Hints, Tips & News From The World Of Music Software
More hints and tips from the world of music software.
A few users have asked whether it is possible to get an extension for the Unitor SMPTE/EBU synchroniser and MIDI expander in the form of a ribbon cable, so that it can be used with a flight-cased Atari, allowing the computer to stay in the case and the Unitor outside. The official answer is no - too much RF interference, plus it is difficult to come up with a cable design that can take wear and tear, and still be totally reliable for such important functions as sync and dongle. The unofficial answer is... if anyone has made such a connector that works, please let Sound Technology know!
Every C-Lab program - sequencers and editors - is compatible with the new Atari STE range and with Stacy, both of which support the latest TOS version (though if you have a TOS 1.4 ST, until the next C-Lab update, the four naming operations in Notator and Creator (track, channel, pattern and arrange list entry) must be conducted via a keystroke, not by double-clicking as normal).
On the C-Lab editor front, the latest versions of each editor will run on the STE and Stacy; the updating of existing users of the Explorer 32 (editor/librarian for the entire Roland LA range), Explorer M1/M3 (hello Korgis!) and X-Alyzer (editor/librarian/MIDI Sample Dumper for the Yamaha DX/TX range) will occur shortly.
Unitor plugs into and operates with Stacy without any problems; the ROM port feels tighter than on the normal STs, but Unitor does not lock into the Stacy and juts out about 10mm; the ROM port is also a couple of millimetres higher than the other computers.
The combination of the Atari Stacy with C-Lab feels very good, the major benefit being the incredible portability of the computer. The double-twist LCD screen is a delight, even if there is a slight amount of blurring of the mouse pointer if it is moved fast [the technical term for this is 'submarining' - Ed.]. In a studio situation, an extra conventional monitor can be plugged in to enhance readability from a distance, and this could, for instance, be turned to face the engineer while you have the Stacy display to look at.
More on this subject since it is attracting attention. We recently stated that we did not recommend upgrading RAM with an 'off-the-shelf' kit as a means of increasing space for notes, sounds or programs etc. That is still the case: it is more reliable to buy the appropriate computer with the desired RAM than to modify your existing computer. However, the cost attraction of an upgrade is undeniable, so all we would say is: upgrade with your eyes open. Be aware of the potential pitfalls of modifying a computer, since if there is a weak link in the system, a large music sequencing program will seek it out!
The new SIMMs (Single In-line Memory Modules) used in the STE and Stacy allow upgrades to be conducted more easily and cheaply than before. Our reservations still stand, though there may be a different situation with this type of memory. It is early days yet, and no-one can tell how the new upgrades are going to behave. If you decide to go ahead, just ensure you have a guarantee that states that the upgrade is fit for the purpose for which it is intended (music squencing etc). If you are the proud owner of a successful upgrade - great! We wish that every upgrade was as successful, because it would help many users to take advantage of the latest C-Lab developments, such as Soft Link without having to consider selling their 1040. The bottom line is: let the buyer beware!
After much backroom politicking and plotting, Atari have put their backing behind a multitasking environment which they are currently calling 'MIDI-Tasking'. Developed by a third-party software house, its intention is to bring together all the software houses under one compatible standard - a good idea in principle, so long as the practicalities can be worked out. This will take some months, but C-Lab have declared their intention to do what is possible to make Soft Link compatible with the intended standard.
This C-Lab hardware peripheral allows up to four copy-protect keys from any manufacturer to be plugged in simultaneously. It is useful in two situations: firstly, for people who have the 1040 ST and wish to be able to operate Notator or Creator, then to quit and load up an editor which requires a different dongle. In this situation, the key (dongle) is already plugged in, and all you have to do is press the switch on the top (cunningly disguised as the C-Lab logo!) to light the LED next to the relevant port before starting the new program (no need to switch off between programs).
Secondly, Combiner becomes automated if used within the Soft Link environment (for ST computers with two megabyte RAMs upwards). The switching between the dongle ports becomes automatic when you switch between the Soft Link partitions.
Dongles must be inserted (as you would expect) with the labels facing you, ie. whatever was face-up in the ROM port is face-towards-you in Combiner.
Some mixing consoles are able to automate their muting via a MIDI interface. There are different ways of doing this. Some manufacturers use (misuse?) MIDI Controller messages to transmit the data: if a number of desk channels are simultaneously muted, a number of Controller messages are transmitted at the same time. If the Creator or Notator 'Data Reduction' function in menu 'Flags' is active (which it normally is), then some of these simultaneous Controllers will be filtered out and not recorded. In this extreme case, switch off 'Data Reduction'. In any other situation 'Data Reduc- tion' works a treat by removing MIDI Controller data that it considers to be superfluous, so long as the Controller effect remains the same.
The sudden launch of the new range of Atari STE computers has caused quite a few headaches for the various companies involved in music software. The changes in the STE mainly affect the mouse operation on programs like Pro24 (it became impossible to double-click on certain screen buttons, eg. the Drum Edit maps).
We now have STE compatible versions for Cubase, Pro24, Twelve and all the main editors. If you have an STE, just send your Master disk to Evenlode Soundworks and we will update you with the STE version.
The utility program Satellite (available in Cubase) is still causing an undue amount of enquiries considering its simplicity. The main difficulty users are having is in understanding what a desk accessory is and how it is loaded. The manual does explain how to change Satellite into a .PRG file, so that it becomes a standalone program just like Cubase itself, but that defeats the main object of Satellite.
If the SATELLITE file is present on the root directory of the current start-up drive with the file extension .ACC, it will be available during Cubase's operation. So what is a Root Directory?
A Root Directory is the outermost level of a disk. When you double-click on a floppy disk icon, the window that is drawn on the screen is a graphic representation of the Root Directory of that drive. If you can see the SATELLITE.ACC file on this level, then it is in the right place ready to be loaded. It is only loaded, however, if that disk is present in the disk drive during the Atari switch-on process. Hence it is your 'start-up' disk. If you own a hard disk (as opposed to a floppy), the start-up drive is normally drive C:, so make sure that Satellite is on that drive.
Satellite was provided originally in a desktop folder called 'Satellite', to prevent it from being loaded by default. You may find it easier to copy the SATELLITE file inside this folder to another formatted disk. On latest releases of Cubase the SATELLITE file is stored in the right place ready to load but the filename is deliberately spelt wrong to prevent it from loading automatically. To make it load, simply add the missing letter 'C' to the end of the filename (taking it from SATELLITE.AC to SATELLITE.ACC) using the Show Info command in the Atari's menu bar on the desktop. If you don't know what this is, read your Atari owner's manual again!
Once you are up and running with Satellite, I have something rather more interesting to talk about - advanced functions. Satellite has many uses: from the simple dumping of System Exclusive files to the very advanced configuration files. What Satellite will do with our Synthworks files is access them by the name of the component sounds, not just the filename. Additionally, the output specification can be saved along with the Synthworks type so that the right dump is sent on the right MIDI channel to the right MIDI output. With Synthworks files you can also use the Macro editor to change the parameters. All these are sent to the target synths while your MROS sequencer is playing or while your non-MROS sequencer is stopped.
The edited sound can be sent to Cubase and 'glued' to the current record track at the current song time. Simple stuff.
The advanced functions of Satellite revolve around the Total Recall functions. Imagine 50 synths all needing the right System Exclusive (SysEx) dump before a song is played. If you use the Join To Configuration command, up to 50 file specifications (where it is on disk) can be assembled into a CNF file. If you select 'Total Recall' the Item Selector is shown and the total configuration will be sent out to your synths automatically.
One additional feature of Satellite, when used with Cubase, is that the name of any configuration can be passed through to Cubase. Once Cubase knows that an appropriate CNF file exists for that song, every time you load the song Cubase asks whether you want to send all the dumps to all the synths.
Two quick points to halt some phone calls, I hope. The files created on disk by the Satellite Dump Utility are given the file extension .BNK. These are transmitted on the same page by clicking on a button with the cryptic title 'Transmit'. These files cannot be edited with the Macro editor because the files could contain anything, in any order. That's the whole point of SysEx files. The reason why the Macro editor (and individual access to named voices) can work at all is that the Synthworks files are Steinberg's own and we know where the relevant 'bits' are. These .BNK files can take part in the Total Recall procedure.
The biggest addition to Cubase V1.5 was the MIDI Manager. The use of this page can be as complex as you want it to be. Setting up, however, is comparatively simple but appears to be causing some users problems. To create any object on a blank MIDI Manager, just use the 'New' tool and the Object dialogue box is drawn. To keep things very simple, follow these steps:
Go to the box marked 'Status Byte' and select Ctrl.Change. Now go to the line just below and click on it. The cursor will move to that line. Edit it so that it says B0,07,XX. This has now put a MIDI Main Volume command as the output for this object.
At the top of the screen is the Instrument: Channel: Output box. Set the channel to marry up with one of your MIDI devices. Click on OK, if the object is moved with the pointing hand, MIDI Controller 7 (Volume) is sent out from Cubase. This is the MIDI Master Volume command, and as it is moved the volume of your MIDI device will change accordingly. Some older MIDI keyboards unfortunately don't implement this command, and remember that it is a Controller (like any other) and is therefore specific to each MIDI channel (1-16). There is no such thing as a global MIDI 'All Volumes' command, but you could use the MIDI Manager's Group function to achieve this.
Such graphic control of the output levels of your keyboards is fine, but this is only the start of what the MIDI Manager can do. If the whole screen is put into Write mode, then the changes are remembered. You do not use the Record button. The Fast Forward and Rewind controls do work, however, and it is fascinating to watch the animated controls playing fast-backwards... Well I liked it!
That's about it for the simple use of the MIDI Manager, but remember two things: (i) further objects are simply multiplications of this setting up process, and (ii) remember to have the right MIDI Manager page present to play with a song.
A couple of reminders about new mouse functions to finish with. In the Arrange window, double clicking on a part with the [Shift] key held down selects all the parts on that track. If the [Shift] key is held, the Drag Box can be started anywhere in the Arrange window - not just in free space.
The new Trackman II manual is now available. This incorporates all the relevant documentation to date plus new and expanded sections where appropriate. The new manual is supplied in a padded sleeved ring-binder and so is able to accept further updates.
The latest release of Trackman includes a special facility for controlling audio mixers. MIDI control of channel mutes is appearing on an increasing number of products. The Tascam MM1, for example, is a 19" rack-mounting keyboard mixer with this facility, and is becoming very popular. MIDI mute automation is also being incorporated into Tascam Portastudios (644 and 688 models).
These new products use MIDI Note-On messages to allow control by external sequencers. As most sequencers do not chase Note-On messages, this causes problems - start in the middle of a song and the mutes are wrong! Trackman solves this problem by controlling the mutes from its existing automation system.
Another benefit of this system is that the mute settings are remembered automatically for each sequence. You no longer need to keep a separate record of which mute preset belongs with each piece of music.
New parameters in the 'Set Controllers' dialogue box allow you to assign tracks to mixer channels. It is possible to automate the whole mixer or just one section. The interface parameters for particular mixers are easily set up and Trackman remembers them for future use.
A number of changes have also been made to enhance the performance of Trackman, and to correct a couple of very minor problems reported since the release of Trackman II. The audio mixer control update (Version 2.1 disk and documents) cost £10. Trackman II manual plus audio mixer control update is £29 (both include VAT and postage). For further information contact Hollis Research.
MIDI timing problems are widely misunderstood. Much has been written, a great deal of which is apocryphal. This month's column shows how you can minimise timing problems, and explains the MIDI delay myth.
MIDI itself is not very fast and often proves to be the limiting factor in determining how accurate the timing is. Typical of this is the well known problem of many notes being played simultaneously. In fact, they are not. Each note takes about 1ms (millisecond), or sometimes a little less due to running status. Typically, 20 'simultaneous' notes are spread over an 17ms time period. To get some idea of how long this is, try entering a 17ms delay time on an echo unit; it sounds like mild ADT (automatic double tracking). The problem generally manifests itself on drum parts, making them sound ragged. There are two things you can do to minimise this problem:
1. Use Trackman's auxiliary MIDI port for the drum parts. The auxiliary port timing is slightly better than the main port. More importantly, the MIDI data is now shared between two ports, which can greatly improve the overall timing.
2. Select 'Note Priority' from Trackman's Options menu. Click on the DO IT button. Do this while the sequence is playing and you will immediately hear the difference. Click UNDO/REDO repeatedly to compare it with the original, while the sequence plays. Note Priority changes the order of the MIDI data so that the drum parts are always sent first. It further optimises the data so that non-critical events are sent last and, after dealing with the drum tracks, sends the other track data in ascending order. You can take advantage of this by putting any critical instrument, such as a slap bass, on a low number track before invoking the Note Priority function.
There is a popular misconception about MIDI Thru outputs causing delays. A MIDI Thru output is, according to the official MIDI Specification, "an output which provides a direct copy of data coming in MIDI in." This is perfectly unambiguous and indeed the Specification shows a diagram of a little circuit that accomplishes just this. The circuit is labelled 'MIDI Standard Hardware'.
The kind of delay caused by this hardware is completely inaudible. A typical case, say a DX7 Mk1, causes a delay of around two microseconds. A well designed MIDI Thru, such as the Hinton Instruments MIDIX, achieves a 'delay of less than 200 nanoseconds! This tenfold improvement over the DX7 is due to high speed opto-isolators.
The only significant problems caused by this tiny MIDI Thru delay are additive rise/fall time errors, which affect the shape of the MIDI data waveform. When you cascade (daisy chain) several MIDI data errors, the waveform becomes so distorted that the last synth in the MIDI chain cannot make sense of it. This generally manifests itself as strange 'MIDIosyncrasies' that are difficult to track down. For instance, moving the pitch bend wheel on your master keyboard might cause an expander to change program.
Virtuoso Version 1.1 is now complete and being shipped. Contact The Digital Muse if you do not receive your update within the next few weeks.
The Virtuoso Modular Operating System, or VMOS for short, has now been fully implemented. Each of the items on the Virtuoso Main Menu is now a separate module - even the Quit option. Extra modules can be installed, as they become available, or existing modules that you do not use removed to save memory. If there are more modules installed than can be shown in the menu bar, then pressing the Atari [Alternate] key will show the further menu options.
Modules can also be installed as Virtual Modules. Virtual modules can still be selected from the Main Menu, but are not held in memory permanently. When selected the module is immediately loaded from disk, and can then be used as normal. When another Virtual Module is selected, the previous one is replaced in memory by the new one. Installing some of the least used modules as Virtual Modules will save more memory for musical data, while still enabling use of all Virtuoso's features.
With the Remote Control function you can control Virtuoso from your master keyboard. This will save you having to keep moving between keyboard and computer as you record your music. There are 46 different functions that can be controlled, including Stop, Play and Record, change Blocks/Tracks/Zones/Cues, Tempo changes, Copy/Chop/Wipe, and even the Panic! button.
The Remote Control settings are found on the Setup Page, and to set them to your requirements just choose two keys that are out of the range of normal playing, eg. the two highest keys on your master keyboard. Set the Master Event and Shift Event keys (in the boxes at the top of the page) to these notes. In the box below, the remote functions and the notes that control them are listed. The notes can be set to those that are convenient for you, and need not be out of your playing range, as the remote control functions will only operate when either the Master Event or Shift Event key is held down while the required remote function key is pressed.
When using just the one Block for a song, the Block commands (Copy, Cycle, Chop, Wipe and Insert) are important to allow you to transfer data to other places in the song. Remember that the left button will do the operation to just the selected track, while the right button will do the operation to all active tracks.
As an example of how quick and easy it is to use these functions, let us assume that you have just recorded a four-bar section, with the left and right Zone Markers set to 001:00:00:000 and 005:00:00:000 respectively. Click with the right mouse button on the switch to the left of the right Zone Marker, then click with the right mouse button on the Copy Button. With just two mouse clicks you have now doubled the length of your recorded section. You could double it again with two more clicks, this time using the left mouse button on the right Zone Marker Switch, and then clicking with the right button on Copy.
All the other Main Panel processes work in a similar way, so try them out and you will soon become confident with these extremely quick and useful functions.
There will be a module for Virtuoso available shortly which will allow full score editing and printing. In the meantime, if you need to print out the work you have done with Virtuoso as musical notation, you can make use of Virtuoso's MIDI File compatibility. A song saved as a MIDI File can be loaded into any other MIDI File compatible scorewriter, and the printing done from this.
Most score printing programs, however, are rather too expensive to be bought just to tide you over, but we do recommend Dr.T's Copyist Apprentice, which costs only £79.95, is MIDI File compatible, and which we have found works excellently with Virtuoso.
PLEASE NOTE: Product information contained within these pages is supplied directly by the software manufacturers, their UK distributors or agents. The intention is to provide a 'bulletin board' service for SOS readers who own or use software for any type of computer. Although we will occasionally publish new product information, the intention is to publicise update/upgrade news, bug fixings, hints and tips about any piece of software and computer peripherals. It is therefore up to all software companies to keep us posted.