Software for the Atari ST
If your music's been demanding a Steinberg sequencer but your pocket's been denying you Pro24, this new budget package could be your salvation. Baby talk: Vic Leonard.
Impressed by Steinberg's Pro24 but hoping to spend a lot less on your sequencing software? Twelve has many of Pro 24's features but less of its price tag.
THE NAME OF STEINBERG has been synonymous with computer sequencing from the days of their Pro 16 (for the Commodore 64). But from the moment that the Atari ST appeared on the scene, it was obvious that it was an ideal machine for running music software. Steinberg responded by introducing Pro24 - heavily bugged at first, but now used by tens of thousands of musicians. Pro24 remained the only industry-standard sequencing software until the release of C-Lab's Creator; now there are a variety of highly-specified packages to choose from.
Since its introduction, Pro24 has undergone a series of upgrades improving its facilities. Unfortunately, increased facilities require increased computer memory, consequently the last couple of versions of Pro24 have been just too much for the Atari 520 to handle. Add to this the fact that Steinberg have no entry-level sequencer, and the arrival of the 12-track Steinberg Twelve seems to have been almost inevitable.
WHERE'S THE DONGLE? This is the second consecutive program from Steinberg which has had its protection on the disk (the first was the tutorial The Ear). The main page is immediately recognisable as being a member of the Pro24 version 3.0 family, exhibiting the same graphic representations - except that there are 12 tracks instead of 24. And with fewer tracks to show on this page, certain oft-used functions which would normally have been accessed by a menu are present at all times - namely MIDI click note/channel and MIDI definitions (which allow the filtering out of certain MIDI data at input like pitch-bend and aftertouch).
As most potential takers of Twelve are unlikely to be familiar with Pro24 (on which Twelve is modelled), here is a quick run-through.
There are 12 Tracks, each of which may hold from a single note to a complete song - in very general terms it may be considered as a 12-track tape recorder. And in keeping with this analogy, it has individual meters and standard tape machine control functions as well as the ability to solo or mute any particular Track and change the tempo of a song.
Each Track is comprised of patterns which are recorded between left (start) and right (end) locators. To record, say, eight bars of piano, set the left locator to 9/1/0 or alternatively, if the song has already been mapped out bar-wise and you know exactly where this piano part is to be situated, the locators can be set accordingly. This Pattern can then be copied further along the same Track or into a different position on another Track by setting the destination in the box underneath the locators, and dragging it to the new Track.
Recording not tight enough? Or full of errors? Quantise will move all notes to the nearest selected note value and can be undone (like recall buffer on Pro24) while selecting Score Edit from the Pattern menu brings up the other main page - the visual editor, in score form. This allows notes to be changed, inserted, deleted, and generally messed about with on either a one- or two-stave setting. It also facilitates keyboard entry, where all notes appear as eighths and have to have their note value altered manually.
Two important functions are Mastertrack, allowing tempo and time signature changes to be made through a song, and Arrange Song, which allows patterns to be ordered by a control Track, so removing the necessity to copy Patterns into their correct positions. This is coupled with the switch labelled Mode on the front page, which, when toggled, will switch from Tape to Sequencer.
Other facilities include removing information from a Pattern outside set locators (Cut Pattern), globally cutting or inserting time in all 12 Tracks unless muted, and Cycle Record mode which permits data to be overdubbed in cycles (in drum machine-fashion) or recorded until a satisfactory take occurs.
"The ability to manipulate Patterns has always been a strong point of the Pro24, but the budget considerations of Twelve have seen these curtailed."
It would be fair to say that Twelve is a cut-down version of Pro24 with no new functions added - so what is missing?
ALL SEQUENCERS HAVE one aspect in common - they "record" incoming MIDI information to a certain resolution, and only principally differ in their approaches to editing that data. In this respect, Steinberg have decided that if one method of visual editing is to exist then it should be that of the music stave - there is no grid editor or drum pattern page.
Now, on the Score Edit page, there doesn't appear to be a great deal of difference between Twelve and Pro24 at first sight. Step entry, split staves and quantising to 32nd-note resolution are all there, along with the ability to alter velocity - very important as this is the only editing page. But some of the more useful functions of Pro24 have been omitted - there's no fast forward/rewind, no ability to enter position, limited facilities for quantisation and no clipboard for temporarily storing a particular section of the score. Also there is no print option for the score apart from doing a full screen dump using the system built into the Atari ST (pressing alt-help). If your intention is to put together a complete score, this is going to slow you down.
The ability to manipulate Patterns has always been a strong point of Pro24, but the budget considerations of Twelve have seen these curtailed. Patterns can no longer be split or appended to, repeated or extended, and the mixdown facility for combining Tracks in a similar fashion to a tape machine has also disappeared. This last function, while being rather tedious to use, is one I'd like to have seen kept, especially as the number of tracks has now been reduced.
Other functions which have bitten the dust are multi and free copy, the latter of which has made life a lot easier for Pro24 users since its inclusion in version 3.0, and "Where am I?" - Steinberg's version of the British Isles motorway atlas for Pro24, showing the relative situations of all 24 tracks.
STEINBERG TOOK A lot of stick over the illegible manual they produced for Pro24, even from devotees of the software. Happily, they have attempted to ensure that the same problem doesn't occur with the new Twelve. The manual is well laid out and written for the beginner, making constant reference to the example patterns and songs on the master disk. As such, it's beyond reproach, although it would have been nice to see an index at the front and a higher quality paper used, as it is likely to disintegrate under the kind of treatment it's likely to receive in "studio" use.
"Upward compatibility is a feature of Twelve, but Steinberg have gone one better - write songs on Pro24 and they can be loaded into little brother."
If you'd opted to buy Twelve as an entry-level sequencer and subsequently wanted to "go upmarket" with Pro24, it would be reassuring to know your labours could be transferred to the more powerful program. It would also make sense for Steinberg to tempt you to buy their pro sequencer rather than someone else's. And so upward compatibility is a feature of Twelve, but Steinberg have gone one better by granting the same facility the other way around - write songs on Pro24 and you can load the first 12 tracks into little brother - except for functions that don't exist, of course. Steinberg's scoring program, Masterscore, will also accept Twelve's song files.
A particular kind of key disk copy protection has been used, which in layman's terms, means that Twelve may not load up on certain Atari machines due to the tolerances of the disk drive. Unless Steinberg change their copy protection there is no way round this problem - if it won't load on your machine, tough luck.
On the subject of the disk, a desktop copy of the master disk can be made and inserted when asked for, so saving the wear on the master, but the program asks for this key every time you go to the score Edit Page - which is likely to be very often. This tends to promote the habit of leaving the master in the disk drive at all times, which is not a good practice.
THE QUESTION HAS to be, who is Twelve aimed at? Functionally entry-level in many respects, it would have been significantly different from its big brother with just the exclusion of grid/drum/logical edit and the score print option, without further watering-down of functions, especially those that have made the sequencer more user-friendly in the past. Still, budget is budget.
Registered dealers will be bundling Twelve in free with an Atari 1040, but not with the 520, which is surely the machine which it should be pointed at (especially as schools are part of the potential target market, now the new GCSEs are incorporating electronic music within their syllabi).
Circumstances have changed significantly since the introduction of Pro24. There are now a dozen sequencer program options available for the Atari for less than £200. Carrying an RRP of £129, Twelve is keeping some talented company - Passport's Mastertracks Junior at £99 and Midisoft Studio at £114. And not far behind are the true budget programs: Hybrid Arts' EZ-Track+ at £60, Michtron's Super Conductor at £50 and Soundbits' Track 24 at £75. Got the picture? It is also getting close in price to Hybrid Arts' Edit-Track which has 60 tracks and both event and flowing grid editors for £180.
I also understand that dealers are going to credit Twelve users £50 towards Pro24 should they decide to upgrade - a policy already in use with the Hybrid Arts range of sequencers.
I'd have to think carefully before I opted to go out and buy Twelve off the shelf, but if I were buying an Atari 1040 and found this hiding amongst the freebie goodies, I'd feel that it was the cherry on the top (in much the same way as I did with First Word - the plus version of which this review is written on). On the other hand, if I was in the market for a computer-based sequencer, Twelve might even be the reason I chose the Atari...
Price £129 including VAT
More from Evenlode Soundworks, (Contact Details).
Review by Vic Lennard
Previous article in this issue:
Next article in this issue:
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!