Feels so Real
Phil Brammer finds time for RealTime for the ST
"Just what the Atari world needed, another sequencer..." opens RealTime's manual, and at first glance we were inclined to agree. Impressive specs, but 256 tracks for £199? We suspected a trade off. Bags of features, yes, but how friendly would it be? Phil Brammer investigates.
Well, it runs on my 520 ST (a bonus as I haven't yet had the memory upgrade necessary to run Steinberg Pro-24 V.3, for example), and is supplied as a single-sided disk. Although the manual is a mine of useful information and helped to change my initial impression of the nature of the beast, the ring-binder is too large for most desks or shelves (a minor point, but finding sufficient space is a problem for most of us) and the rings are too small for the bulk of paper the binder was presumably designed to hold. My tip: find a separate folder for the introductory tutorial sheets for easier access to the actual manual.
And now the good news: Real-Time is as good as you would expect from its staggering specifications, and is also (surprise surprise!) very user-friendly.
The first thing to appear on screen during the loading operation is a simple control strip (Transport) which features a "Movie" icon (which will later be used to save a song as a MIDI File) and the menu strip. Next, the Library window (top left and currently empty) and a prompt box asking you to name your New Section arrive.
Enter a name and the "main" window (the Section window) appears, which is where all your MIDI events will be seen to take place. Click on the Record button (currently set to IR, or "Insert Record") and Play, and the Metronome starts up in 4/4, at a Tempo of 120. The logo above the Transport strip tells you it is Waiting for you to hit your first note, as this is the point at which it will begin to record.
RealTime will now loop around the first two bars (it loads up in its virgin state set for two bars), overdubbing anything you play on your Controller (I am using the Yamaha DX21 keyboard - thanks Pups). The Record mode can be set to Replace Record (RR) which will replace any existing events on the track with each pass through the Section, rather like a Tape Recorder, should you so wish.
The Tempo, Time Signature and number of Bars you can record over are simply altered by choosing the relevant numerical box and clicking or dragging the mouse in the normal way.
The Quantize Record numerical is currently set to 1/16 note, but this can be similarly altered right down to 1/768 note.
RealTime also allows Point recording, whereby a note can be inserted (at a point chosen using the cursor) from the keyboard, but assuming for now that you are happy with the first Track of your first Section, protect it by highlighting the middle of the three narrow columns next to the Tracks column of the Section window. You can now record a second track without fear of dubbing it onto Track One.
Look at the Library window and you will see that it contains the names of recorded Sections (SCT) and you may well be wondering how you will ever build your various Sections up into a song.
Fear not, Brothers and Sisters, for this operation is simplicity itself. Click on "New Song" from the drop down Library menu and an empty Song window appears. Now just drag the Section Files (in the order in which you'd like them to play) across to the Song window, indicate therein the number of times each Section is to repeat, and there it is!
To play through the song ensure that the Song window is live and hit Play, or alternatively, click on the SNG bar next to the Song title in the Library window to play back the whole song. Now wasn't that quick?
In order to display the whole song as a linear Section, make a MIDI file of the song (this is where the "Movie" icon somes in), and import it into a newly opened Section. This facilitates soloing over the entire song. Neat!
Clicking anywhere within the Section window conjures up the Section Toolbox which contains all the tools required to effect speedy editing.
Click on the Selector tool for example with the cursor, and the cursor becomes the Selector tool. Drag this across a region of notes to be copied, deleted, transposed or whatever, and that region has been selected (highlighted).
Cut, Copy and Paste are all performed with ease by nipping in and out of the drop-down Edit menu, or the Special menu which features Merge, Clip, Fit and Repeat Paste options.
Although the Section window will scroll should you wish to drag across a particularly long Section for editing, you can make life easier still by opting for a lower value Quantize View - packing more notes into the Section window.
Editing Controls is just as easy. They can be edited individually after choosing the control you wish to edit from the control drop-down menu within the Section Window and clicking on Display.
Other Section tools allow painting in or deletion of individual notes (changing Pitch, Velocity, Duration) but the most noteworthy to me is the Loop tool. This allows loop points to be inserted into a track along with a number between one and 100 which represents the probability of the track actually looping from there, eg Insert a loop point and drag the mouse towards you to change the value alongside the point to 20, and there is a 20% chance of the track looping from that point for any single pass through the Section. This creates interesting variations in your music and is also great fun.
Another impressive feature is Reverse Region, available from the drop-down Edit menu, which, as its name suggests, will reverse the order of notes within a given region. On Art, Bondage...
To the top right of the Section window are two rows of boxes representing pre-set palettes for note Velocity and Articulation (the latter differing from note duration in as much as it is calculated as a fraction of the time between the beginnings of adjacent notes or events). These palettes will be used for painting notes into your tracks, and their respective values can be re-set after displaying the relevant View of the Section window. Do this by clicking on the View icon next to the Tempo numerical box, and then hitting the required icon from the View drop-down menu.
Within this View menu we also find icons which will conjure up other versions of the Section window, giving access to:
- "Track Bondage", which allows for one or more tracks to be slaved to another
- the "Pitch" view for Transposition of notes in the Section,
- "Time", enabling fractional timing variations around the original notes, giving a human feel to quantized notes and also lending itself to groovy digital delay effects
- "Fills", which lets RealTime fill spaces between notes with sounds which you can determine from any of your pre-recorded tracks
- the "MIDI" view, wherein you define MIDI Out channels, Programs and Volumes "Velocity Probability" and "Articulation Probability" views allow you to determine the chances of notes being played to your preset values, introducing another two randomizing factors similar to Probabilistic Looping, which we have already touched upon....
By clicking on "Open", opposite the relevant MIDI Channel in the Channel menu, we access a Device window in which each MIDI device can be defined and named. After doing so we can forget about Channel or MIDI note numbers forever, as these set-ups can be saved to disk, and get on with the business of recording and referring to our beloved Drum Machines and Synths by their familiar names, such as Roland D50 or Derek. Imagine booting-up Real-Time at the start of your next session and having all your sounds for a specific song just there! Think of the valuable time saved! The Mind Boggles.
Space (or lack of same) imposes another "scratching the surface" review on a very worthy piece of software.
RealTime has a Multi-Tasking environment, allowing certain additional programs (and apparently most Word Processors and Graphics programs fit into this category) to run simultaneously, with RealTime running as a background task.
It allows you to edit while the music plays, putting RealTime high in the instant Gratification stakes. It reads Format 0 and 1 MIDI Files, and can be synchronized to SMPTE (using CCL's Phantom), an external MIDI clock or MIDI Time code.
Okay, so my review copy had the odd bug (grey patches have appeared within the Section window from time to time, and saving songs as MIDI Files often results in the odd clipped note), and it has crashed on me a few times for no apparent reason, but no doubt these teething problems will be solved by the time you read this.
RealTime is set to be the MIDI Sequencer of 1989. Power without the price indeed!
ATARI ST Version 1.1
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Review by Phil Brammer
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