for PC Windows 3.1
Looking to take your first steps in multimedia production? Cot a PC and an idea? What are you waiting for?
Affordable multimedia - now. Ian Waugh sings for you covered in SeqWin's...
After reading so much about multimedia over the past few months - or past few years if you're real hip to the groove - you may be wondering where it's all going to end. On the other hand, you may be wondering when it's all going to start. When are we going to see affordable tools which let the average user put together successful music, sound and graphics production?
SeqWin v2/MultiMedia could be the answer. According to the designers it's intended for first-time PC users wanting to get started in MIDI, and ready to be hooked into multimedia.
Basic operation is quite simple but there are a wealth of options and facilities lurking beneath the interface. SeqWin's main musical unit is the 'phrase'. These appear on the main edit screen as rectangular bars - a system not unlike Cubase's Arrange page. Interestingly, the manufacturers swear they had the idea first. But whatever, it will come as welcome news to anyone already sold on this method of working.
The primary difference is that phrases are not limited to MIDI data. They can also hold instructions to play digital audio wave samples (sounds in Window's .WAV format), video files (in Window's .AVI format), a CD track (assuming you have a CD-ROM connected), and even a MIDI file directly from disk.
I'd normally gloss over basic sequencer functions in a review such as this in order to concentrate on the more interesting individual aspects of the program, but SeqWin's sequencer functions are in themselves rather interesting.
For example, there is no record button. As soon as you press Play, the program goes into record mode. There's no danger of recording over an existing phrase as the new recording appears in its own track at the top of the screen. After recording, you decide whether to keep it or not.
You can cut, copy, paste, clone and do all the usual manipulatory functions with phrases in order to construct your song. Most of these functions are accomplished with the left and right mouse buttons in combination with the position of the pointer in relation to the phrase. The cursor changes shape to let you know what options are available.
Editing is via a grid page or a very simple notation display - just enough to show you the pitch and position of the notes. In addition, there's a whole range of tools housed in three sets of windows - Toolbox, Switch Box and Palette - with a total of 45 icons covering most of the editing functions you're likely to need.
One of SeqWin's most interesting features is the way it handles sounds. The idea is to let you select sounds by name rather than by Program Change number. Certain other sequencers do this to an extent, but SeqWin takes it considerably further.
When installing SeqWin, you can load a number of instrument maps; in fact, you must load at least one map otherwise the program won't let you continue the installation procedure. 30 maps are supplied including seven drum maps, maps for the Ad Lib and SoundBlaster cards, General MIDI and Roland's GS devices and Yamaha's PSS range of portable keyboards.
An instrument map is basically a list of instrument names and their associated Program Change numbers. However, they also contain the MIDI channels to which they are assigned and the PC Port to which they are connected. You can assign a default sound to a recording, allowing you to bang away at a piano part, for example. You can also assign a sound to a phrase after recording by scrolling through the list in your instrument map.
The sounds are arranged alphabetically, which is useful. You can also view the names by description via a list of similar instruments such as pianos or strings. If you load a file which contains different instruments to those in the current map, SeqWin will find replacements based on the instrument descriptions. Again, this is very useful.
It's also possible to add and amend instruments if your setup changes. This involves entering a name, a description (an instrument group such as Piano, Woodwind, Ethnic and so on) and the instrument definition - ie. the MIDI Driver, the MIDI channels it can use, transpose and velocity values and so on. This is a very powerful feature indeed and far more sophisticated than merely linking program names with program numbers. That said, it may well seem rather daunting to a beginner trying to set it up.
OK, let's get to the multimedia part of the program. SeqWin lets you create phrases containing multimedia 'triggers' using the Create Special Phrase option. These include adding an embedded wave sample, media clip (from an audio CD or video) or a tempo change - the latter placed at the top of the arrangement.
To use a multimedia file you simply use the selector to browse through your disc until you find the file you want. There's no need to enter any tortuous MCI commands. You can copy, move and clone these phrases just like any other phrase and integrate them with your MIDI sequence. Wave samples may be recorded in real time; with a good quality sound card you could, for example record a vocal over a MIDI backing.
There are a range of simple editing facilities for .WAV files such as filtering and adding echo, but it's not possible to cut and paste the actual sample itself.
Of course, when combining MIDI with video and audio in this way, you have to remember the limitations of your PC system. High quality samples require lots of memory and if a video file contains audio data there will be a conflict between it and the sample file. Also, these phrases are timed in minutes and seconds unlike MIDI data which runs in bars and beats. You need to be aware of this if you think you may want to alter the tempo of a song at a later date.
SeqWin has a host of interesting extra functions designed to make life easy. For example, it saves your work automatically - allowing you to specify how often this takes place, or whether the function is switched off altogether. Also, after quitting and booting up again, it will offer you the last unsaved file you were working on.
The program can be extended via Phrase Extension modules so you can sequence different types of information. The main ones such as MIDI, digital audio, CD playback and video are all supplied, of course, but it's nice to know the system may be further expanded.
SeqWin also supports simple System Exclusive editors. Two are supplied with the program - for the E-mu Sound Engine and the Roland D series. These are actually Windows DLLs (small independent programs) and the enthusiastic Windows programmer with a knowledge of C can write his/her own. Details are supplied in the Help file.
A whole menu is devoted to changing the colours and fonts of SeqWin's various windows and displays. Again, it's nice to be able to customise, but I do think this function would be better hidden away behind a single menu option.
The manual is very informative but a little techy in places and has no index. It could be arranged a little better, too. Raw beginners will have to pore through it slowly if they are to avail themselves of the info and advice. But pore through it they must: despite the on-screen help, this is a program that takes a little getting used to.
And for all its good, nay, excellent points, there a few aspects which could be improved - such as the addition of a count-in or pre-roll facility. Also, although you can alter the size of the grid on the main screen, using a setting of less than four bars causes the bar numbers to squash up. You can't actually zoom in on the phrases, either, which is a nuisance, especially as the size of one and two-bar phrases makes them rather awkward to arrange.
Although there is a Setup file which contains lots of default settings, there are several parameters it doesn't save such as the settings for converting MIDI files. SeqWin has a myriad of options for loading and saving MIDI files and while these will be useful to some users, the majority simply want to load or save the things. A facility to call up these options in an advanced setup window would help avoid possible confusion.
Also, in spite of the range of options, the manual doesn't tell you which to select to save in Format 0 or 1. Neither does SeqWin support MIDI Song Position Pointers or MIDI Time Code. This won't be much of a loss to most users, but MTC is sometimes used to sync internal programs running concurrently within Windows.
OK, so I'm whinging a bit. But these are all thoughts which came to mind while using the program. Although the designers make no claims for SeqWin being a professional sequencer, it could certainly be made more 'pro' by a little extra attention being paid to the interface. This would make it easier for beginners, too.
SeqWin is quite a sophisticated piece of software and requires a corresponding degree of knowledge and ability from the user - not only to set it up but also to get the most out of it.
It is, however, a multimedia sequencer in every sense of the word and that will undoubtedly be its main appeal. Anyone involved with presentation work would certainly do well to check it out. For the aspiring muso armed with a video card, there seems no reason why they could not combine sound and vision to produce an acceptable music video - although I doubt if it's going to worry Steven Spielberg.
SeqWin is an excellent product at the price. It's great fun and it brings together sound and vision in a way which would have been beyond our means only a couple of years ago.
|Ease of use||A touch techy|
|Originality||The first major multimedia sequencer|
|Value for money||All this and a sequencer, too!|
|Star Quality||Lights, camera, action...|
|Price||SeqWin v27MultiMedia £129, SeqWin £99, MIDI Master Plus £29, |
Upgrade to SeqWin v2/MultiMedia from SeqWin £40.
All prices inc. VAT and delivery
|More from||Lowrie Woolf Associates Ltd, (Contact Details)|
Review by Ian Waugh
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