MC-500 MIDI Real Time Recorder
Songwriter/musician Nick Graham gets to grips with the MC500
Musician/songwriter Nick Graham takes time out from the studio to review the Roland MC-500 MIDI Real Time Recorder
For some time now there has been a need for a MIDI recorder which would couple the obvious advantages of real time recording with the type of step time and editing facilities which made the old (but much loved) MC-4 micro composer famous. Happily Roland have now filled that gap with the introduction of the MC-500 — a professional 4-track MIDI recorder capable of all the above mentioned tasks and a lot more besides.
Strictly speaking the MC-500 is a 5-track recorder because its extra rhythm track allows up to 32 individual drums to be programmed into any of 90 different patterns, which can then be chained into complete songs. Of course the MC-500 can only trigger external sounds and Roland have set default values which enable it to play the 32 sounds provided by a combination of their TR-707/727 drum machines. However these default values can be changed and the rhythm track on the MC-500 could easily be used to trigger other sounds. For example you could trigger real drum sounds from a sampling device. Whatever is triggered from the rhythm track, the fact that rhythm patterns and music are all on the same machine means easier programming, easier editing and perfect synchronisation. And when you store the finished product on the 3½" internal disk drive, the rhythm track goes with it — all your programming on one disk!
It is often necessary to combine the techniques of real time and step time recording within a single song and the MC-500 is ideal for this. In step time single notes or chords can be entered either from a MIDI keyboard or by numbers using the Alpha dial or Numeric keyboard, velocity levels, gate time, resolution, even 'feel' can all be programmed by step and there are some nice touches: if you enter a wrong note, the 'reset" control takes you back one step and erases the mistake and, for those of us who are not trained keyboard players, complex chords can be built up one note at a time.
Real time recording merely involves playing along to the metronome or the rhythm track and provided the controlling keyboard transmits all MIDI information, then your every move is faithfully recorded. Just in case you have played out of time (perish the thought!) comprehensive quantisation from half notes through to 64ths is available. If the mistakes are any more drastic than that, then help is at hand in the form of microscopic editing.
Entering this mode is to look at each individual MIDI event in detail. Not only is each parameter displayed but by rotating the Alpha dial the MC-500 can be heard stepping through its programme. Thus any offending pitches, timing, dynamics, program changes, pitch bends etc etc etc can be rewritten to perfection. This means that if you recorded a brilliant synth solo with one bum note, that note could be individually corrected (or erased) without actually dropping into re-record it. If however you prefer to do it that way, the MC-500 will oblige — full punch in/punch out recording is available.
Having satisfactorily constructed sections of music, maybe choruses or verses, then the next step is to construct a song and whether you recorded in step time or real time now makes no difference. Edit mode enables the copying, inserting, deleting or erasing of any bar or group of bars, to and from any position in any track with the utmost flexibility. At this stage tracks can also be merged (whilst retaining MIDI channel numbers), de-merged (extract), copied and transposed, There is little danger of running out of memory — the MC-500 can record 25,000 MIDI events in its internal memory and each disk can store 100,000 events.
The MIDI specifications of the MC-500 are particularly impressive and make for trouble free operation. Two separate MIDI out sockets are provided and can be allocated to handle different groups of channels or just MIDI sync. Soft thru enables the mixing of thru signals into the MIDI out sockets providing the ideal setup for controlling expanders. All relevant MIDI data can be filtered at will, and the MC-500 is already geared up to receive and record polyphonic aftertouch. On the playback side the MC-500 receives and transmits MIDI song pointers making it ideal for use with an SBX-80 running from a SMFTE/EBU code on tape. However, it will sync perfectly well to its own FSK code.
As you've probably gathered this new micro composer from Roland is bound to make an impact and in my brief review of it I've only touched on its capabilities. One thing I must mention is that by recording system exclusive information the MC-500 allows the storage of patch data, filter sweeps, waveform changes and other parameters from a variety of Roland and other makes of synthesizer — the actual sounds and not just their programme number stay in the memory. This facility just adds the final touch to an exceptional product which, because it is software based, will actually continue to develop and improve.
Roland Newslink - Autumn 1986
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