit page, which lets you set which preset will be played by each MIDI channel along with the output assignment, volume and pan.
Tuning Edit is the screen version of Proteus' User Tuning Table which lets you change the ratios of the pitches from one note to the next. One octave is shown at a time and the on-screen keyboard is used to select the required note. Fine tuning can be accomplished by either using 'fine' (64 steps per semitone) or 'cent' (100 steps per semitone). Once the ratios for an entire octave have been set, the 'copy octave' feature lets you duplicate this through the entire range, and should you wish to change the key then 'transpose' shifts the tuning ratios around. Unless you use this you get "sonic poop", as Dr T's put it.
Program Map sets out which preset can be selected by a MIDI patch change, while Global Edit deals with aspects which affect the overall running of Proteus - the MIDI channels on which note information and patch changes will be ignored, outputs per channel and MIDI continuous controller/footswitch selection. It would have been nice to see the latter on the Preset Edit page along with the assignments but this is a minor point.
Generally, this editor is very smooth and fast to use. Dr T's have certainly made the correct decision in changing from their proprietary system to GEM. All pages can be instantly accessed via ST keys, and the extra facilities like being able to undo the last edit and having a 'panic button' (which is effectively a notes-off and controllers reset job) are welcome. The MIDI spec of the Proteus is such that individual presets can be received as well as the global aspects, patch map, tuning table or setup and Dr T's make the most of this. Sequences are playable using the MPE facility of KCS. Finally, the Injector desktop accessory lets you transmit data to the Proteus without exiting from your GEM-based sequencer package - and the manual is as tongue-in-cheek as ever.
"The Proteus editor is the first of Dr T's programs to be GEM-based and, as such, it is compatible with other desktop accessories running under GEM."
INTERVAL MUSIC SYSTEMS (formerly called Drumware) are already known for the visual sampler editors Soundfiler and Genwave, as well as for their Kawai K1 editor on which Protezoa is based - shame about the name.
GEM-based for compatibility, the editor can have up to six banks resident in memory at one time and also has six edit buffers - so that you can switch between six presets while editing. The bottom area of the screen is taken up by a five-octave keyboard which can be shifted to encompass the complete MIDI key range. Depending on which mouse button you use to play the keyboard, you can also generate aftertouch and modulation, while a four-note chord can be set and played via a toggle switch at the side of the screen keyboard. A keyboard controller can be selected to edit any function on-screen so that, for instance, the modulation wheel may be used to alter the attack of a sound while playing it from a connected keyboard. MIDI merging of incoming note information with edits can be set, and individual banks, presets, multi setups, patch maps and tuning tables can be sent/received and saved/loaded.
All of the main editing takes place on one page, the Preset Edit screen. The fact that this appears visually uncluttered is worth a special mention, as is the graphic nature of the screen layout. Selector boxes for the real-time modulators are on the left-hand side of the screen along with the sources and destinations. A click on one of these reveals a pop-up menu so that assignments can be made, and further menus of this type exist for the key ranges and link assigns. The top of the page is like a flow chart with the input on the left and the output on the right. You can select a preset by clicking on the number below the name, and select waveforms by doing likewise to their boxes, and change parameters by clicking with the mouse. Graphics include bars for volumes and rotaries for the left/right pan position - you can even 'solo" one of the two Tones for each preset. A click on any of the three envelopes (alternate and auxiliary are both on this page) brings up a larger graph. This has five starting positions for the envelope and a toggle switch for moving between the primary and secondary Tones. It also has a facility for altering a parameter on both envelopes, and auto-crossfade so that the decay shape of the primary envelope matches the attack of the secondary - a very useful feature, this. The envelopes are altered by either dragging the corners or by using the keyboard controller feature mentioned above. Setting the range of notes is achieved by toggling the switch for either Tone or the preset and by clicking on the lowest and highest notes on the screen keyboard. Finally, clicking on the preset name brings up the attribute box with 16 adjectives from which you can select as necessary to remind you of the character of the sound at a later date. It's not as powerful as the method used by Steinberg but a lot easier to use. The Multi/Global editor looks like a 16-channel mixing desk - which is a reasonably accurate representation of the multitimbral side of Proteus. The preset name is at the top of each level slider and the pan at the bottom with the global aspects along the top of the page.
The Preset Bank shows the current set of 64 presets and a click on any of them brings up the attribute list for that preset. You can drag up to six presets to the lettered edit buffer boxes. Patch Map lets you drag and position presets into the required patch change position for MIDI program change commands, and Tune Table gives you access to the user-tuning facilities of Proteus. Protezoa displays the original and edited MIDI note numbers, key and frequency (in Hertz) and gives you four initial positions along with a 'copy octave' facility.
Personally, I've never had a penchant for random sound generators, but Rand-o-rama on Protezoa is rather different from most as it has two operating modes. The first is a straightforward randomiser for which you can choose the parameters that will be affected (mask) and the percentage by which the selected parameters will change between 'order' and 'chaos' (how appropriate). The second is an interpolator. Here you select two presets and create a sound whose parameters are in between the two. The results are far more musical than those produced with the first mode, especially if presets of a similar sound character are chosen. Either a single preset or a whole bank can be created in this way.
Copy allows you to pick one of eight blocks of parameters and copy them from any primary/secondary Tone of a preset to any other, and can be pulled down over any of the editing pages.
Perhaps it would have been easier to use Protezoa if it had been laid out as a collection of tables, but the screen layouts are very enjoyable to use - an important point when editing.
Other features of Protezoa include the ability to turn off the auto-send of edits, reversing of mouse buttons (great for C-Lab users) and an all-notes-off feature for killing 'hanging' notes. All pages and functions can be accessed from the Atari's keys and there's a desktop accessory called Loadazoa for downloading banks/presets/tuning tables and so on. while working within a GEM-based sequencer. Up and coming is a version for the Apple Mac.
Price Dr. T's Proteus Editor, £110, Ims Protezoa, £109. Both prices include VAT.
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Review by Vic Lennard