Software for Apple Macintosh
Martin Russ reviews the superbly professional Southworth 'Total Music' software recorder for the Apple Macintosh computer.
Now that it's available over here, Martin Russ checks out this mouth-watering MIDI recording package which has had more American musicians drooling over it than computer buffs! What is it? The famous Southworth 'Total Music' program for the Apple Macintosh. Prepare to be converted!
Macs, as Apple Macintoshes are popularly known, were the first big-selling computer to throwaway incomprehensible typed commands in favour of a more user-friendly WIMP environment, and they attract strong emotions from devotees (myself included, I'm afraid) and detesters alike.
WIMP is the accepted abbreviation for Windows, Icons, Mice and Pop-Up Menus, and a preparatory explanation of their general function and use is necessary before examining the Total Music program.
Windows are areas of the screen where you display things of interest; Icons are the pictorial representation of things; the Mouse is a sort of redesigned upside-down tracker ball which translates your hand movements into movement of a pointer (cursor) on the screen; and Pop-Up Menus are lists of possible activities or choices which appear on screen only when you want to use them.
A popular test of 'how good Mac software is', really is to try and use it without first looking at the instructions. The reason that this can work at all is due to several important conventions, which, once learned, quickly become so natural that you forget what it was like not to know them - very much like learning to ride a bike. The conventions are simple and few in number:
- The mouse movements are followed by the pointer on the screen.
- To pick up an icon you depress the button on top of the mouse and 'drag' the object around the screen, only releasing the button when you want to put the icon down.
- To run a program you quickly click the mouse button twice (known as 'double-clicking' or 'booting up').
- When you use a menu on the screen, you drag the menu down (visually, this looks like you're unrolling a piece of paper) and release the button on the mouse when it points to your chosen action.
As you can see, you use the mouse for almost everything - even to input text.
Bill Southworth, the designer of the Total Music software, has extended these conventions to enable a large number of functions to be chosen from the Total Music screen with amazing rapidity, completely removing the need for lots of control screens.
The first of these conventions concerns software switches - clicking on an item on the screen is likely to turn it off (it becomes 'dimmed' or 'grey' in Mac terminology) and clicking again will restore it. This means that selecting active MIDI channels, for example, is just a question of moving to the unwanted channel numbers and clicking - no need for assignment pages to define active channels as on other MIDI software, since it can all be done from the main screen. The other convention is a bit like the Korg joystick controllers - an up-and-down movement controls one thing, while side-to-side controls another. In Total Music, this enables the mouse to control two things at once, like note pitch (up and down the screen) and note length (across the screen), which although tricky to use at first, becomes remarkably easy with minimal practice.
The Total Music package consists of a standard 3.5-inch disk containing the program, an A5-sized spiral-bound manual with about two hundred pages of comprehensive instructions, and the ubiquitous metal interface box bristling with DIN sockets and LEDs. The system is available for the 128K or 512K Macintosh, and the new Mac Plus with 1 Megabyte of memory. (An Atari ST version is not yet planned.) Updates of the software, as and when they appear, are provided free to purchasers - a wonderful idea!
To use the Total Music system, you slide the disk into the Mac's disk-drive, wait for it to read the disk (only a second or so) and then with the mouse, you double-click on the disk icon which dutifully appears on the screen. This opens the Total Music window, showing the Total Music program icon and other icons representing Song Files, Patch Files and a System Folder. Double-clicking on the Total Music icon will then run the program and display the main screen.
The main screen of Total Music looks much like the main screen of most other Mac application programs, and so should be instantly familiar to existing Mac users. The top of the screen has the usual menus bar consisting of the Apple menu, File and Edit menus, with additional Control, Options, Resolution and Dynamics menus. Let's look at each one.
The Apple menu is first from the left, with the 'About Total Music...' option at the top of the list, followed by the Desk Applications. Next across is the File menu, with the usual options: New (to start new Song Files), Open (an existing Song File), Close, Save, Save As, Print and Quit. There's also a new option, Include, which allows you to merge Song Files together.
The Edit menu is next, which offers the usual Undo (very useful! - it undoes your last action, if possible), Cut, Copy, Erase and Paste options for comprehensive editing activities. But the Edit menu also has music-specific options: Splice, for instance, avoids the blank space that results if you use Cut; Slide enables you to time-shift events by increments as small as a couple of milliseconds or as long as a whole Song, giving echoes, MIDI delay corrections and chorusing, as well as compensating for slow attacks after changing a synth patch - all very useful in a MIDI-wise studio.
Using the Bounce option, one bar or any number of bars can be bounced from any MIDI channel to any other, compressing the notes or events into the destination channel. When you select this option, a 'dialogue box' (a pop-up window) appears on-screen asking you various pertinent questions about where you wish to bounce from, and to where etc. The channel you bounce from is not affected by this operation, and can be Erased, Slid or Edited as required after the bounce.
Transpose enables you to shift the overall pitch of the music by up to sixty semitones (five octaves) in either direction. Double enables quick and painless generation of repetitive bass lines, sequences or verse/chorus structures - you are presented with a small dialogue box asking you to specify a suitable time span for it to repeat. When you have set the relevant range and activated the Double option, it copies the bars specified and places them immediately after the last bar you've so far created - so if you have written eight bars of music and double bars 1-4, you will end up with bars 1-4, followed by bars 5-8, followed by bars 1-4 again.
Normally, when you use the Loop boxes to continuously repeat a bar or bars, you will want to double those bars to build up a bass line etc. The Double option automatically doubles the range each time you call it, so if you create a bass line and double it, you get it twice; double it again for four times, and again for eight times. On a larger scale, this sort of auto-repeat feature is very useful for building up any sort of music based on repeating themes (Tangerine Dream fans take note!).
The next Edit option is Filter. Here, a large and comprehensive dialogue box gives you control over altering any part of the MIDI data you have recorded so far. Sources of data are shown on the left of the screen, while the right of the screen selects the type of filtering and its scope. Things you can do with the Filter option are many and varied - like altering the after-touch on a melody line to make it stand out more by reducing the dynamics; or changing the velocity data to enable another synth patch with different velocity response to be used; or inverting the dynamics of a synth playing a copy of the lead line but placed on the opposite side of the stereo image to produce velocity-dependant panning; or modifying the patch changes stored within a piece to enable a different orchestration to be used; or removing after-touch data to save memory... Really, it is limited only by your imagination.
The last option on the Edit menu is Quantize, which is used for correcting the length of notes, and tidying up sloppy playing! Note resolution is selected using the Resolution menu (gosh!) and can range from a quarter-note (a crotchet to the more musically literate) down to a 128th note triplet (!). Actually, the minimum note (or rest) set by this menu affects only the recording mode; on the score display the minimum resolution is limited to a 32nd note triplet - probably to keep the score readable.
You can quantize the attack, duration or just the event itself, so that you can have all notes as multiples of a quarter-note and align them to the relevant metronome beat. Alternatively, you can align the start of notes to the nearest quarter-note metronome tick, or adjust the duration of the notes to the nearest tick. Advanced features include quantizing according to a MIDI Offset, for synths that lag or lead the clock by up to +/-127 ticks, or quantizing within a range of note values so that values outside the range are left untouched.
As if that wasn't enough, you can also do clever things with velocity by using the Accent Placement option. This provides extensive possibilities for generating accents and poly-rhythms, and with just a few numbers you can have lots of interesting ways of relieving monotony in bass lines, repetitive sequences or even 'toasting' backing chords or melody lines.
Yet another quantization effect is Shuffle: with this you can arrange to make just the accented beats of your music slightly early or slightly late. As with all the options in the Edit menu, you can set the range over which this is effective, from one bar in one Sequence, right up to a whole Song. And you can always Undo if things get out of hand. So free experimentation is the order of the day.
The next menu in Total Music is labelled Controls, and this affects things like MIDI synchronisation with drum machines or SMPTE (via something like a Roland SBX-80 or Bokse SM-9 Synchroniser); using two keyboards as controllers; and ways of using recalcitrant drum machines. Time and Key Signatures fall into this domain too, and you can have as many quarter-note beats as you like in a bar for normal use time-wise, but only 4/4 and 3/4 are presently allowed when printing scores (others are planned for the next software update) and up to 5 sharps or 6 flats key-wise.
Next along the screen menu bar comes the Options menu, which has miscellaneous controls like Assign Keyboard, which enables you to use a MIDI keyboard with limited MIDI output channels (a DX7 for instance) to record on any MIDI channel - another neat and very useful idea. Keyboard Thru sends a 'Local Control Off' command to the controlling Master Keyboard and thus disconnects it from its own synthesizer voice section. (Don't forget that most DXs ignore this command!) The Wait For Note option is used during recording, and it prevents anything being recorded until you actually play something. Metronome currently turns the metronome on and off (but may be replaced by a 'switch' on the main screen in the next update). Pre-count gives the necessary two bars of accented count-in before recording begins, while Record Tempo turns the recording of Tempo changes on or off, and Record After-touch enables you to ignore after-touch data when recording. The Step Timing option enables you to record one note at a time as opposed to realtime note input, and is very quick to use because it uses the pedal on the controller synth to add rests - no stopping to keep pressing keys on the Mac's keyboard.
The Resolution menu has already been covered in the discussion on quantizing, leaving just the Dynamics menu: this has nine available levels of velocity which you can edit values to.
The next feature is the horizontal Time bar. This shows you exactly where you are in the active Sequence/Song by displaying the Measure and Beat along with the elapsed time in Hours, Minutes, Seconds and Milliseconds, and SMPTE Frames and Sub-Frames - all referenced to a horizontally moving cursor called the Locator.
The main screen, selected by clicking on one of the palette of choices down the left-hand side of the screen, shows all 16 MIDI channels of the current Sequence. You can have up to 99 Sequences, each up to 1000 bars long, in a single Song. Notes are shown as boxes in varying shades of grey (faster velocity = darker) or white for rests, so you get a broad overview of the current sequence. An overview of the whole Song is coming on the next software revision which should have another screen which shows how the sequences are connected together - you can have sequences running in parallel, one after another, even a sequence that does nothing else but call other sequences into operation. You can also see the raw MIDI data if you wish, displayed as a simple table.
Other options on the main screen palette give you a display of events in a single MIDI channel - you just select the amount of information you want to see on the screen, from 16 beats down to just 2 beats. Once in a Channel Activity screen, you can edit the pitch and duration of notes by dragging them into existence or double-clicking them into oblivion!
Changing patch numbers during a Sequence is determined by the position of the Mac's mouse: left-to-right specifies 'when' the patch is to change, up-and-down sets 'which' patch it is (1-127). The tempo is altered in the same way. At any time, brackets can be positioned on-screen to restrict the range of any Edit functions and future updates promise the editing of MIDI controllers.
The other major palette option is the Grand Staff or Score Display - this enables you to display a few bars at a time of any channel of a Sequence. You will be able to edit the score notes in future updates, just as on a Channel Activity screen, using the mouse to pitch and time notes as well as to place symbols in the score.
Another option which is currently being updated to incorporate a wider range of synthesizers is the Patch Librarian, which enables you to store your favourite synth voices on disk and recall them later. The palette option marked R+ was not yet implemented on the pre-release software I received, so you will have to buy the package to find out what it does (then tell me)!
The final option is the Table Set-Up screen, which enables more accurate control and faster setting up of very complicated Edit and Filter functions.
Finally, the bottom of the screen is devoted to a row of ten boxes: the Active MIDI Channel box with channel number up/down controls (arrowheads); the Sequence Select box, again with up/down selectors; and a Metronome box with tempo readout in beats per minute plus up/down selectors. Then come the tape recorder-like controls for actuating recording/playback of notes, followed by the Loop box.
If working in real-time mode on the Total Music system, you first select your options: Metronome, Pre-count, Wait For Note etc, and start the Mac recording. When you have played a set of backing chords, say, you stop the recording and you will see a series of grey boxes on the selected MIDI channel showing when you played notes. By using the mouse to move the Locator to the start and finish of the notes, you can see from the time readout exactly when the chords start and stop. Placing these bar numbers into the Loop boxes and clicking on Play with the mouse, will continuously repeat the backing chords - at which point you can play over the top to rehearse, or even overdub by clicking Record on again.
I usually used another sequence when playing over chords so that I could easily erase just my fumbled improvisations. Naturally, you can select which channels or Sequences you wish to hear on playback whenever you are recording or overdubbing.
Step-time recording is just as easy as real-time but with the added advantage of direct control of each note regardless of your keyboard skills. The ease of use of this whole recorder section is amazing: it's like having a 99-track tape recorder and more, but with none of the hassle!
The Southworth MIDI interface box supplied with Total Music looks much like all such devices: it has two MIDI In sockets - one used for the master keyboard and the other for a second master or Sync input - and four MIDI Outs, with red LEDs showing when MIDI information is coming in or out of the box. Two leads connect to the Mac's Printer and Modem ports, with the Printer port echoed to a switched connector on the interface box to enable you to print out music scores. A small battery eliminator is also supplied to provide power for this unit.
In this review, I hope to have given you some of the flavour of what is available on the Total Music system, rather than describe the intimate details of actual use, as that would require me to condense the supplied 200-page manual by Paul D.Lehrman which gives excellent tuition in how best to use every aspect of the software.
The price of the Southworth Total Musicsystem is £395 excluding VAT which includes the software disk, manual, MIDI interface and all future software updates. Also included with mine were comprehensive errata sheets detailing reported bugs and outlines of solutions, as well as hints of future facilities - so overall, it looks like very professional and visible user-support from the UK distributors, Audio FX.
To sum up, Total Music is an outstanding sequencer program offering instantly usable and extremely musician-friendly recording, editing and printing facilities, without recourse to superfluous graphics or unwieldy controls. I had no problems in getting it running or in using it - almost everything worked exactly as I expected, and when it didn't, the manual quickly pointed me in the right direction.
In use, it behaved as an idealised 99-track tape recorder, only better. And in the limited time I used it, I feel sure that I only scratched the surface of the creative potential of Total Music's sequencing and editing facilities. Bill Southworth is to be congratulated on such a magnificent achievement. If only all MIDI software were this good!
My thanks to Roger Evan at Audio FX for all his help and time, and to CSS Systems (Contact Details) for Mac help and advice.]
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