MoPro Atari 520ST MIDI Software
Chris Jenkins gets to grips with the first multitrack MIDI recording package for Atari's hi-spec, hi-tech home computer. Does it deliver the goods?
As many of you will already know, the Atari 520ST is the first home computer with a built-in MIDI interface (save Yamaha's custom-designed CX5), and as such, signifies the coming of age for what was always meant to be a computer communications system, as well as a means of connecting instrument to instrument. So far, though, there's been an odd lack of MIDI software for the ST, which already boasts plenty of specially written packages in fields such as wordprocessing, databases and graphics.
This is a shame, because the Atari uses the fast, modern 68000 16-bit processor, operates under a fancy windows/icons/mouse graphics environment called GEM, and includes a built-in 3.5-inch disk drive, plus a massive memory. All this makes it better specified than many more expensive dedicated music sequencers, if the software is right.
The first contender for the ST MIDI market is a package called MIDI Recorder from MoPro (Modern Products) of Holland. The version I saw was very much pre-production, full of windows popping up to say THIS IS A DEMO whenever I tried to do something useful. As it stands, the MIDI Recorder does enough to demonstrate the Atari's suitability for musical applications, without achieving very much in software terms. For unlike most sequencers (both dedicated and micro-based), this one just records data and plays it back — it doesn't allow the rearrangement of patterns to form songs, or indeed anything resembling a useful compositional feature. All you can do is record some music, overdub some more onto it, and replay the results.
The software's opening screen menu allows you to choose from Desk, File, MIDI, Counter, Options and Help. Selecting MIDI takes you into the Record menu, which allows you to select any tracks or blocks to be erased or merged, and to set the delay time before recording starts. Having made your selection, you move to the main display.
To the left of this are the windows for the eight tracks available, which can only be recorded one at a time. Next to these are the Play tracks, of which any can be selected and be given any MIDI channel number between 1 and 16.
It appears that there are only eight speeds at which you can replay your sequences. Default speed is 4, so if you record at 4 and play back at 8, your tracks play faster. The finished version will no doubt have a user-defined tempo in beats per minute, but there's no sign of this yet. Also conspicuous by its absence is a page for setting up drum-machine synchronisation, though again, this will surely be included on the finished package.
Having recorded your eight tracks, you can change the MIDI channels selected at any time for playback. It's also possible to copy tracks: select at least one track under the Play header and an empty track under Record, and the tracks automatically copy across, leaving the originals still available. Should you wish, you can then select Erase to clear the tracks.
The File section allows you to name your compositions, note which instruments were used and so on, and then store all this information on disk.
Overall, although it uses the GEM operating environment to good effect, the MoPro MIDI Recorder falls down through being insufficiently ambitious. There's no step-time option, no music editing, and no facility for chaining patterns to form songs. Why this should be, on a micro as powerful as the 520ST, I have no idea.
It would be nice to think that the MoPro package will be significantly improved in its release version, but I still await the MIDI software which will do the 520ST justice. Steinberg Research in Germany and Soundwave in Canada are busily working on Atari programs, while MoPro's future plans include a 'proper' sequencer package, so perhaps those are the ones to look out for.
More from Ruud Pernot, MoPro, (Contact Details).
Review by Chris Jenkins
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!