The start of a regular monthly column devoted to readers' hints and tips about their instruments, equipment, software, recording and playing techniques.
If you've discovered any tricks on your equipment or invaluable tips that might help other readers, send them in to us. The sender of the best tip each month will win a super prize. This month, it's a free copy of Craig Anderton's marvellous book, MIDI FOR MUSICIANS. To start the column off, here are some tips from the Sound On Sound writers...
It is very easy to fall into this trap, so bear what follows in mind the next time you use the Local Control Off function on a DX7II. When you turn Local Control 'off' (by pressing EDIT, MIDI 1...), you not only turn off the Keyboard, but also the Continuous Sliders, the Pitch and Mod wheels, as well as the Sustain pedal - this means that any performance controls present on CS1 and CS2 aren't there anymore! The voice selection, PAN, and POLY/MONO (etc) buttons still work as usual.
The DX7II's Local Control Off function is more useful than you might think. Try this: press EDIT and then MIDI 1 until you get the page with the 'Local' display on the right-hand side, then press the cursor three times to get into that field. OK - now move the Pitch wheel forward (I am assuming it is set for +/-1 octave here) and then press the NO button. This turns Local Control off.
Playing the keyboard now has no effect, but when you release the Pitch wheel no pitch data is sent to the DX7's voice circuitry, and so when you turn Local Control back on with the YES key you should have a keyboard which plays an octave higher! Move the Pitch wheel ever so slightly though and the keyboard will return to its normal transposition. Although this sounds like a lot of twiddling, it is actually very fast in practice. You can do the same thing on the Sustain or the Volume pedals...
Running Status is a sort of space-saving shorthand method for sending just MIDI note-on and note-off information. Normally, each note event has a status byte which says 'there's a note on this channel', followed by the note number and the velocity value. When running status is active, then you only get one status byte, followed by lots of note numbers, followed by velocity values.
On the Yamaha DX7II, running status is not normally used - if you play single notes relatively slowly then you will almost certainly be sending full three byte messages. But when things get busy and you are playing lots of notes fast, you will only get status bytes occasionally, followed by lots of two-byte note number and velocity messages. This means that if you have an expander or computer program that does not recognise running status, then you will get a characteristic effect of it playing slow notes OK, but missing fast notes!
Drum machines have an Achilles' Heel: they often do funny things when their memory is nearly full (most people do funny things when their memory is nearly empty!). The Yamaha RX17 has been known to lose track of everything when you reach the 'Memory Full' message, but here is a more interesting effect supplied by Kawai's R50: When you fill up the R50's memory, you often lose just the current pattern. OK - a good example of what a well programmed device should do - but unfortunately sometimes you do not lose the pattern! What's the problem? Well, rather than lose the pattern, you will probably have lost either your User Kit memories (which mysteriously revert to the Preset Kits) or else you get unexpected drum events cropping up when you don't expect them...
Don't use the Call Pattern command to play sequences of patterns 'live' by pressing the cursor keys to advance or retard to other patterns. You can find that as the patterns change over you will sometimes hear sounds coming from drums which are not in either of the two patterns you are using - usually a cymbal crash or orchestral hit (if you have the alternative ROM) set loud and obvious!
C-Lab's Creator sequencer for the Atari ST has a Loop facility, which is very handy for trying out ideas for counterpoint and syncopation, but don't use it for real songs unless you want to have the loops going all the time - you can't stop them once they are going without halting playback altogether. Instead, use the loops to work out how many pattern repeats you want, and then use the Copy facilities to copy the pattern that number of times. If you don't, then you can get into a terrible muddle trying to find out in which pattern you left a loop running...
Some Korg DDD-1 drum machines need running status to be switched off. Running Status is a form of MIDI data transmission where unnecessary status bytes are left out of a data stream when that stream is composed of a series of similar messages. So, if the messages are a stream of note-on messages, only the one at the very beginning of the stream is preceded by a status byte (which informs the receiving MIDI device that the next message will be a note-on command).
Most modern synths have no need to be continually updated as to the nature of the incoming message, and this saves the MIDI lines from 'overload'. The Korg DDD-1 decides to do a 'system reset' if it doesn't receive a full complement of status bytes, however. So if you've an option on your sequencer to switch between 'running status on' (where only the necessary status byte are sent) and 'running status off' (where the sequencer precedes each message with another warning of its type), use only the latter.
This is also true of the Studiomaster Series II mixers, the Jellinghaus mixer automation system, Sequential Drumtraks, and some early Roland synths. But if your set-up works fine now, DON'T TOUCH IT!! Running status transmission is good, data-efficient, and will minimise delays.
For the musician, one of the immediate attractions of the Atari ST computer is its built-in MIDI interface. As you will know, MIDI is an agreed standard which allows data communication between all sorts of devices. Though the standard is quite specific, especially about the necessary hardware, many companies have strayed from the definitions set out. Unfortunately, Atari is one of these people...
The Atari ST's MIDI Out port carries a MIDI Thru signal on pins 1 and 3 - they are hardwired to the MIDI In. These are the two 'outside' pins of the DIN semi-circle. Ostensibly, this cost-saving exercise is a boon, and lets Atari save on sockets and you gain a MIDI Thru.
Unfortunately, because no-one else has implemented the same idea, the MIDI cable manufacturers have ignored it and often connect those pins to one or more of the 'inner' pins. This can result in all sorts of bizarre MIDI errors, from intermittent 'sticking' to full-scale 'lock-up' and system failures. So, if you are using an Atari ST for MIDI control, make or purchase a 3-pin MIDI lead and always use it for connecting your ST to the rest of your system. It only matters on the connection to the ST's MIDI Out.
All Roland MIDI keyboards send an 'All Notes Off (Controller 123 = 0) message every time their processor scans the keyboard and finds that no keys are depressed. If your sequencer quantises notes and MIDI controllers separately, this can lead to notes being prematurely cut off. This can also occur when playing two or more tracks of 'Roland recorded MIDI data' to a single expander.
There is no way that you can switch off this facility on the Roland device so you'll have to either filter this message out of the data stream on input, or delete it specifically from your tracks or patterns (you can also try taping down a never-played key on the keyboard, but you'll reduce the polyphony).
Another Roland feature worthy of comment is that the RD300 and RD1000 electronic pianos simultaneously send on two MIDI channels in their 'out of the box' state. These are essentially two keyboard splits which overlap across the whole keyboard. You should switch off one half if you do not need to be sending two messages for each note played! (It will also save on sequencer memory space.)
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