Steinberg Proteus Synthworks
Software for the Atari ST
When it comes to sound editing on today's synth modules, there's no alternative to using a software editor. Vic Lennard explores the benefits of Steinberg's editor for the E-mu Proteus.
Continuing their line of excellent Synthworks editors for instruments like Roland's D10, D20, D110 and MT32, Steinberg have unveiled an editor for E-mu's Proteus sample reader.
LAST YEAR STEINBERG came out with some excellent Atari ST visual editors - their Synthworks series for Roland's D-series synths. Latest in the company's Synthworks series is Proteus Synthworks, intended, not surprisingly, for E-mu's popular Proteus sample reader. Does it live up to the standards set by its forerunners?
On boot-up (with the usual Steinberg security dongle), you are presented with the edit page for the preset. All edits pertaining to the preset, including MIDI and real-time modulations, are shown here, and yet the page appears to be uncluttered. This is partly because of the way that pop-up windows are used for a variety of the edits.
Much of the page is self-explanatory and uses the idea of tones on the left-hand side flowing through to outputs on the right. Clicking on Keyboard Range brings up a keyboard so that you can actually set the key range in the most convenient manner, while a click on one of the envelopes fills half of the screen with an enlarged version of it for easier editing. Here you select from eight starting envelope settings and drag the boxed corners into the required positions. You can call up either of the other two envelopes without having to exit from the one you're currently working on, and also have the option of stretching or compressing the envelope by the use of the appropriate pair of icons. But the most stunning feature here is displaying changes of each envelope corner in terms of time, SMPTE frames or bars/beats, taking tempo, time signature and start point into account as necessary. This allows you to lock the character of the envelope onto the piece of music which it is being used with. Excellent. Back shows the original shape underneath the current edit while Undo restores the original.
Tones are selected from a pull-down menu and are shown by category. The adjectives assigned to each tone (see later) are shown at the top of the screen as you select it.
The modulation system used by Proteus is not unlike that used by analogue synths of yesteryear, and Steinberg have obviously decided to make this a feature of their editor. The eight blocks of modulation sources have "jack plugs", and any function which can be controlled by either real-time, MIDI or LFO modulation has a "jack socket". It works in a similar way to Digidesign's Turbosynth: using these you can "plug" one module into another - if the socket is capable of accepting the plug from the particular source, a small box opens showing this fact. Click on any plug and its current locations are shown, while a click on a socket indicates any plug currently inserted into it while the cursor changes to a pair of scissors so that you can cut the connection. It's graphic, intuitive, and definitely more fun than a table full of numbers. Finally, Patch Info shows all patches at the same time and again gives you the scissors icon to edit them.
AS PROTEUS IS a multitimbral expander capable of playing up to 32 notes in total on all MIDI channels, the obvious screen layout to adopt is that of a 16-channel mixer. And this is precisely what Steinberg have implemented, screws and all. The visual aspect is rather good with a push button to mute a MIDI channel, a rotary for pan and an extremely smooth fader for volume. Click on the channel number for solo. Again it's an entertaining approach which is quick 'n' easy to use.
THE LIBRARIAN PAGE is made up of three windows. The left-hand window shows the current bank of 64 presets. The centre window displays the disk library whose entries can be made up of individual presets, banks of 64 presets, tuning scales and performances. The flexibility of this system cannot be underestimated. When reviewing previous Steinberg editors with the "semantic" approach - using up to eight adjectives to describe each sound - I have been left with the feeling that a lot of work would be necessary to label each sound and yet the usefulness of the system was still limited. However, what we have within Proteus Synthworks is a totally different kettle of fish. Up to eight labels (from a list of 255), the date and a comment can be saved, and you can sort them by the above three criteria or by name, tone component or a combination of any of these. Also, when you make selections on the preset edit page, the labels appear at the top of the page. This interaction between the pages is a genuinely useful feature and, while it will take time to set up the library properly, the benefits of taking the time and trouble quickly become apparent. Available computer memory space is split between the sequencer and the library and you can set the size of each division.
Some of the facilities within the library are fairly standard - moving, swapping and so on - and separate libraries can be merged. You can even import entries from one library into another. Finally, because the Proteus allows you to link up to three presets to the current one, these links can be saved as part of a preset and can then be sent to the unit upon selection.
EDITORS FOR MOST synths can randomise and mix sounds to good effect if the algorithms are musically designed. The problem with the Proteus is that the tones themselves cannot be edited - meaning that standard randomising techniques are unlikely to give useable results. The first method that Steinberg have used is derived from previous editors but the others are rather more ingenious.
Quadratic Mixture sounds like something a maths teacher might prescribe. The presets from the four buffers are placed in the corners of a square and you govern the "mix" by the position of a cross within that square. Quantise doesn't change the values of the parameters but selects more from the preset at the nearest corner and least from the furthest. The selection of parameters is random so that a different result will occur each time, even if the cross is in the same position. Non-Quantise looks at the values of the parameters and creates a linear mix of them, again dependent upon the distance from each preset.
"The modulation system used by Proteus is not unlike that used by analogue synths of yesteryear, and Steinberg have obviously decided to make this a feature of their editor."
The new preset is immediately sent to Proteus so that you can hear it. If you like what you hear Store it, otherwise Return and begin again.
Puzzle Creation cuts and pastes the values of the parameters in a chosen preset to another preset. You can either create a single preset or 16 of them, including names. To have some degree of control over the process, Define Graft Map allows you to set up a mask from the 13 areas of a preset map while Transplant then carries out the creation process. Sounds to me as if someone's been watching too much Casualty.
The randomising function is called Sound Processor. This gives a selection table for each parameter with the following headings; Depth, the amount by which a value can be changed; Threshold, the value that has to be exceeded for the parameter to be affected; Mode, whether depth value is Relative (%) or Absolute (amount); Quantise, the figure of which the depth must be a multiple; Type has three selections, Off, Linear - any value within the depth range can be selected, Shaper - select a curve via Edit Curve to influence selection. Finally, Output affects the final value: Free, the value is whatever has been calculated; Range, only takes values within a range defined in Edit Range; Quantum, will either take the calculated value or up to seven others which you can select. You then have the choice of Preset one or two, the first gives slight modifications while the second is for the more adventurous of us.
It is difficult to imagine a more comprehensive randomiser than this. Indeed, referring to it in terms of a random generator is unfair because you have a high degree of control over the end results. Admittedly it is the very nature of Proteus which makes this so effective, because there would be far too many parameters to effect in many other synths.
THERE ARE THREE other edit pages to be found in Proteus Synthworks - Keyboard/Drum Tuning, Master (global) Settings and Preset Map. Saving any edits in terms of system exclusive involves selecting between five options; as a Cubase track at the current memory position if running under M.ROS, a Pro24 pattern, a MIDI file, raw SysEx for use with another sequencer/librarian or as a program file which allows itself to be executed from the desktop. Also, you can save a single preset either with its links, with a performance, with a tuning scale or with everything. This flexibility is as much down to the Proteus's MIDI Implementation as to Steinberg's ingenuity.
Proteus Synthworks' onboard sequencer records at a resolution of 1/96th ppqn, is MIDI file compatible and files can be loaded from/saved to a Pro24. There are keyboard equivalents for the screen commands, a pop-up keyboard which can send out pitchbend, aftertouch and modulation as well as playing arpeggios, and various manners in which you can edit the values of parameters using the mouse, Atari keyboard and external MIDI controllers.
Finally, there is an excellent onboard manual which you can either read through by selecting a topic or use the Help mode by pointing to specific items.
STEINBERG'S PROTEUS SYNTHWORKS is so comprehensive that I am bound to have missed something in my travels. It is based on the same premise as their other editors - if enough is packed into the editor there is unlikely to be anyone who can turn round and say "why didn't you incorporate...".
Yes, there are likely to be many features that you won't use, especially if you are not doing your sequencing with Cubase, but each page of the editor is easy to use as well as incorporating a degree of fun. When I reviewed Proteus (MT, November '89) I mentioned that there were some excellent presets inside just waiting to be discovered. This editor is probably the one that will help you to find them.
Price £165 including VAT.
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Review by Vic Lennard
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