John Renwick gets his paws on the graphic sequence editor from Dr T
Watch out - there's a TIGER about. John Renwick gets his paws on Dr. T's graphic sequence editor for the ST
There's still an attitude among some musicians that software sequencers are difficult to use, inexpressive and unfriendly. In some cases that's true; but most software houses, having established the basics of their sequencing systems, are working hard to make the products more user-friendly.
KCS, the Keyboard-Controlled Sequencer, is one of the most popular ST sequencers, at least in the US where software house Dr. T. is best established. Although it's gone through several revisions, it's still one of the least approachable software sequencers, and especially in comparison with C-Lab Notator or Steinberg Cubase, KCS looks very text-heavy.
Dr. T's solution is TIGER, The Interactive Graphic Editor. TIGER isn't designed to be a sequencer as such. Instead, it allows you to load sequence files which you have created with KCS or any other MIDI standard file-compatible sequencer, then edit them using TIGER's user-friendly graphics system. Obviously the system works best if you use Dr.T.'s MPE, the Multi-Program Environment which allows you to run KCS and TIGER simultaneously; but even more graphically sophisticated sequencer programs can benefit from TIGER's facilities.
TIGER runs in mono, or in medium-res colour with a few compromises; the main one is that the range of the graphic display is less than the eight octaves available in mono. TIGER can be copied to hard disk or a backup floppy, but you'll need to insert the key disk to get the program to run. Although MPE allows you to run more than one Dr.T. program simultaneously, you'll obviously run out of memory fairly quickly if you have a 520 or even a 1040; a Mega 2 or 4 ST is recommended for serious users.
TIGER uses GEM to the full, providing a full range of drop-down menus. There's also an option to make the menus pull-down, which can prevent interruptions to the program. The main display shows the menu bar at the top, a range of control icons at the bottom, and in the centre, up to three editing windows representing different tracks of your sequence. Using the mouse, or keyboard controls, you can open, close and resize these windows according to which track you're working on at the time. Up to ten display configurations can be stored and recalled using the GET DISPLAY menu or the Control and numeric keys.
The Track 1 window represents the Controller track (the same format used in KCS). This contains information for the tempo and timing of the sequence, and cannot be resized; the other tracks contain note data. If you load a demo tune using the File menu, this will become more clear. The notes appear as little L-shapes; the vertical position shows the pitch, horizontal length the duration, and vertical stem length the velocity. We can now use the editing facilities to experiment with altering the data.
At the top of each track is the Track Information line, which gives the track number, name, MIDI channel, and the types of data which are selected for display. Each track also has a keyboard display on the left, and there's also a mouse position display at the bottom of the screen. In normal mode the display shows about ten bars, but by clicking left/right on the Zoom icon you can close in or pull back. At minimum magnification you'll see a whole piece, but the individual notes will be indistinguishable; at maximum magnification, you'll see a handful of notes in great detail, but of course you'll have no idea of the overall shape of the piece. A horizontal scroll bar below the track displays lets you move through the piece, and vertical scroll bars on the right of each track, display let you change the pitch range.
To play a sequence you just press the space bar; you'll spot some mistakes in the demo file, and the manual explains how to go about correcting them. For instance, there's an organ part with a wrong note; to edit that, select the appropriate track, find the measure in which the offending note appears, and press 1 on the numeric keypad. The measure will start playing repeatedly, and using the Zoom option you can close in on the mistake. To hear just a single track you click on the GP icon to the right of the track name.
Editing functions for the left and right mouse buttons are selected by highlighting icons to the left and right of the tempo display. If you want to insert a new note you select the Draw icon, and click to place a note with preset duration and velocity on the display. Alternatively, you can enter notes from your MIDI controller keyboard; this isn't full-blown step-time sequence recording, but it is handy, especially for creating drum parts.
You can then edit the pitch of a note, or group of notes, by highlighting them or rubber-banding around them, and dragging up and down while holding the left shift key; or change the time position by clicking and dragging while holding the right shift key. You can remove highlighted notes using Delete; if you make a mistake, Undo will fix it. You can alter the length of a note by selecting it, holding the right mouse button, and dragging the note longer. You can hear the changes you make playing as you edit; in fact this is true of any kind of editing with TIGER.
One of the strengths of TIGER is that it allows you to edit groups of notes which are not necessarily contiguous, or even of the same pitch. For instance, say you have a drum part where the snare sound varies wildly in volume. You don't want to have to edit the note velocity for each beat individually; instead, select every note in the track using the '#' key, then pull down the Edit menu and select the Velocities option.
An edit window appears, giving you several options for editing velocities; in this case we want Clip, which allows you to set a maximum and minimum velocity or the selected notes. You could also increase or decrease them all by a set amount, invert the values, or change the velocities by a percentage.
The Widgets menu allows you to apply the same idea to different types of information. For instance, if you retune all the D# notes in a sequence, choose Select by Pitch, highlight any D#, and all the other D#'s become highlighted too. Using another dialogue box you can them transpose the notes to any required pitch. It's also possible to select notes by pitch class; for instance, just the C's in all octaves; or notes in a specified pitch range.
Quantisation options allow you to auto-correct note positions according to a range of options including swing parameters which let you inject a little 'human feel' into as sequence. You can also correct the timing of one sequence according to the 'feel' of another, which is a powerful facility borrowed from KCS Level II.
The Controller switches in the track information line select which types of data are displayed on the track.
Of course, note velocity is always displayed in the vertical stems of the notes; but you can choose to show Velocity, Program Change, PitchBend, Aftertouch, Mod Wheel, Breath Control, Foot Pedal and Volume messages as graphic curves below the note data. In fact, using the Add/Drop Controller menu you can select any MIDI controller, 1-127, to show up on this display.
The strength of this feature is that you can redraw the information curves by hand. Say you have recorded a hot solo track, but your pitchbending and use of the mod wheel are a bit iffy. Simply load the track into TIGER, select the required controller display, and redraw the data curve in the controller window. Apart from correcting sloppy pitchbends, this allows you to introduce crescendos and decrescendos by drawing long, slow curves for note velocity; to add or subtract aftertouch modulation, and so on. Having created a controller curve, the repeat Fill functions lets you duplicate it anywhere in the track.
Track 1 is unique in that its controller window shows only tempo and timing data. By redrawing the tempo curve, so that large or small tempo variations occur throughout the track, you can add a human feeling to your sequence which would be very difficult to reproduce using any other sequencer. Inserting timing changes, which appear as vertical bars, brings up a dialogue box which lets you enter a timing value from 2/2 to 9/16, or indeed any user-defined time signature.
TIGER really comes into its own when used with KCS in the multi-program environment MPE. For instance, with KCS V1.x or greater, you can set six sets of Cue points in TIGER, which will correspond to the Track mode cue loops in KCS.
Even more powerful is the interactive PVG routine. A selected group of notes can be passed into the Programmable Variation Generator of KCS Level II, which acts as a sort of automatic composer. You can also transfer selected data from TIGER to KCS Level M's Master Edit section. TIGER will save files either in KCS format, or MIDI Format 1 file standard.
If you have an advanced sequencer package, it's unlikely that you will feel TIGER is worth the investment. If, though, you use KCS or a graphically unsophisticated sequencer which is MIDI file standard compatible, TIGER may be the ideal way to make your MIDI sequencing more productive - and more fun.
Format: Any Atari ST
Supplier: MCMXCIX, (Contact Details)
Review by John Renwick