Opcode Galaxy Plus Editors
Tell your Mac what it's hooked up to! Save the contents of all your MIDI devices with one mouse movement! Edit 47 different devices from the comfort of your armchair! Kendall Wrightson examines Opcode's new Mac system software and the latest in editor/librarians.
The story so far: back in the old days, musicians and synthesizers shared an intimate, tactile relationship. New sounds were created, new schools of music established; man and machine were one. Suddenly, one afternoon in 1983, the manufacturers went totally mad and decided en masse to hide the massive creative potential of the synthesizer behind a solitary 'data entry' slider. Originality waned, the preset was King. Thankfully, MIDI came to the rescue. Using the system exclusive protocol, instruments were able to communicate with musicians via interpretive software. Control was transferred to the computer screen. The art of synthesizer programming was saved from extinction. Now read on...
Opcode are pioneers of MIDI software, and since the mid-80s have produced editor/librarian applications for over 60 different devices including synths, drum machines and effects processors. Last year saw the release of a 'universal librarian' called Galaxy, capable of saving, sorting and even generating patches far over 90 individual instruments. Opcode's latest offering is Galaxy Plus Editors which, in addition to Galaxy's librarian facilities, adds 47 fully featured graphic editor modules (see separate box for the full list).
Both Galaxy and Galaxy Plus Editors require Opcode's latest software innovation, the Opcode MIDI System. OMS is a Mac system extension and setup application that stores information about the hardware connected to (or fitted inside) your Mac. Once installed, all OMS-compatible applications (at present that means Vision and Studio Vision v1.3) use this knowledge to route MIDI data from the Mac to the outside world and display instrument names in their menus (see 'Opcode MIDI System' box).
Having configured OMS, the next stage is to run Galaxy from the master floppy disk and decide whether to transfer a special software 'key' to your hard disk. This 'HD Install key' is the most common copy protect scheme on the Mac, and nearly all MIDI software publishers employ it. Once a key is installed, you don't have to insert the master disk each time the application is run after power up — which is good. However, there is a serious risk of losing keys should your hard disk crash — which is very bad. Virus detectors and disk optimisers are also extremely key-unfriendly.
If a key is destroyed, you're locked out of the application for ever, and the only solution is to beg the distributor (who will then beg the publisher) to give you a new master disk. This is hardly ideal, particularly mid-session, but at least the Galaxy master disk contains two keys.
The third and final installation procedure is to load whatever librarian and editor modules you need. This is done from within Galaxy by selecting Easy Configuration from the Setups menu. A dialogue box asks to see all five Galaxy disks, and any modules matching those described in the current OMS Setup document are loaded automatically.
You can fetch a bank of patches by selecting New Bank from the Galaxy File menu. A dialogue box appears listing all the devices connected to your Mac, (and any other installed modules not used in the current OMS document). The device list also includes the various different types of data that each device supports. For example, the Kawai K1 contains 'Singles' and 'Multis' and the Korg M1 holds 'Combinations', 'Programs', 'Effects', 'Global Data' and 'Sequences'.
Having selected a device and data type, an empty Bank Window appears. The size, shape and organization of the Bank Window reflects the device and type of data selected. The Bank Window in Figure 1 shows a Bank of Kawai K1 'Singles' which are organised as two groups of 32 (iA1-8 to D1-8 and IA1-8 to D1-8), whereas a bank of 99 Korg M1 'programs' are numbered simply 0 to 99. (For the remainder of the article the word "Patch" is used as a generic term for any single item of data in a Bank Window).
Selecting Load Bank (card or internal) from the Load/Save menu initiates the transfer process. A 'progress' dialogue box displays the estimated load time in minutes and seconds (which decreases as data is loaded). Where the transfer requires user intervention, Galaxy gives appropriate prompts, such as "Press MIDI Transmit and then press Yes" in the case of the Yamaha DX7. Galaxy also provides comprehensive online help for every module installed — essential reading for the professional programmer.
When loading patches that contain sub-patches, (such as Kawai K1 Multis, which contain Singles), Galaxy automatically loads both since the former (the 'parent') is useless without the latter (its 'child'). When the load operation is complete, the empty Bank Window fills with patch names unless the device in question doesn't support them (such as the elderly Roland Juno 106).
Galaxy's 'Bundles' offer a way to load/save all the different types of data (or selections thereof) that an individual device supports. Better still, a Bundle can contain different instruments. For example, the Bundle in Figure 1 contains Kawai K1, Korg M1 and Oberheim Matrix 1000 patch types. Bundles are built by selecting New Bundle from the File menu, and choosing the devices/data types you wish the Bundle to incorporate.
By highlighting a particular device, all data from that device is loaded. With the "Get All Banks In Bundles" command, it's possible to take a 'snapshot' of an entire studio setup — ideal for studio sessions. Both standalone Banks and Bundles can be saved in either Galaxy 1.0 or Opcode Librarian version 5 format. In addition, Bundles can be saved as a template, so that you don't have to build one from scratch every time.
Referring to our Bank Window again, individual patches can be renamed (by clicking on individual patch fields) or rearranged using standard cut, copy and paste techniques. By holding down the option key, patches can also be 'dragged' from one location to another — a neat touch. If several Bank Windows (of the same type) are open, patches can also be copied/pasted/dragged between them — great for arranging custom Banks for gigs.
Since an instrument's performance banks are always limited in size (64, 99, 128 etc.), a Bank is not the ideal repository for storing a large collection of sounds. In order to fulfill this role, Opcode offers the 'Library', a file of unlimited size into which patches can be copied/dragged from Banks and Bundles of the same device and data type. If a parent patch is moved out of a Bundle into a library (or a standalone Bank) Galaxy copies the children too — very smart.
One way to use the Library facility is to build files containing various categories of sounds, such as string or brass sounds. However, with Galaxy's new Find facility, you could store all your patches in a single Library file (one per instrument), since each patch can be assigned a small amount of descriptive text plus a series of custom categories and keywords to help you find particular sounds. This text is configured in a window called Patch Info (see Figure 2). Descriptive text, categories and keywords make it possible to be very specific about the kind of patch you're looking for. For example, searching for a fast attack, bright, warm, medium release cello is no problem! To get you started, Galaxy Plus Editors is supplied with 1,500 factory patches all containing text, categories and keywords.
The Patch Factory menu provides access to three types of automatic patch creation algorithm. 'Shuffler' generates a new Bank or Library file by shuffling the parameters of a specified Bank. Thus if the Bank contains mostly string sounds, the Shuffled Bank will be heavily biased towards strings.
'Shade Two' allows you to select two patches and have Patch Factory generate patches that consist of a gradual transition from one to the other. You can choose to generate an entire Bank or a Library, the latter giving you the option of determining how many patches (and therefore how many interim steps) there will be between the two extremes. Both Shuffler and Shade Two are intelligent enough not alter parameters which would result in a complete dogs' breakfast of a sound.
Like Shuffler, 'Constrained Random' requires two patches as a starting point. The algorithm uses them to set the limits of randomisation, hence in one you set minimum parameter limits and in the other, the maximum. Patch names are also randomised in this process, a feature I highly commend — "Flapper" for example is priceless. Sounded pretty good too. A fourth Patch Factory option is 'Library Sampler' which creates a new Bank or Library consisting of Patches picked at random from (preferably) a large library file.
Individual patches can be transmitted to an instrument's edit buffer — or to the highest patch number if it has no edit buffer — at any time by selecting Send Patch from the Load/Save menu. A 'Send On Select' option provides an automatic alternative, transmitting Patches as you click on them in the Bank Window or as you step through them with a MIDI controller event (such as a footswitch). The latter makes it possible to check a Galaxy Bank from a remote keyboard.
Galaxy offers several ways to audition a patch. With Echo Keyboard set to On, any MIDI note received at either of the Mac's ports is echoed and auto-channelised for the appropriate device. Alternatively, the MouseKeys window provides a small on-screen MIDI keyboard which automatically routes its MIDI output to the current device. MouseKeys offers adjustable octave scroll, velocity, repeat, 'Lazy Keys', chords and multiple MIDI channel selection. The Mac alphanumeric keyboard can also get in on the act, 'Z' being middle C.
The Play menu also makes provision for a small sequence to be recorded. Length is limited only by available memory and sequences can be set to loop — ideal for testing riffs. Finally, Galaxy can also play an imported MIDI file.
When Galaxy and Vision/Studio Vision run together in Multifinder or System 7.0 (which integrates the Multifinder completely), Galaxy Patch names appear automatically in Vision's List and Graphic windows, the Metronome and Select dialogue boxes and the Control Bar. An instrument's program numbering scheme is also displayed. For drum machines, Vision/Studio Vision can display MIDI notes by name rather than number.
New librarian and editor modules are introduced fairly regularly, and can be purchased for a nominal fee. For those who understand all those weird numbers at the back of instrument manuals, Galaxy has a programming mode in which librarian modules can be constructed using a language called PatchTalk. It's very similar to the HyperCard scripting language, HyperTalk, and makes full use of Galaxy's menus, windows and graphics.
With Galaxy, arranging, categorising and searching for patches has never been easier. Patch conversion, random patch generation and dynamic links with Vision are great, OMS is brilliant, and the "Get All Banks..." command is a godsend for commercial MIDI studios. While Galaxy Plus Editors can't provide the intimacy of real knobs and sliders, having all controls and parameters visible simultaneously makes navigation easy and programming intuitive, through its excellent graphic tools and displays, Galaxy presents a consistent user interface, making it easy to learn new devices.
Galaxy/Plus Editors greatest appeal will be to Vision/Studio Vision owners, thanks to its automatic patch publishing links between the two and also because both support the excellent OMS. I suspect everyone else will want to compare Galaxy Plus Editors with Dr.T's X-OR, which is some £67 cheaper, isn't copy protected and supports editors and librarians for 90 devices. After that review, maybe I'll be able to say one isn't really a patch on the other... (sorry).
Thanks to David Kaplowitz at Opcode
Galaxy Plus Editors £346.63 inc VAT.
Galaxy £210.33 inc VAT.
Individual Editor/Librarians £129.25 to £210.33 inc VAT.
Upgrade from Galaxy to Galaxy Plus Editors £188 Inc VAT.
Upgrade from individual editor/librarians to Galaxy/Galaxy Plus Editors — difference in RRP.
MCMXCIX. (Contact Details).
Review by Kendall Wrightson
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