Hints, Tips & News From The World Of Music Software
It's a strange old world. You buy a computer one minute, and it's practically obsolete the next, it's happened to the best of us. Only 24 short months ago a Mac IIex was a fairly happening piece of kit, but now, while still perfectly serviceable and still doing sterling work in the name of MIDI software for the Mac, it is somewhat looked down on as second-rate, not really there.
There is no way out — if you want to be involved in hi-tech music, do your best to prepare yourself for the alarming shocks you can get when enquiring about the second-hand value of your equipment. The up-side is the creative possibilities that bigger/better/faster machines can offer, and of course the time you have with your current machine. Software is always following in the wake of what the newer machines make possible. There is a time, though, when certain existing hardware is simply not up to the demands of newer software development.
Not so long ago, when Pro24 was the leading edge of sequencer design, the fuss created when the v2 would no longer run on an Atari 520 was incredible. Talk about hate mail! The phone was hot for weeks, but such is the price of progress. Well, it's that time again. Steinberg said recently that they were no longer recommending the Mac Plus and SE for their latest crop of Cubase products. Already the complaints of abandonment are coming in. It was done with the best of reasons, but "not recommended" has been interpreted as "will not work". Not so: except in the case of the Audio versions of Cubase, the main problem is that the performance of the screen graphics is not up to the standard that Steinberg really think is practical. If you own one of these machines and are thinking of buying any state-of-the-art software, we suggest you take your Mac along to your dealer and try it yourself.
Problems are not always confined to older machines. Steinberg have information from 'people who should know' that the new Performa 600 and Mac IIvx may have difficulties in reliably talking to standard MIDI interfaces. This is a fast moving area, and in the last few weeks word has changed from "it'll never be possible" to "maybe with some work..." to "a fix is here". Steinberg decided it would be best to inform all their national distributors that there may be difficulties, and to hold back on guaranteeing 100% Mac IIvx compatibility when we weren't sure about the timing of any possible fix. Now Apple has a fix. All owners of the IIvx can get hold of a new system extension called System Enabler direct from their Apple distributor, and the problem just goes away. It's free, but as it's an Apple product it will not be available from Steinberg or their dealers.
Apple have taken a large sector of the portable computer market with their excellent PowerBooks, and the range is expanding all the time. The latest additions to the family are the PowerBook Duos 210 and 230. These take a novel approach, integrating the portable unit itself into a 'stay at home' Desktop Dock. The desktop unit (DuoDock or MiniDock) has all the extra connections that you would expect from a full-powered desktop unit, including the ADB (Apple Desktop Bus) connector which is used to connect the keyboard and mouse to desktop machines. Cubase Score uses the ADB system to connect the hardware key to the system, so without the MiniDock or DuoDock you cannot connect the key to a Duo. The same is true of Cubase Audio, but as the PowerBooks have no NuBus slots to support Digidesign hardware, this is no great loss.
Last time we started to look at some simple concepts with control sequences. Now we're going to expand on these basic ideas and try and show how some quite complex structures can be constructed. The primary function of a control sequence is to start and stop other sequences but there are many other things that can be done; you can stop a sequence playing at a specific point (with an XX event) or you can just issue a command to stop a sequence that is currently looping once it reaches it its loopback point (with an XL event) — the latter has the advantage that you don't have to work out where the sequence needs to be stopped in terms of bars, beats and steps; just place the command at any time before the stopping point that encompasses no more than a single iteration of that sequence. You can also stop events playing on a specific channel, mute and unmute sequences, trigger sequences to start at a particular timecode reference (if SMPTE is being used), transpose the pitch of either whole sequences or just material on a specific channel or pick a series of sequences to play at random and weight the probability of those sequences playing, giving some a greater chance of being played than others.
This last option has a number of interesting possibilities which have just as much relevance for 'conventional' music as it does for more esoteric forms. As a brief aside, the latest version of KCS Omega for the ST (Version 5.0), which is due for release in the next few months, features eight new event types which can randomly skip certain notes from the sequence, choose from the following pair of events, or even branch to a different point in the sequence, among other things — this last item is highly significant as it effectively divides each sequence into 99 separately addressable chunks which means that the user, instead of having only 126 sequences, now has control of nearly 12,500 sequences!
In what kind of musical situations can we use control sequences, and how do we decide when to use them? This is a little like asking how long is a piece of string — the answer is that pretty much any structural requirement can be fulfilled with control sequences. The key to their effective use is imagination; unlike more conventional sequencers, you have almost no restrictions how things are chained together. The data addressed via control sequences can be anything; single or multi-channel data, other control sequences, SysEx data are all valid for use. Next month we'll apply control sequences in building up a simple drum part.
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