Master Tracks Pro 5
Mac Sequencing Software
One of the Mac sequencing front-runners, Master Tracks Pro, has benefited from ongoing upgrades and is now into its fifth life. Mike Collins gets to know a Pro.
Passport's Pro 5 is the latest incarnation of Master Tracks Pro, which was initially introduced back in 1987 for the Macintosh, and which is also available for the Atari, Amiga, and IBM-compatible computers.
The program offers up to 64 separate sequencer tracks, each of which can address both Macintosh serial ports separately; up to 32 discrete MIDI channels can be used courtesy of these two ports. You can choose either graphical or numerical list-editing — conventional music notation display and/or editing is not supported by this program. Editing operations can be performed in real time while a sequence is playing, for instant confirmation, and to maintain creative flow. Pitchbend, aftertouch, key pressure, modulation, controllers, program changes, and tempo can be edited visually as well, using high-resolution graphic windows and standard cut/copy/paste techniques.
A SysEx utility is provided to let you control your entire MIDI setup from within the program. Using this, you can save and load voices, drum patterns, or any other SysEx data to and from your MIDI gear. The program's tape recorder-like transport controls can be operated remotely from a MIDI keyboard, so you never even need to step away from your keyboard while recording alone. Pro 5 lets you record any MIDI events onto all 16 MIDI channels simultaneously, if you need to, and also lets you record volume changes into a track as it is playing. Quantised material can be 'humanised' to loosen it up, and you can re-map notes for use with different drum machines as well as for normal note-transposition purposes.
There is a 'fit time' command, which lets you adjust tempos in a region to fit a given length of time while maintaining the proportionality of any existing tempo changes within that region — obviously very useful when working to picture. A Change Filter is available, which allows editing of selected events, measures, or beats, for sophisticated editing manoeuvres; this is very simple and intuitive to use. Like most professional MIDI sequencers, Pro 5 scrolls the graphic display of your sequence as it plays, so you can see the music on screen as you listen. Up to 16 sequences can be open at one time, and these can be linked together into a single playlist for live performance.
One way in which Pro 5 differs from some other MIDI sequencers is that it will let you record data from any combination of (or from all) MIDI channels into any single track. You can also edit data in any track to make selected events play back on different MIDI channels. This can be useful at times, although I prefer sequencers which force you to keep separate MIDI channels on different tracks (because it reduces the potential for confusion).
There are various differences between Pro 5 and its immediate predecessor, Pro 4. The record filter now lets you quantise incoming data, which is the way that most drum machines work, and some users prefer this way of working even with other instrument tracks. Passport have very sensibly decided to add compatibility with Mark of the Unicorn's MIDI Time Piece interface, which means that Pro 5 can send and receive MIDI data on 16 MIDI channels via each separate input and output socket on the MTP. As Opcode's new Studio 5 and Studio 4 interfaces have MTP-compatibility, this means that Pro 5 will work in the same way with these Opcode interfaces too.
A neat touch is the provision of a dedicated Master Volume Fader. Using this, you can fade all tracks at the same time, or use this control as a 'group' fader to set the overall level of a sub-mix of several tracks at once. You can record movements of the volume fader into any track or tracks by shift-clicking on the record field of tracks you want to control. Volume changes will then be automatically recorded and merged in with the data in the selected tracks.
It is now possible to rearrange the order of your tracks in the track editor window by clicking in the track's number at the far left side of the window, holding down the mouse button, and dragging the track to a new position — just as you can with MOTU's Performer — a facility which I find particularly handy. Another neat feature is the ability to 'lock' tracks (perhaps containing drum and percussion parts) to prevent them from being transposed when you have selected all tracks in the Track Editor and you use the Transpose Command in the Change Menu to change key.
The guys at Passport have definitely been listening to what users want from a MIDI sequencer, and I guess they've been reading magazine reviews of their software as well. Several of the gripes I had about Pro 4 have been fixed in this new version — although I still prefer Performer's Markers Window, and the slickness of its event edit window to those of Pro 5. However, I feel that Pro 5 has the edge in several respects, such as the way in which it displays complete bars in the Track Editor at a fairly small size, so that you can fit a reasonable number of bars across your screen, and the way in which the graphic edit display highlights each complete beat as it scrolls automatically in play mode.
This latter feature makes it much easier to keep track of where you are in the display than by watching a thin vertical line traversing the graphic display, as in Performer and various other sequencers.
The way Pro 5 displays tempo changes graphically in the Tempo Map Window is definitely superior to most other Mac sequencer tempo displays. Pro 5 is also lightning-fast in use, and the Change Filter is excellent in allowing you to edit particular notes within a bar, for instance — a feature not yet available in Performer. Finally, Pro 5 is not copy-protected, which is a boon for professional users who don't want the hassle of using a key disk, or installing (and running the constant risk of losing) a hard disk copy of the program.
All in all, Pro 5 is an excellent choice of sequencer on the Mac, especially if you like to work fast using graphic editing, and is definitely able to give Performer, Vision, and Cubase a good run for their money.
Passport Master Tracks Pro 5 £349.95 inc VAT.
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Review by Mike Collins
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