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Hints, tips & news from the world of Music Software

Hints and tips for users of Twelve Tone Systems' Cakewalk for Windows and Gajits Breakthru.



This month we're going to take a look at sample quality. Although written with Breakthru in mind, much of the following information applies in principle to Sequencer One and Sequencer One Plus.

Gajits sequencer owners will know that their software is capable of playing back samples at the same time as transmitting conventional MIDI information. However, replaying samples is no mean feat; before a sample is played, the software loads it into memory in the form that it is going to be used (and don't forget that there are up to forty discrete modes from which you can choose to replay your samples). Although simple in theory, actually delivering the sounds is exceptionally complicated. Not surprisingly, this significant power is achieved with the overhead of utilising a considerable portion of the ST's 68000 processing potential.


The quality of the sample produced can be maximised by careful use of the most suitable sample mode. In Breakthru these are the options chosen from the Sample Palette Screen (selected either from the Screens menu, or pressing F4). Your hardware is a most important factor concerning quality when playing samples. Firstly, it must be appreciated that you will not get the same quality from a small loudspeaker in a portable television or monitor that you can expect from a dedicated 16-bit sample replay cartridge connected to a hi-fi or PA system. This accepted, you should select the best option for the hardware at your disposal. Breakthru has been designed to run optimally with AVR's latest Replay 16 package. To clarify a question we are often asked, note that you can play 8-bit samples through a 16-bit cartridge, but obviously you won't get 16-bit excellence.


Let's assume that you have selected the appropriate hardware configuration on the Sample Palette Screen; you next need to decide the maximum number of samples you want to be played at any moment. Breakthru provides channels used to play sampled sound. When a sample is played, it will use a spare channel, and, when it finishes, the channel becomes free for use by the next sample. If there are no channels currently available, the sample simply will not sound. Therefore you need to make sure that there are enough channels to suit your music (up to Breakthru's maximum of four). However, the fewer you require, the higher will be the quality, as the software can concentrate on improved sound rather than having to share its attention over several samples. In practice, the 'quality versus quantity' trade-off is commonly of little consequence. For example, if you wanted a solitary solo gong, at a particularly dramatic point in a piece, then choosing one channel will be best. Alternatively, if you wanted all four channels playing samples from a drum kit, the slight quality loss should be counteracted by the nature of a drum kit's overall combination of sounds.


Breakthru shifts the pitch of samples as required whilst the sequencer is playing. Again, this is a processor intensive feature. Having already loaded the sample into memory in the selected mode, the appropriate calculations on the digital information are executed 'on the fly'; consequently, this uses power which would otherwise be reserved for improving the sample replay quality. So if quality is ultimately important, you should only use the Pitch Shift option when necessary. For instance, un-tuned instruments do not usually require pitch shifting (although doing so can produce some interesting sounds). A useful tip, applicable in certain circumstances, can avoid the use of Pitch Shift altogether, and hence maintain a higher quality. Assume you have a sample which you want to replay at three different pitches: you have the option either to load it with the Pitch Shift option selected and replay it using a single track with different notes, or to re-save the sample at the required pitches (using the originating sample-editing software), load them individually without Pitch Shift, and replay them on three independent tracks. This results in higher quality, but at the expense of requiring more memory. An example of this might be when using timpani samples alongside a standard (un-tuned) drum kit.



Many new users of Cakewalk Professional overlook the ability to rearrange the Track/Measure view parameter columns. You can drag columns to new positions and even re-size them. Your arrangement is saved for the next time you start the program.

Part of the idea behind this came from Cakewalk 4.0 users asking that one or more track parameters be added to the program's Measure View. Only the track number and name are visible next to the measure grid. We thought we should combine the Track and Measure Views side by side into one window — and let users rearrange the track parameters and drag the border between the two. Now you can set up your own 'custom Measure View'. And, since double-clicking the border toggles between showing all of the track parameters and whatever other sizing you last had, you can get the best of both worlds.

To move a parameter column to a new position, point to the top header row of the column, click and drag the column to the new position. To resize a column, point in the top header row along the right edge of the column. The cursor changes to a 'left-right' arrow shape and you can click and drag to resize the column.


One option you may find useful is Auto-activate. This activates a Cakewalk Professional window as soon as you move the mouse cursor over it. (Normally you need to click on a window to activate it.) You may find this option annoying when you have overlapping windows, because it may be easy to activate a window accidentally and obscure another window. But this option can be more useful if you're working in Windows in 800 x 600 graphics mode, where there's enough room that you're not overlapping any windows.


The Windows 3.1 File Manager can drop files onto Windows programs that are 'drag and drop aware'. Cakewalk Professional for Windows is aware. You can take advantage of this by opening both File Manager and Cakewalk Professional on the screen. Click on a .WRK or .MID file in File Manager, hold the mouse button down, drag the file icon anywhere over the Cakewalk Professional window, and then release the mouse button to 'drop' the file. Cakewalk Professional will load the file. (If you drop a file on Cakewalk Professional while it's already playing another file, it will stop, load, and start playing the new file.)

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Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.


Sound On Sound - Jul 1993


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