Dr T's KCS With MPE, PVG, & Copyist
Atari ST Software
Dr T's Multi Program Environment allows their KCS sequencer, Programmable Variations Generator and Copyist scorewriter to be used as part of an integrated system. Lorenz Rychner goes soft.
Take a popular sequencer, enhance it and the accompanying scoring program, add algorithmic editing and wrap it in a multi-program environment - and you're going to be busy for quite a while.
IN THE BEGINNING, Dr T's released KCS (Keyboard Controlled Sequencer) for the Commodore 64 and Apple II. It featured an Open Mode - which worked differently to anything that was available at the time. Now, a few years later, KCS works on several more computers as both a normal and unusual sequencer, and has grown several arms: MPE (Multi Program Environment), PVG (Programmable Variations Generator), and Copyist (a transcription program). Time to get the prescription renewed.
DR T'S KEYBOARD Controlled Sequencer has evolved somewhat over the years. It is currently up to version 1.6 and Level II, the latter of which has some new sections - namely, the Master Editor and the Programmable Variations Generator, or PVG. There's room here for only an overview of KCS (see review, MT March '87), so I'll give you an idea of what Open and Track modes are all about before describing the Doctor's latest.
In Track mode you can record up to 48 tracks. The length of track 1 (set it, and change it later at will) limits the length of all other tracks. Each track has its own screen, and all the features that you'd expect from an advanced program are there, including Step-Time Entry. There's no looping of individual tracks in Track mode, however; they either all loop or they don't. Repetitive phrases have to be in the track as linear data. You play it in once, then append it to itself, which takes up memory.
If your composition calls for a structure other than a short segment played once straight through, you'd probably use Open mode. Here you an record into sequences that don't have to be confined to the length of any other sequence. Anything can be a sequence: a single note (a sample trigger? a crash cymbal?) or a collection of merged tracks, a control sequence listing all the other sequences, including transpositions of pitch and velocity, repeats - you name it.
THIS COLLECTION OF magic elixirs is only available from Level II. It brings up six screens, and only the currently selected one will affect the data in the selected sequence.
The first screen is called Blend; it lets you make changes to a track or sequence while the computer reads the data of another sequence (the reference sequence) as the model. This can be done by aligning pitches to those in the reference sequence, or velocity values, durations, rhythms, channels, or you an autocorrect some events to match exactly the times of events in the reference sequence. Of course, the model doesn't have to be copied exactly for all these parameters, and the computer will approximate them if you wish. The manual suggests this as a way of producing swing feel, although many other uses come to mind.
Chords is the next screen. If you unintentionally arpeggiated some chords and want to tighten them up, then the Deflam feature is the tonic for you. Arpeggiation works the other way: it spreads out a chord over time.
Sort could be seen as a preparation for Arpeggiation - it rearranges the notes in a chord in the order of their pitches, either ascending or descending, and with a skip (skip every other note first and play the skipped ones later) if desired. Velocity and duration an also be changed in several ways, and the Orchestration feature makes it possible for the notes to be assigned to a number of MIDI channels.
Controllers is a screen where MIDI events other than notes can be treated. After you define the controller, select Split if you want that controller's data to be extracted and moved to the next available empty sequence; select Erase to simply delete it, Thin if you need to thin out the density of controller data. As an example of using Thin, say you've used more aftertouch than necessary, and the sequence is flooded with AT events. Experiment with different Fraction Kept values (2 strips half the events, 3 leaves only one third and so on), and set a Maximum Time to ensure that events close to note events will be left in (one of the most considerate Thinning functions available overall).
Track Utilities allows changes to be made to all tracks: Deleting a range (shortens all tracks), Erasing a range (leaves a blank, like rests), Insert adds a range of rests. Let's look at an example of the latter: you need to extend a verse by one bar where you'll later add a drum fill. Set a Range Start and an Insert Amount in clocks, and all tracks will play nothing for a measure at that point. Back in Track mode you record the fill, give its first note the time value of the downbeat of that measure (there's a calculator on KCS's Edit screen), and you're done.
Pitch Map is the next screen. If your sampler had a crocodile bark assigned to the note D3 when you recorded it, and you want to change it to the snake hiss assigned to B5, maybe with a change in velocity, you're in business. You can even strip an individual note out of the whole sequence by giving it the command "Channel / Delete 0". A pitch mapping screen lets you reassign pitches over the range of seven octaves and three semitones. Be sure to realise that the good Doctor chose to flout the MIDI standard with MIDI note numbers - in all his programs, MIDI note number 60 is C4 as opposed to C3 (he's in powerful company, since Korg, Roland, Kawai, Digidesign and others do the same).
"MPE: By clicking on the Ext function within KCS you can simultaneously load up to four Dr T's Editor/Librarian programs without the need to shut down the sequencer."
Finally, tempo commands an be erased or changed up and down in percentages, and accelerando/decelerando values can be converted into absolute tempo values.
"MPE" STANDS FOR Multi Program Environment. On the track and sequence Edit screens it shows as Ext (for - you guessed it - external). Click on Ext - without the need to shut down the sequencer program - and you can load up to four Dr T's Editor/Librarian programs. The scoring/notation program Copyist is about to be updated for MPE. While in the editors, you have access to SysEx and to the disk drive of your choice (as defined on the System screen). When you select To KCS, you return to the last KCS Edit.
Of course, nothing's free - loading these programs into memory results in a reduction of available free events. Copyist, in particular, will take up a lot of space. In fact, unless you have a Mega ST (either 2 or 4), the Doctor points out that you won't have very much room for files if you load The Copyist and editor programs simultaneously.
The great thing about this integration is that you can listen to the current sequence play the patch you're working on in the editor program. Also, the time and aggro saved are well worth the trouble of getting the editor programs in the new MPE versions.
It's not readily apparent from inside KCS 1.6 that you can also unload the programs - there's no message to this effect, but there is one in KCS Level II: shift-click on the last program loaded to remove from memory. This restores all the memory, and worked flawlessly for me once I'd sussed it. It didn't work quite as smoothly with the KCS Level II and Copyist, because the latter was a prerelease version that hadn't been cleaned up.
AS WITH ALL notation/conversion programs I've seen, you soon learn how to edit any rhythmically interesting sequences with Copyist so that the computer can display the music in a readable manner (there seems to be a rule that if it looks right then it'll sound dumb, and if it sounds right then it'll look dumb). There's a playback mode from the notation screen, which is nice, but compromised by the aforementioned rhythmic side effect.
If your music is destined to be read and played live and you have your copying skills together, you'll probably win over the computer hands down. If it's for hawking your songs around, go for it - the result can look very professional, and the link with the sequencer works like a charm.
THE NEW PROGRAMS come with owner's manuals that are a far cry from the tiny books with miniature print that Dr T's distributed before. They are readable, ringbound in sturdy plastic, with indices and tables of contents. The Copyist's manual left me stranded a lot of the time, but the others made learning a breeze. The disks are copyprotected, by the way. Hard disk installation is possible, but the original disk must be in drive A during booting up to serve as a key disk.
THIS ESCHER-LIKE space is also only available from within KCS Level II. The basic idea behind PVG is to take some of your existing sequencer material and create variations on it which you control by setting values for a variety of parameters. Looking at it from a broader point of view, it's the most powerful editor you're ever likely to see. Downright intimidating, actually - particularly when you come up against screens that look like they're exam papers in maths, with terms like Set Values, Rotate Values, Gaussian, Macros, Consecutive Mults and In-betweens. And the manual waxes on about "Chaos making a new Science" and Mandelbrot diagrams - far out (as my dad used to say). And that's just where this program will take your music if you let it. But you're in control at all times, although it'll take you a long time to get a sense of how much control. Give it a little or a lot of music to work on, define the direction in which to take that music, set up restrictions, and see what results.
"PVG: The basic idea behind PVG is to take some of your existing sequencer material and create variations on it which you control by setting values for a variety of parameters."
What you're building is a set of definitions called a Preset. The program can store up to 80 Presets. For more complex procedures, you combine up to 16 Presets into one of 20 Macros, so that the computer can combine the commands of the Presets in one operation.
The first screen in PVG is called Changes. A number of data fields are ready for entering parameter values that will randomly change pitch, velocity, duration, time, shift, and interval, based on the data on the Edit screen when you clicked on PVG. If you had a range (block) defined at that time, then that's the material the PVG will work on. It could be as little as a single event, or a whole song. You must further tell the program how many variations it should perform, and what the likelihood of varying one parameter over another should be. How do you know? Well, take a shot in the dark. Fill in some numbers under AMT (amount) and WGT (weight), set a number for Changes per Vary, and see what happens.
For an experiment I used the default C scale from sequence 1 in the Open mode, which moves by quarter notes from C4 up to C5. In the field Change by Constant, I entered Pitch Amt 2, Wgt 1, with Changes per Vary at 1, asking for 10 variations with evolving Mults, not overwriting the Original. Under Restrictions, where you delimit things that the program should not create, I entered the pitches of A, A#, C#, D#, E, F#, G#, with pitch limits of C4 and C5 for upper and lower limit (in other words, keep to the range of the original). Result: the program wrote 10 new tracks, each with eight notes picked from the C scale, at quarter note intervals (since I didn't ask for a time change), all between C4 and C5. They read like this: CCEFGABC, CCEFGGBC, CCDFGGBC, CCDFFGBC, CCDGFGBC, CCEGFGBC, CCDGFGBC, CCCGFGBC, CDCGFGBC and CDCFFGBC. The manual states that "the WGT value determines the likelihood that a change will be made by that particular amount". Read: low weighting, small changes.
Instead of Change by Constant, I could have chosen Gaussian, where the Amt column is replaced with SD (standard deviation, which the manual defines as "a statistical measure of the likelihood that a given change will be of some specified size"). It seems to mean that whatever you enter there won't always come up, but more often than not it will. And, I could have entered some numbers under Time and Shift which would have affected the rhythm and length of the scale. Selecting Staccato or Legato would have altered duration of the notes that would have been changed rhythmically. Signed Values is the third option, giving you more control than the others, since the changes seem to happen more gradually, and in the positive or negative direction that you can input.
Another screen lets you assign Swap/Copy functions, where the source material isn't altered, just rearranged. Again you enter numbers, and you set up a protection scheme. Set Values will set a randomly chosen event to the set value irrespective of its starting value. Interval, Delete, and Erase work here, too.
Global Changes allows you to make changes to the unprotected notes of a sequence, not necessarily at random. This is a screen where you can make Edits in a predetermined way, by giving only the global change any weight (meaning no other parameters, even on other screens), and by setting the Changes per Vary to zero. This works for transpositions or inversions of pitch, velocity, duration, time reversal, delete, or erase options. Split/ Pattern looks for patterns that you input (a certain interval or other relationship) and splits it off into a new track. By careful setting of the parameters and of the protection options, you can split off almost anything you want as opposed to random values.
In-Betweens looks at two existing sequences and creates new material according to some mathematical formula, while taking into account any Autocorrect values (for similarity in rhythm) and Scale Positions Restrictions that you have set. Another screen produces Ornaments (embellishment figures), including notes that weren't part of the source sequence. You can set the timing of the Ornament with Offset and Delay values. Other parameters contribute to the amount of time the Ornament gets played, or split the Ornament off onto another track.
Add Controllers is a way of introducing random controller data, not unlike the Ornaments (which are random note data). You choose from Delay, Type, and Value; consider Looping the result, or mixing the effect of several controllers at once. A fixed Program change can be added, and the introduction of new controllers can be stopped with Next Note Lim, Extend, & Duration. Controller events can be further modulated according to parameters like the pitch or velocity of notes. If you want to feel that you at least started the process, Vary Controllers needs some controller data to be present in the original in order to do its job. You specify which controller data should be varied, with restriction and protection parameters. These screens are interactive, and are must be taken to clear data before setting up another effect.
I HAVE BY no means touched on every parameter: there are just too many. And given the interaction between screens, with the variety of effects that can come from them, you'll come up on Littlewoods before you exhaust the possibilities that PVG offers. With every change in the source sequence the outcome an change, even if you have kept the input values to a minimum and if you use just one Preset. Imagine what could happen if you wrote a Macro with 16 Presets, and lots of Changes per Vary in each.
How far you'd want to take KCS is largely a matter of taste. I doubt that musicians who are plugged into the realities of the commercial music scene will take the PVG portion of the program very far, while the excellent sequencer lends itself very well to real-life projects. But for you explorers out there, this is going to be paradise. The ability to jump to other programs with MPE just adds to the versatility. Cancel your summer holiday.
Prices KCS 1.6, £199; KCS Level 11, £275: Copyist, £199. Upgrades should cost £10-15. All prices include VAT
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Review by Lorenz Rychner
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