This cost-effective sequencing package from Passport comes ready to run on all the popular music computers. Ian Waugh checks out the newest relative in the MasterTracks family.
MUSIC SOFTWARE WATCHERS will have caught on to the fact that software programs proliferate with the proverbial speed of rabbits. What can the software developer do to make the customer - you and me - home in on his work in a sea of software? There are three options - cheaper, newer and better (this generally means more features but too many can do more harm than good).
Passport's Trax for the Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, PC, and Apple Mac falls into the first category and is affiliated to the third. It's a reworking of MasterTracks Junior but at a lower price (down from £109) and with extra bits. MasterTracks Junior is, in turn, a cut down version of MasterTracks Pro (£285) so if you like what you read here, refer to our September issue for more details of big brother.
Trax (review v1.0) is a 64-track GEM-based sequencer. Operation revolves around five windows, three of which can be repositioned and resized like any GEM window. The Transport window contains "tape transport" controls so you can move around the score. There are Punch In, MIDI Thru and Count-in options here, too.
The Conductor window is where you set the tempo and time signature. A Conductor Track can be accessed from the Change menu. Conductors are becoming quite popular - they're one of Dr T's favourite devices. It is used solely to handle tempo and time signature changes. Trax' Conductor Track lets you enter a new time signature and/or tempo at any bar, along with programmed ralls and accels. This information is entered numerically, however, and doesn't appear on the track itself, which means you can't see where the changes occur in relation to the music.
The Track Sheet window lists the tracks. They can be named, looped, solo'd, muted, assigned a program change number (to be sent prior to play) and MIDI channel number. Oddly, you can set this as high as 128 although numbers above 16 wrap around. You can re-order the tracks by clicking and dragging.
The Song Editor shows the music in blocks which represent bars. These are numbered along the top of the window and it's easy to perform block edits such as cut, copy and paste (using a clipboard), insert and delete. You can highlight a section of the music by rubber banding and the Change menu offers duration, velocity, transpose and strip data functions. This is where you find Quantise, too. It's reasonably comprehensive with intensity and tolerance parameters and you can quantise the entire note or just the start of it.
And so to the Step Editor - which is the main addition to Trax over MasterTracks Junior. This is our friend the grid editor; notes are displayed as bars on a grid; the higher up the grid, the higher the pitch of the note, and the longer the bar, the longer the note's duration. This type of editor has found favour with many musicians and is especially useful if dots aren't your forte.
You can perform global edits here by rubber banding and individual notes can be moved by clicking and dragging (select the pencil icon). Double clicking on a note (using the pointer icon) brings up a dialogue box containing all the note's parameters for editing. However, entering new values in the Start Time and Duration boxes overwrites the old ones and it lets you enter values outside the permitted range - a small bug which should easily be cured. There is a zoom facility but this resides in the Layout menu rather than in the Editor window itself.
This is Trax' method of step-time entry - you just click notes onto the grid. Note durations are shown in a box in the top left of the window. It's reasonably quick, although an octave indicator by the onscreen keyboard would have helped. You can also enter notes in step time from a MIDI keyboard, which I found to be far easier, being both quick and accurate. This method also records note velocity.
Other features include a Free Memory indicator, internal or external Sync, and a Record Filter to remove unwanted data such as aftertouch during recording.
Trax supports the MIDI File format which is good news - if you decide to upgrade to a similarly facilitated sequencer, you can take your music with you. It also lets you export into a scorewriter should that be your desire.
To alter most of the numeric data fields you click on the field, up pops a box and you can either type in a new value or use up and down arrows to scroll to it. I reckon it would have been simpler to use the left and right mouse buttons to alter the values directly. And I'd have liked a true event list - the individual Edit Note parameters dialogue box is rather slow. Picky, picky, Waugh.
The manual is very helpful but why, oh why is there no index? Fortunately the program is sufficiently easy to use that I doubt if even the raw newcomer will have many operational problems.
So there you have it. If you want a budget sequencer which is easy to use with comprehensive editing facilities and a good method of step-time input, here it is.
Price £85 including VAT
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