Zyklus MIDI Performance System
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it's a MIDI Performance System. Simon Trask investigates the truth behind the intriguing advertising campaign.
THERE'S NOW A positive abundance of dedicated and computer-based MIDI sequencers on the market. Generally, all these have tried to emulate the workings of tape machines and/or drum machines in the way that they allow you to record and edit your music. Sadly, MIDI devices (or computer programs) that provide a more adventurous approach to making music are still few and far between - even though there's no reason why MIDI data, once captured in memory, can't be manipulated and regurgitated in any number of ways. The way is now open for imaginative software designers to develop programs which take an active role in the music-making process.
London-based company Zyklus have picked up the gauntlet with their dedicated MIDI Performance System. In its simplest configuration, this can be used as a 12-track sequencer - although this may constitute criminal negligence. A total of 99 polyphonic, single-channel sequences can be recorded into the MPS' internal memory (with a further 99 instantly accessible from a cartridge), and subsequently edited in real-time and step-time modes. The MPS' internal memory is battery backed-up, so there's no worry about having to save off your data every time you power down the System. However, it is possible to MIDI dump the contents of the MPS' internal and cartridge memories to an external MIDI device (which could be another System).
Up to 12 sequences can be controlled at any one time from the MPS' front panel Control keys, a MIDI source (typically a keyboard), an external input trigger or a gate/footswitch pulse. Each sequence can be routed to one of four MIDI Out ports, and can be assigned its own Repeat mode (repeat, single shot or hold-at-end), MIDI mode message, MIDI patch number and sequence keynote (the MIDI note number from which the sequence will be played back at its recorded pitch). Although you can run sequences in parallel as if they were tape tracks, it's more appropriate to consider them as "extended notes" which can be played as you would play a piece of music. In fact, a sequence can be a single note or a complete rhythm track; alternatively it could be dedicated to MIDI control information such as patch changes.
Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the MPS in action is the sheer speed with which a piece of music can be worked up from quite simple basic material. For example, you could start with a short rhythmic phrase in one sequence, set it to loop and then play the same or different sequences around it. You can very quickly build up complex rhythmic patterns in this way. By varying the content and length of your sequence (s) you can achieve widely differing musical results using the same procedures. It's possible to run up to seven versions of a sequence, so with all 12 sequences active it's possible to have up to 84 sequences running simultaneously. To top it all, you can play over active sequences by selecting the Thru facility on the MPS.
The basic storage capacity of the MPS is 9000 events, but because of the way that the system can be used its effective capacity is far greater (Zyklus quote in excess of 60,000 events).
Combinations of 12 sequences can be stored in up to 24 Configurations, which can be called up from the front panel - effectively making all the sequences equally accessible. Zyklus have also provided a range of triggering options, collectively known as a Trigger Profile, and saved as part of a Configuration. These include Restart (which starts sequences from the beginning each time they are triggered), Transpose (which allows all active sequences to be transposed in real-time with a single note press) and Momentary (a sequence will only run whilst a note or Control key is held down). These features can be switched in and out at any time, as they are accessed from dedicated buttons on the MPS' front panel.
Obviously the System can record performances at sequence level, but what if you want to record the end results of all this sequence triggering? Zyklus have thought of this, and have allowed you to record 12 Performances in real or step-time. These are the actual notes and keypresses together with information such as Configuration and Trigger Profile changes, which make up a performance on the MPS. MIDI Song Pointers also come into the picture at the Performance stage, allowing the MPS to take its place in a larger production environment. Non-MIDI connections have been catered for too: on the rear panel are sync input/output, trigger input and programmable gate output sockets.
Zyklus have paid a lot of attention to roadworthiness and general reliability of the MPS. To this end, it comes in a heavy gauge steel casing and has extensive mains filtering/suppression, while all inputs and outputs are protected against excessive voltages.
Clearly, the MIDI Performance System has something rather unusual to offer; only the Open mode on Dr Ts KCS sequencer comes to mind as offering something similar. MPS should appeal to a wide range of technology-based musicians from Tangerine Dreamers to hip hoppers, simply because it is offering a very flexible way of manipulating musical information. What a pity that at just under £2000, it will be affordable by the few rather than the many.
Price MIDI Performance System £1995; cartridge £99.95; both including VAT
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Review by Simon Trask
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