Microware 64-track MIDI sequencer package
Octave Plateau’s 64 track sequencing software in an easy-to-use package
Microware are a London based chain of shops who primarily sell business computers. Their Croydon branch, however, is now marketing a hardware/software package for the MIDI-fied musician, which consists of IBM's personal computer, Roland's excellent MPU-401 MIDI processor/interface, and Octave Plateau's Sequencer Plus 64-track software...
We had a look at this system in the Soundmaker studio, and it soon became apparent that the software could possibly be one of the most sophisticated sequencer programs yet. The extent to which performances can be edited is quite phenomenal — on each track you can change MIDI channel, program number, transpose over ten octaves, auto correct, mute and loop. The standard 256K IBM will hold up to 60,000 notes, which can all be edited visually on the TV monitor. This gives you control over every individual note's pitch, start-time, duration, attack velocity and release velocity information. This in itself is quite sophisticated and certainly on a par with Yamaha's QX sequencer.
One of the main advantages of having a computer with dedicated sequencing software (rather than simply a dedicated sequencer), is the amount of information that can be displayed to the user via the TV monitor. The software which is used in Microware's package uses the monitor to its fullest extent to display every facet of sequencing and editing information. The main track menu displays track number followed by track name (Bass or Flute etc), MIDI channel, Program number, transpose, quantise factor, loop on/off, and mute on/off, as well as a readout of how many bars each track plays. Above the main area of this display is information for time signature, song name, tempo, amount of memory left, etc., and below the main display is the Main Track Menu itself listing all the 12 primary modes to enter (summoned by pressing the first letter of the relevant item) such as Edit, Files, Quit, Delete, Record, etc...
There are several keys on the keyboard with specialised functions — the Space Bar starts and stops play or record modes, the '+' and '-' keys either changes parameters by one or turns a parameter on or off, the '('and')' keys increment parameters by 10, and there is a Help function which can be accessed by pressing '/' or a full set of Help screens for the current menu can be had by pressing '?'. These kind of clever additions make complex systems such as this quite a joy to work with.
Although this is undoubtedly a very sophisticated sequencer, it is also quite simple to use. Once all MIDI Expanders and keyboards are connected up to the MPU-401 and computer, and the sequencer disk is loaded in from the disk drive (the disk drive is of course part of the IBM PC), the procedure for recording a track is straightforward. First you must set the MIDI channel track number in the Main Track display then you press 'R' for Record, and the record indicator will start blinking at you. Then you press the spacebar to start recording. Pressing the spacebar a second time will end the recording, and the record mode is automatically cancelled to avoid erasing a track by accident.
Once the recordings are made, they can be left as they were played or 'touched up' with a little editing of the touch sensitivity (for a more consistent performance), or if necessary specific parameters such as a single note's pitch or note on/off information can be edited from the one Note Editor Menu screen.
Something special? Well perhaps, although in order to spend well over two grand for a sequencer, albeit a bloody good one, is not exactly the kind of thing I would suggest that most people should go out and do. Where I think that Microware's package would be most successful is in situations where either a recording studio already has an IBM PC (or equivalent such as the Compac), in which case they could get the software (£495.00) and interface (£170.00) and thereby build up the system; or in cases where a sophisticated computer based studio is what is needed; rather than a musician with just a couple of MIDI instruments who merely wants a good sequencer to control his keyboards. In that case Roland's MSQ700 would be much more suitable, providing relatively low cost eight track sequencing from one simple to use unit.
Price: £2,700 (complete)
Microware: (Contact Details)
Gear in this article:
Review by Curtis Schwartz