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Opcode Vision

Article from The Mix, October 1994

Sequencing software for Mac

Never ones to stand on sequencing ceremony, Mac users have appreciated the user-friendliness of systems like Cubase and Opcode. Now Version 2 of Opcode Vision exploits the possibilities of windows. Danny McAleer flings them all open and declares himself refreshed...

Vision might not have a drum editor, but the Graphic and Notation windows manage well on their own.

Recently discharged from the Opcode beauty clinic, with a montage of extra features plastered onto its quite appealing visage, is this new version of Vision. It's cased in an inordinately huge box, presumably so as to house the biblical-sized manuals that accompany the sequencing software and its partner in crime, the Galaxy editor and librarian.

Vision 2.0 requires a minimum of four megabytes of RAM for simple use, though as ever, more memory equals greater flexibility. Actually, more than the obligatory four megabytes is essential if you are going to want to access the accompanying Galaxy librarian software, or customise your OMS set up, whilst in the Vision software itself. Fortunately, virtual RAM seems to work just fine, even on the LCIII, so you needn't rush out just yet for some SIMMs.

Boring preliminaries

After feverishly tearing off the cellophane in anticipation of new adventures in sequencing, you may be disappointed with Opcode's somewhat lengthy initialisation process. It might not sentence you to double detention or enrol you in all the after school chess club, but it does require you to first install Opcode's MIDI System (OMS). This may seem like a bit of a waste of time (it did to me at first), as most other sequencing packages manage fine without a separate system file, but the importance of OMS becomes ever so apparent later on.

It's a powerful system that allows you to customise your working set up. By specifying every last piece of equipment in your MIDI studio set up, OMS can then act as a gateway to an infinite number of MIDI channels via several types of interfaces, completely bypassing the slower, processor-hungry Apple MIDI manager. This way, it provides a sleek single driver where otherwise many would have to be used.

Joining up all your MIDI bits - Sounds like a job for OMS.

To begin with, you can just select a simple set up template that lists no specific equipment, but allows a standard MIDI interface to be connected via the printer and/or modem ports. This can be customised at any point in the future, so unlike a mortgage plan, there's no inflexibility or morbid regret at having committed yourself so early on.

Should the idiosyncrasies of your current software make the transition to a new program seem ever so difficult, help is at hand. On top of a reference manual which makes 'War & Peace' look like light bed time reading, the program itself has on-line help, via a key combination and selection of the offending obscure function with a deft click of the mouse. This brings up a window, explaining fully what this function does, before you do something irreversible to your work.

If like me, you're too idle or impatient to rifle through an inch-thick manual, then it is quite fortunate that Opcode are sensible enough to provide you with a quick-start guide with an excellent tutorial, which explains most things you're likely to need to get started quickly.

Fixing the mix with the Faders window.

Action stations

That's enough rambling about manuals and systems, what's really important is the software itself. I must admit that it fares quite well. It's certainly a big improvement on the first version of Vision. As with most Mac applications, all the windows can be shuffled around to suit the most pedantic so-and-so's working idioms (or idiots? - Ed). In fact, the whole appearance is much friendlier and conducive to creation, utilising the tried and tested Cubase method of sequencing with moveable graphic blocks.

Where it does differ is in taking a more aesthetic approach, replacing the textual label with something that looks like a nursery school painting of someone's house. These 'doodles' actually graphically represent the note data stored within each chunk, which takes a little getting used to. It isn't as informative as text, but then I bet not everybody names their individual parts anyway - I know I don't!

The rest of the working environment is made up of a 'sequence window' and the transport bar.

The Sequence window is where sections of music can be combined together into more manageable chunks. For example, a chorus consisting of drums, bass, chords, and a vocal part can be merged into a 'chorus' block which can then be simply moved around, avoiding the need for multiple copying and pasting.

All the buttons for operation are here, plus the instrument and MIDI channel select menus.

The Transport bar contains the usual tape controls; play, stop, record, ffwd and rewind, plus a 'play from start' button which fills the place of the absent 'zero' button more than adequately. From this window, the recording options can be accessed. Vision 2.0 offers four ways to input your music: real-time replace or overdub, and step input replace or overdub. The former needs no introduction, but the 'step' input I think is worthy of a mention.

Unlike Cubase, it is accessed from within the main arrangement window and not from the key edit or such like. Pressing 'record' when you have either of the step input options selected, opens up a window to define the manner in which your prodding will be interpreted by Vision. Velocity and length can be defined, and you're also able to alter the duration of the note inputted.

Cheesy quavers

For example, you could program it to quavers and have the length of these quavers as semi-quavers (measured as a percentage -50%) to create something more staccato. It's a bit slow to update, so don't go inputting notes to quickly else, or you will end up with huge clusters of notes rather than the desired arpeggiated figure.

The metronome and clock sync functions are also on the transport bar, though for more customising of both these functions, you have to delve into one of the menus. The click isn't set up to correspond with a GM drum kit which is odd (unless you use that irritating whirry noise as a timekeeping device) but not really a problem. Perhaps this is good, as it invites you into a page where you can select a new timbre for your click.

Selections are played as you pass over them, so you can be assured that you picked the right sound. Still, the internal Mac speaker does a fine job by itself. The metronome can be set up to play whilst recording or on playback, or both.

Supplied with Vision is a DNA groove demo to try out.

To record a track, the small record button corresponding to the track must first be activated. You can choose from a standard count-in, which can be anything up to ninety-nine bars (quite why, I have no idea...), or a 'wait note' function that starts recording when you first hit a key, or twiddle a modulation wheel, or whatever.

Only when it is recording something does the tiny MIDI indicator actually flash on and off, which is perhaps the biggest gripe I have with the software. Without an indicator, it is impossible to check if everything is properly connected and working, which is quite an oversight.

You can leave the looping on when you record, allowing you to record over a pattern as many times as it cycles around. This is most useful for creating layered drum parts, or for people like me who have great difficulty in playing two handed parts!

There is also a punch in/out function which works well, though I must confess to having some difficulty in setting the locator values. When selected, dragging the mouse upwards with the button depressed increases the number, whilst pulling it downwards does the opposite. This is a bit fiddly, particularly for those who have been used to mice with two buttons. Fortunately, you can enter the values using the keyboard.

Choosing Quantise from the Windows menu opens a new window of functions that made even my playing sound relatively good. There are a few different types of quantisation, including 'groove elsewhere', (Like my mum always tells me - Ed) each of which can be customised using the input boxes below. With these you can apply a number of grooves to your pattern, including a 'swing' option, which does quite nicely what it says.

Editing functions

A chronological list of MIDI events - incredibly dull, but equally as useful.

Once you have a squiggly coloured block of data in your sequence, the next thing you usually do is edit it. Vision has three editors; a notation window, a key (or graphic) edit, and an event list edit window. There is no drum edit, which is a shame, but it's not essential.

The List or Event editor chronologically lists every MIDI event in the part being edited. This includes everything from note data to system exclusive bulk dumps. So you can see what you're doing, certain messages can be filtered out, which is handy. Both the notation and key editors have the same sorts of tools. Unlike Cubase's easily related objects like erasers and pencils for deleting and drawing in notes, Vision uses a multi-talented device that stretches, moves and transposes all in one. The pencil tool is there for drawing in new data, but I couldn't find a rubber in my pencil case anywhere.

The score edit features are nothing to get overly excited about. The clef is automatically selected, though you do have to pick a key signature yourself. Unlike Notator, there isn't a giant palette of score drawing options, just a small pop-up menu of different note lengths waiting to be splattered across the stave.

Vision might not have a drum editor, but the Graphic and Notation windows manage quite well on their own.

Information in the Key edit is manipulated in exactly the same way as the Score edit, though is perhaps a little easier to operate. For a start you don't have to be able to read and write music. A strip chart can be switched on or off, which can display a number of different types of controller data in a kind of graph form. You can 'draw in' controller messages on the chart using three different tools: straight, freehand, or curved line, the latter producing an effect ideal for subtle fades or filter sweeps. Not all the MIDI controllers can be accessed via this window, but it doesn't omit any of the frequently used ones.

Changing the voice, channel, or volume of your instrument is quite straightforward too. By 'subscribing' to one of the Galaxy software libraries, you can custom-build yourself a named volume of sounds rather than foraging through a page of numbers, hazarding guesses which numeral corresponds to the patch on the keyboard. Voices are selected from within a pop-up menu on the transport bar window. Just underneath this is another such menu, which lists the MIDI channels available. This is where your time setting up the OMS pays off. If you specified all your MIDI equipment, you can just select an instrument by name in the knowledge that it will work. A standard set up will give you a choice of 16 channels via the modem and printer ports, so it isn't vital to customise your set up - just easier.

Volumes can be altered within the fader page. This is a separate window from the arrangement page, full of graphic faders waiting to be programmed to do something. Each fader is assigned a particular instrument, and whilst it is set to controller seven (main volume), controllers such as pan can also be assigned. The faders can be simply a device for setting up a patch, but can also be used with an external controller, or programmed and recorded into the sequence, much like Cubase's MIDI mixer.


Vision has undergone many changes from its initial release, and its new guise is certainly much easier to use. Perhaps some of the editing tools are a little clumsy at first, but in time prove to be as intuitive as those belonging to Cubase. Despite small irritating things, like no MIDI input indicators, Vision is good to use. I especially liked having all the windows open and just being able to select them without having to reaccess the pull-down menus all the time. And the inclusion of SMF import and export is more than sensible.

Apart from basic sequencing functions, Vision also comes well endowed with a comprehensive set of SMPTE and MIDI synchronisation devices that most will not need, but are still an invaluable asset to this swizzy piece of sequencing software. To really explore Vision you need a good long while, so perhaps I could recommend an extended holiday from work or college to do just that, because you will find that the effort is greatly rewarded.

The essentials...

Price inc VAT: £349.95

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Lite relief

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Digital Intercourse

Publisher: The Mix - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

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The Mix - Oct 1994

Donated by: Colin Potter

Coverdisc: Chris Needham, James Perrett

Control Room

Gear in this article:

Software: Sequencer/DAW > Opcode > Vision

Gear Tags:

Mac Platform

Review by Danny McAleer

Previous article in this issue:

> Lite relief

Next article in this issue:

> Digital Intercourse

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