A six voice poly with a built in six track digital recorder and at £1,500 it's already creating enormous interest. We report on the Six-Trak's big brother.
Sequential Multi-Trak Polysynth
The Sequential Circuits Multi-Trak is basically an upmarket version of the existing Six-Trak, being a 6-voice polyphonic with a built-in 6-track digital recorder (real-time sequencer), but like the Six-Trak, its particularly endearing feature is that it is 'multi-timbral'. In other words, as you build up your arrangement using the sequencer, you can assign a different sound to each voice. This means that you can, for instance, lay down a bass line with one sound (track 1), lay some two-part strings (tracks 2 & 3), two-part brass (tracks 4 & 5) and be left with one voice/track for a melody/lead line: you get a multi-instrument arrangement from just the one synth.
Until now, one of the main failings of the Six-Trak has been a lack of really full voicings, and rather limited editing facilities. However, the new sounds developed for the Multi-Trak (now also available for the Six-Trak) are a great improvement and include, in addition to a variety of strong string, brass and non-specific synth voicings, some very convincing drum and percussion sounds, so that your sequences can include a full backline, if desired. My only real experience of these sounds is through the Multi-Traks, and so it may be that the touch sensitivity has a lot to do with the subjective power of the voicings, but even so they're a vast improvement and can be easily fed into any existing Six-Trak. Incidentally, if you own a Six-Trak, there are now a couple of new Commodore 64/MIDI software packages available for it that significantly expand its sequencing/editing facilities.
In basic terms, the Multi-Trak is a MIDI equipped, 6-note, multi-timbral programmable polyphonic featuring a 5 octave, velocity-sensitive sprung plastic keyboard with an assignable split point. Each voice has 1 VCO providing triangle, sawtooth and pulse waveforms with PWM, 1 VCF, 1 LFO and 3 ADSR envelope generators for control of the VCA, the VCF and LFO amount. The keyboard velocity can be used to effect the oscillators, filters and LFOs to give dynamic control over the VCA, VCF cut-off and the LFO amount. As the keyboard's split point is selected, it is also possible to determine the number of voices assigned to each side, eg 1:5, 2:4, 3:3 etc.
One of the important facilities of the Roland MIDI Mother controller keyboard is that it can send the separate information from the two sides of the split along two different MIDI channels, thereby making it possible to control two instrument systems at a time from the one keyboard. This same facility will hopefully be included in the Multi-Trak's final production software, although it wasn't absolutely definite at the time of the February Frankfurt exhibition. The memory, which comes with a full complement of factory presets, will store 100 programs which include all voicing information including splits and performance controls. The memory contents can be stored on standard cassette.
Editing is still via a centralised digital access system, but again it's a great improvement on the Six-Trak. The 40 main variables are laid out in a 4 x 10 matrix with each position marked by an LED. A set of nudge buttons allows quick selection of the desired parameter, and then it's back to the centralised incrementor to change the setting. The same 2 digit display provides details of all current values in both the play and edit modes.
There are basically two ways suggested by Sequential in which the multi-timbral facility can be used:
1. Superstak - allows you to layer up to 6 sounds on top of each other, like a solo/unison mode but with 6 different voicings. Alternatively, bearing in mind that you have to maintain a product of 6, you can have 2 sounds and 3-note polyphony, or 3 sounds and 2 notes.
2. Ensemble - this uses the Multi-Trak's on-board sequencer to build-up a multi-instrument arrangement as mentioned before. The sequencer has a 1600-note capacity (as opposed to the Six-Trak's 700), it stores key velocity information and has a wide range of editing facilities. The 1600 notes are split up into 4 sections (A, B, C & D) which, once recorded, can be chained together in any order (eg C, A, A, D, C, B etc) to create a longer piece. Any of these sections can be 'truncated', ie you can chop its end off from any point, and also any individual note of track can be erased. Although it is possible in this way to 'drop-out' individual notes, it isn't possible to drop them in. If you make a mistake and need to replace or insert a note, you will need to re-program a new sequence, at least from the mistake onwards. If you don't use up all the voices with the sequence, the remainder can be used for playing live over the top of it, once again using any voice desired.
Just as with standard computer programmes, at the beginning of each of the sections within a chained sequence there is a set of instructions termed 'the header' in which information regarding relative track volumes and timbres is stored. These values can be changed at any time as part of the edit facilities, but a more sophisticated and useful feature is that of being able to alter the contents of a header, even for the same section, each time it appears at different points throughout the chained piece. In this way you can have the same section occur any number of times, with a different arrangement in each case, and so the effective number of sections you have to play with is greatly expanded.
A welcome facility, not to be found on the Six-Traks, is adjustable auto-correction which will correct the timing of your playing to five degrees of resolution, including triplets. Alternatively, if you're doing something a little fancy, it will give you a totally free-hand. The speed of the sequencer can be sync-ed via the MIDI port or via an external 24Hz pulse.
If you're working with a multitrack recording set-up, or possibly even a sophisticated PA system, a very useful feature is that of having a choice of using 6 separate outputs, one for each track/voice. Alternatively, there's a stereo output to make use of the built-in chorus, which has adjustable depth and rate.
There is also an in-built arpeggiator capable of arpeggiating in all relevant directions or in the order in which you depress the key. It is also latchable by means of a front panel switch or a footswitch, and once set running it can be transposed at the touch of a button, making it far more musically useful than the Six-Traks fixed pitch version. While this is going on you are free to use the remaining five voices to play along with it (key changes won't affect the real time playing).
The Multi-Trak is capable of operating in MIDI modes 1, 3 and 4, which not so long ago would have been the same as Omni, Poly and Mono modes. These mode names are soon to be replaced with these 'less confusing' numerical tags. Mode 2 is exclusive to Yamaha, and configures all voices of all synths in any serial system to play in unison - ie the same note. This apparently originated from a second interpretation of the Mono mode, offered by Yamaha in the early stages of MIDI and will only work between correctly configured Yamaha synths. The Multi-Trak will work in all three of the standard modes, including mode 4 which allows individual access to each voice; a particularly important feature in this case.
Along with the other new SCI products the Multi-Trak has greatly revived the Sequential range.
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Review by Jim Betteridge