The Graphic Sequencer
PC music software still has to come some way to catch up with that for the Atari and Mac, but good, graphic, sequencer programs like Cadenza are a big step in the right direction. Peter Cudmore takes a closer look.
Contrary to popular belief, there's more to musical life on the IBM PC and compatibles than Voyetra's Sequencer Plus. It's certainly true that there aren't that many sequencers to choose from — the PC has taken a long time to catch up with Apple and Atari on the creative front. The platform has traditionally been difficult to use, and expensive, but all that's changing. Windows now gives the PC a graphic environment to rival the Mac's, and hardware prices have fallen over the last year or so.
Nevertheless, good MIDI software is obviously needed to convince the PC sceptics; Big Noise Software's Cadenza is good software. Versions of the program are available to run under both DOS and Windows. Even the DOS version employs a graphical environment similar to the Atari's GEM, which helps to make Cadenza easy to use, powerful, and quick.
The first screen in Cadenza is the track sheet, a summary with all the instrument names, channel, transposition, patch numbers, pan and level. There are also controls for solo/mute, and a readout of the number of events for each track. The sequencer has 64 tracks, addressable to 32 MIDI channels (provided you have a suitable Music Quest MQX-32M interface), or 16 channels with an MPU401 compatible interface. Beneath the list, and present beneath all the editing screens, is a status panel, with tempo, meter, and SMPTE time, as well as the transport controls and a bar/beat/tick time display. Except when used with the Music Quest MQX-32M, maximum resolution is 192 ticks per quarter-note (crotchet), though you can also set it to 120 ticks. The MQX-32M supports 240 ticks per quarter-note.
Cadenza supports full SMPTE synchronisation, providing a suitable Music Quest MIDI interface card is installed, with 24, 25 and 30 frames per second, chase lock, and support for Music Quest's smart FSK sync.
Notes (events) can be entered in three ways. Most people will want to record in real time from a MIDI instrument, which is simply accomplished by clicking the Record button on the status screen, and playing away. There are also Overdub and Punch In/out options.
There is a step-time option, too, which is most useful when you want to create drum patterns, or fast, regular arpeggio bass lines, and the last recording option allows you to place events directly onto the Note Editor. Using Cadenza in this way you have direct access to the note editing tools, which allow you to control position, pitch, velocity, channel and duration for each individual event.
Some PC sequencers are, to be blunt, really awful when it comes to editing a sequence. Personal Composer, for example, has no simple facility for sliding notes, so one generally has to use the Modify option to set the value of the existing event change to the Toggle option and place the cursor on the event, delete it, then move to the position you want it moved to and use the Toggle again to re-enter it there. Cadenza is far simpler. On pressing the Play transport button, the cursor follows the playback on screen, and when you arrive at a passage you want to edit, you can stop and use the arrow keys on the computer keyboard to step through each event, forwards or backwards, one at a time. Each event sounds at the correct velocity, and the current event is highlighted in grey. You can get rid of an unwanted event with the Delete button.
The Note Editor allows you to alter the length, pitch and velocity of each event, as well as its channel and position. The Note Editing Dialogue Box can be accessed either by pressing enter on the keyboard or right-clicking the mouse. It can also be accessed by a double-left-click of the mouse, which has the additional function of quantising the event to the nearest 32nd note. It would be handy if this quantise interval were user-definable, but as far I can make out it isn't.
Another slight weakness is the limited range of view modes available. Cadenza can display a single measure, three measures, or nine measures at a time. With some sounds, like the D50's 'Digital Native Dance' or 'Intruder FX' for example, it takes really long notes to get the best effect from the sound, and Cadenza can't display these note-on and note-off events simultaneously, should they stretch further than nine measures. (The Note Editing Dialogue Box is able to cope with these however, which is something that Personal Composer, for one, can't do.)
The Note Editor, however, is only the beginning of Cadenza's editing-facilities. The fairly standard controls in the Track List for setting channel, mute/solo, pan, volume and transposition are augmented by a Patch parameter which allows program changes to be made on the fly, while the recording is playing — a handy way of trying out different instrumentations for your Sound Canvas jazz band, for example. There is a rather weak Link option, which can be used to play tracks in a certain order, and also a Loop facility.
The Song Editor, meanwhile, gives quite a high degree of freedom in combining, moving and deleting on a measure-to-measure basis. It is easy to build riffs with blocks which you find work well, and to develop elaborate patterns with drum tracks in particular. A great aid to the minimalist composer, again not unique to Cadenza, but well implemented nonetheless.
One of Cadenza's strengths is its ability to edit MIDI events other than note on/offs simply and graphically. Other sequencers have this too, notably Passport's Master Tracks Pro, but it is by no means universal. The ability to change velocities note by note or block by block, for example, makes life so much simpler when creating crescendo/diminuendo effects. There are several tools available here and in the other Editors, for marking blocks, making simple transformations, thinning out events to prevent transmission bottlenecks, restricting the range of changes, and so on.
There are individual Editors for Velocity, Pitch Bend, Aftertouch and Tempo, and a Controllers view which caters for all the other MIDI commands. In this last view, you select the controller you require from a list which drops down from a selection window. There is also a Faders view, which can be used to adjust these same parameters and record them. Selecting the item you want to control is done in the same way, by using the selection window.
There are two other options in the View menu worth mentioning: an Event List, which again you can step through, listening to each event and deleting them if required; and a System Exclusive option for storing patches from a range of instruments including Yamaha DX7/SY77, Korg M1/M3R, Ensoniq SQ80, and Roland D10/D70 and CM32.
There are further useful editing options to be found under the Edit Menu. The first of these is the Event Filter, which is there to include or exclude specific events from editing procedures. It isn't fully comprehensive — there's no way of filtering particular note durations, for example, but for each category you can set the range and channel of events to be filtered. A Beat option expands the range of options by allowing you to define the beats of a measure to which edits will apply. For example, you might set the filters so that in the velocity editor you could increase the velocity of all events on the first beat of each bar, reduce all on the second second, increase all on the third by a bit less, and so on. (There are Channel and Record filters under the Options Menu, too, which filter out events from specific channels, and events of a specific type — Aftertouch, Program Change, Control Change and Pitch Bend.)
There is the usual Quantise option, for bringing erratic real-time recordings into line, and a Humanise option which has the opposite effect. You can quantise to anything between whole notes and 32nd notes, or set a quantisation in MIDI ticks. You also have the choice of quantising 'exactly' or 'half-exactly', to retain some feel.
A Slide option in the Edit Menu allows entire tracks or specified blocks to be moved horizontally either forwards or backwards in time. The Length option can be used both to alter the duration of events uniformly throughout a track, and to alter their timing, ie. how long a phrase lasts in real time, relative to a fixed tempo. Unfortunately the timing option doesn't work well with blocks, only on entire tracks, so if you have fallen out of step with the metronome for a period — played a little too fast, perhaps — it can't be used to amend that passage. The way round this problem is to copy the passage to an unused track and work on it there, slide the events in the original track out of the way and paste the revised passage back in. There's also a Transpose Pitch option, and Retrograde, which simply reverses the order of events in the selected block.
Cadenza may not have some of the refinements that the big, expensive sequencers offer — Sequencer Plus's Track Transform harmonising utilities, or Master Tracks Pro's SMPTE placemarking options for example — but it has all the important functions you need, and is robust, simple to use, and keenly priced. I like it...
But not as much as I like Cadenza for Windows. For people prepared to spend the extra money to buy a computer powerful enough to run Windows, this is a product that will like as not make you purr. It will be the first MIDI product to run in 386 Enhanced Mode, which means that it will be possible to run multiple copies of Cadenza simultaneously.
The Windows environment makes it possible to display multiple views, with several tracks' Note Editors, Velocities, Aftertouch and so on, visible, all scrolling with the playback, at once. Enhanced note editing tools make that task easier than ever — moving an event up or down the scale causes it to sound at each pitch, which is great for picking sounds for drum patterns and sound effects.
Good use is made of the mouse — it changes icon over the MIDI position readout to allow you to scroll backwards and forwards. The Track Sheet has a 'Smart Instrument' feature which can be used to set Port, Channel, Patch and Bank, and maintain a list for you to select from on each track. Cadenza for Windows sells for about £115 more than the DOS version and is, I feel, well worth the extra money.
Big Noise Software Cadenza (DOS version) £159 inc VAT.
Big Noise Software Cadenza (Windows version) £275 inc VAT.
Digital Music, (Contact Details).
Review by Peter Cudmore
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