A THOUSAND SOUNDS
K3PO + Synth-Droid,
Casio Synth-Droid and
DW8000 Synth- Droid
by JAN PAUL MOORHEAD
Compu-mates has just released three new patch editors- K3PO+ Synth-Droid, Casio Synth-Droid and DW8000 Synth-Droid, for the Kawai K3, Casio CZ and Korg DW8000 synthesizers, respectively. All three programs are GEM-based and easy to use. Although identical in many ways, each includes powerful features that take advantage of each synthesizer's special functions. From their colorful opening screens to their uncomplicated user implementation, these programs make sound manipulation a joy.
Patching It Up
A patch editor enables you to alter specific values such as pitch, volume and frequency for the various instrument parameters that make up a synthesizer's musical tones. By altering these values, you can produce a wide variety of sounds- from sonorous trumpets to helicopter thwaps. The resultant collection of sound parameters is called a patch.
To alter any parameter using the Compu-mates programs, you simply point to a value, then click the left or right mouse button to lower or raise it. If you hold the button down the value of the parameter changes rapidly, more than making up for the fact that you cannot enter numbers directly through the keyboard.
One item that makes these programs stand out from other patch editors is their "droid" feature. In the patch edit page, the "droid" function enters almost random numbers into the various programming parameters. I say "almost" because you can't enter values that would produce no sounds; the program uses some judgment in generating the numbers.
Another important feature is that all changes are in real time-you don't have to stop and send the patch to the synth. The programs have a feature called "Diddle" that outputs a stream of notes to the synth so you can hear immediately what you've done. This feature usually works very well, but the notes play quickly, so in a patch with a very slow attack, the note-off signal may occur before the entire note has sounded. You can also mask the parameters you do not wish to randomize, in order to control the types of patches the "droid" feature creates-variations of the same percussion patch, for instance.
You can set the envelopes - the general shape of waveforms - graphically on a grid with the mouse. rather than entering numeric values. This makes it much easier to visualize the sound you're creating. You can select the type of background grid you want for the envelope, the grid color and the line thickness for the envelope drawing. When you change the envelope shape, the change in the numerical value for each parameter is immediately displayed on the screen.
The librarian functions allow you to store individual patches, bulk patch dumps, and occasionally other machine-specific parameters. For those who are particularly giddy about MIDI, the Compu-mates programs have MIDI monitors for examining MIDI data transmission. You really get a feel for how much memory you can eat up when you wiggle the pitch or modulation wheel on a synth and see how many bytes are spewing down the MIDI cables. (Editor's note: You can also examine the MIDI data stream with the "MIDI View" program you'll find on this issue's START Disk. See "MIDI View" elsewhere in this issue.)
Now that you understand how these programs work, let's take a closer look at the special features of the Kawai K3, the Casio CZ and the Korg DW8000, and how their respective Synth-Droids support them.
K3PO + Synth-Droid
The Kawai K3 is a wave-table synthesizer; it stores a set of waveforms, or basic sounds, in memory, and builds sounds out of them. It offers more complex waveforms and a much wider array of sounds than many other synthesizers. The K3 also allows you to design entirely new waveforms.
Because of the K3's special waveform features, waveform creation and editing are unique to the K3PO+ package. The K3 allows you to define 32 possible harmonics out of a possible 128. Seeing the relative values of 32 harmonics is impossible on the K3 but it's a snap with this program. K3PO+ gives you three ways of entering values: you can click on individual harmonics (displayed in a bar graph format) to alter their values; you can "draw" the relative values of group harmonics with the mouse; or you can "droid" an entirely new waveform.
One limitation of the K3 has been that you can store only one user-created waveform in memory or on a cartridge at a time. K3PO+ lets you store separate waveforms, patches, waveform/patches and bulk patches. K3PO+ also has archiving tools for naming patches and bank reorganization. This is essential once you have two or three cartridges of patches- otherwise, keeping track of what patch 29 on cartridge 2 sounds like is all but impossible. All in all, K3PO+ is a must for those doing serious sound programming on the Kawai K3.
The Casio CZ series synthesizers use a sound creation method called Phase Distortion synthesis, which uses up to eight different waveforms. As you mix waveforms, the program gives you a small graphic representation of each waveform as well as the waveform's number.
The graphic editing of envelopes is very important for CZ synths because you have six different envelopes, each of which has eight different levels and eight different rates. That leaves you with 96 parameters to keep track of just for your envelopes! The ability to see them and pull them around the screen is a godsend.
'The "droid" function is a little more limited in this program than in the others. Casio Synth-Droid was the first program in the series and doesn't have the Patch Droid Edit option. Not being able to select which parameters are being "droided" means that some of the patches end up being more random -and often a bit more weird. Still, you only have to click to generate a new (and presumably more useful) patch. Musicians with a penchant for gambling should love it-click the button and win a patch!
are GEM-based and
easy to use.
You can also copy envelope values from one envelope to another, which is handy. The program offers "Hold" and "Compare" functions that are great for seeing what changes you are really making. With "Hold" you can store a patch in a buffer and then "Compare" it with your new patch. One small complaint- my version left a red screen once I left the program. It's a little irritating to have to reset the color after using it each time. Other than that, Casio Synth-Droid works like a charm.
The DW8000 synthesizer by Korg is another wave-table synthesizer. Unlike the K3, it does not allow you to design waveforms, and it has a more limited selection of factory-designed waveforms. DW8000 Synth-Droid works with all models of DW8000, including older models.
An important feature of the DW8000 is its clean, built-in digital delay (DDL)-a sort of echo effect. DW8000 Synth-Droid allows you to save delay settings independent of the patches. You can also use a wide range of standard effects without reprogramming, and apply them to as many patches as you want.
The program also offers something called an "asymmetrical flanger" Typically when using DDLS with stereo output, it's not uncommon that the volume of the left and right output will be uneven. The asymmetrical flanger operates in real time to even that output. The program also shows a real-time graphic representation of the operation of the asymmetrical flanger. (When it's running, other functions are disabled since it's a real-time effect that runs continuously) There is also a Panic button primarily for live performance use. Should you happen to set the digital delay to some awful continuing echo, you can kill it in a hurry without having to search for the right button or series of buttons to end your embarrassment.
Working On Manual
Normally I have a lot of complaints about software manuals. In the case of the Compu-mates patch editors, I never felt the need to look at the manuals or other documentation. The manual is on the disk (a practice I'm not too fond of), but if you're already familiar with editing patch data, these programs are so intuitive that you won't miss printed documentation. However, Compu-Mates will soon be shipping manuals with the disks instead of on them.
After playing with the programs successfully, I examined the documentation. The manuals are clear, straightforward and occasionally entertaining. Their primary value is that they'll help you through any problems you might have with initial setup, idiosyncrasies of the program or particular synths. There are a few points where I feel more explanation was warranted. However, as I said, I found the programs so friendly that I didn't need the manuals at all. If you still need help, you can find it on the programs' opening screens- Compu-mates' phone number
On The Horizon
Compu-mates is working on a sequencer for the ST, as well as ST-based editor/librarians for other synths. If the Compu-mates sequencer works as comfortably and easily as their patch editors, I'll be very pleased. These are solid, useful and creative programs that should help build the ST's position as the computer for musicians.
X SYN SERIES
by JIM JOHNSON
The idea behind Beam Team's Xsyn series of patch editors is to have a single master patch editing program to use in conjunction with a number of separate modules for specific instruments. The editing modules are sold separately but each package includes patch librarians for the other instruments. Currently editing modules exist for the Casio CZ series, the Yamaha DX7/TX7, the Yamaha DX21/27/100, Yamaha FB01 and Roland JX series.
Beam Team promises that these patch editors will be only the first elements in a fully integrated MIDI control center for the ST, which will soon include sequencing and transcription (music scoring) capabilities. Work is also proceeding on editing modules for the Yamaha TX8IZ and the Oberheim Matrix 6; for this review, 1 looked at the CZ101, DX2I and FB01 editors.
The Xsyn patch editors use the GEM interface extensively and are so well designed that, as long as you are familiar with the specific details of your synthesizer and have used a few well-written GEM programs prior to this, you should be able to use most of the program's functions without the manual.
After booting the program, a generic menu bar appears, which includes an option for loading your choice of editing modules. After selecting a module, the Bank Manager window appears. You can display two banks of voices at once out of six to eight banks residing in memory. Voices can be copied from one bank to another and deleted or named by pointing and clicking with the mouse. Banks can also be saved, loaded, and transferred to or from your synthesizer.
One apparent bug in the FB01 version of the program reared its ugly head in the Bank Manager window, though: requesting the FB01 to send a voice bank will occasionally cause it to dump its configuration memory instead, with the result that nothing but garbage appears in the Bank Manager's list of voice names. A call to Beam Team revealed that they were genuinely concerned about fixing the problem, but they were unable to duplicate it. Given the idiosyncrasies of many synthesizers, it's just as likely that the problem is in the FB01 as in the software.
After selecting a voice in the Bank Manager. you can edit it by selecting the "Edit Voice" option on the menu bar. Each module has its own editing screen, though they are all laid out similarly. Each parameter of the synthesizer's voice has its own slider onscreen, with a number indicating the current value. You can edit envelopes either graphically (by dragging the envelope's break points with the mouse) or with slider bars. Every envelope in the voice is displayed simultaneously and in the case of the Yamaha instruments, the algorithm is also displayed graphically. This makes it possible to figure out at a glance which components of the voice are affecting any aspect of the sound.
What's Up Front
In a patch editing program, the layout and operation of the editing screen are critical to how easy the program will be to use. Luckily the Xsyn programs are easy to use, although they have some peculiarities. First, the envelopes displayed in the DX editor weren't accurate. The displays show simple ADSR (Attack/Decay/Sustain/Release) envelopes, though these synths employ ADSDR envelopes (with an added Decay).
Second, each of the programs I reviewed had a few parameters on the screen that had nothing to do with the synthesizer I was using the editor with. For example, the DX21/27/100 editor has a pitch envelope generator on the screen, even though neither the DX27 nor the DX100 has such a function. The Xsyn manual doesn't explain the differences between these instruments, so users of the DX100 or DX27 may be a bit confused by this.
The FB01 editor has a more serious gaffe - two sliders labeled Touch, which supposedly affect the instrument's response to aftertouch. Unfortunately, neither the Xsyn nor the FB01 documentation explain how they're used, and as near as I could tell, they have nothing to do with aftertouch. In all fairness, though, this is as much Yamaha's fault as Beam Team's, since the FB01 manual doesn't have any information at all on how to program the beast. Finally, when you save your files to disk, you're not given a list of your previously-saved files in a GEM selector box. You just have to type in your new name and save it to disk, running the risk of overwriting a like-named file you actually wanted to keep.
Still, these flaws aren't fatal. Once you get a handle on which features work with which instruments, you'll be creating voices for your synth almost immediately. An aid in this process is a patch randomization module built into the programs called "The Creator" The Creator starts with an existing voice and uses a user-programmable "mask" to determine which parameters of the sound will be randomized. Once you set up the mask, you can generate a new voice, or a whole bank of voices, with a single mouse click. (You should know a little about how the synth works in order to select the appropriate parameters for randomization.)
But Wait, There's More
The Xsyn programs also feature a 512K reset-proof RAMdisk (for 1040 ST and Mega owners) and a mini-sequencer that can store up to 90,000 notes on a one-megabyte ST. This sequencer can only record and playback on one channel, has no editing features, and can only play back at a few different speeds, but it's completely adequate for its intended purpose-providing a quick way to replay a phrase while editing a sound.
A mouse-activated keyboard can also be brought up on the screen for test purposes when editing, but its response time is so slow that 1 found it to be of no practical use. Configuration editors for the CZ1 and the FB01 are included with the appropriate versions of the program, and the DX voice editor has function editing built-in.
Finally, the documentation is well-written and complete, with the exception of the omissions I mentioned earlier.
Overall, the Xsyn series is a complete and efficient approach to synthesizer voice management, even though the program is less than perfect. As a standalone program, it's more than adequate. When Beam Team completes the task of integrating their MIDI system, Xsyn could become part of an ST musician's dream system.
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Jan Paul Moorhead is a musician who runs a recording studio in Los Angeles. He has written for numerous publications, including Keyboard and Antic.
Jim Johnson is a freelance writer, musician and MIDI programmer whose articles have appeared in Electronic Musician and Keyboard Magazine.
K3PO+ Synth-Droid, $99.95; Casio Synth-Droid and DW8000
Synth-Droid, $79.95. Compu-mates, 8621 Wilshire Blvd., #177, Beverly
Hills, CA 90211. (213) 271-7410
CIRCLE 160 ON READER SERVICE CARD
The Xsyn Series, $99.95 each. Beam Team, 6100 Adeline St., Oakland,
CA 94608. (415) 658-3208
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A NEW FACE ON
THE ST MIDI
by JAN MOORHEAD
With 87 gold and 36 platinum records worldwide, recording artist, engineer and record producer Charles Faris isn't content to rest on his laurels. Besides working with Fleetwood Mac and on the soundtracks to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and E.T. Faris has formed a MIDI software company called Compu-mates, which has caught the industry's attention with its line of low-cost ST MIDI hardware and software. START talked to Charles Faris recently to see how he's pulled it off.
START: How did you get involved in the new music technology?
CF: I was the chief engineer for four years in the development of the first digital delay and other audio products, with several companies such as Eventide Clock Works. I was curious about the electronic end of music, and I ended up developing studio systems and designing the studios themselves because of my user knowledge and architectural background.
I liked rock and roll more than architecture, so I put my architect career aside. Then I got into computers, and specifically the ST. Since the MIDI software I wanted wasn't available, I started writing stuff I could use in the studio. I was producing a lot of soundtracks and MIDI really helped to pad tracks and solve problems.
START: Is a music background very important in being involved in MIDI programming?
CF: Absolutely. You can't get the education from school In the studio you learn what the rules are and how to break them consciously. All those little nuances you learn from studio experience and as a musician are essential for any company creating MIDI software. Even technically-oriented musicians don't want to deal with technical problems when they're in the studio; they want to be musicians. When I first used the Fairlight [synthesizer], I'd play with it at home. I'd never bring it into the studio until I had everything done, The manual was five feet thick and I didn't want to deal with that in the studio for $200 an hour.
START: What are your feelings about the ST and its abilities for music applications?
CF: It's the best thing happening until somebody comes out with something better, and that's going to be very difficult. The Mega ST is going to be a killer machine. Using a number of processors makes the Atari really fast. It's how the programs are written that makes most of the difference in MIDI. The ST makes it easier and more fun.
START: What prompted you to start your own company?
CF: I was tired of promises from other companies, the high prices and the bootlegging. I was watching new companies trying to build a business with no experience in either music or engineering and then marketing their products way too high. I started Compu-mates as a musician, for musicians. You have to pay your development costs but your manufacturing costs are mainly the label and the disk. Charging $300 to $400 for software seems too high to me. I could be wrong. But I'm getting endorsements and free advertising from major manufacturers like Kawai and Korg, so I must be doing something right. We're releasing professional programs, but the average musician can afford to get into them. We're going to do our best to keep it that way.
START: For many companies, product support can be a problem. How do you handle it?
CF: If they have a problem I get on the phone and talk to the customers personally. If they fill out their warranty card we let them know when there's an update. All my upgrades are free, with a few exceptions; you pay or supply the disk and postage If we have too many changes and too many requests we may eventually add a small handling charge, but this is the policy right now.
People should never feel like they're a jerk for having bought a product. They shouldn't have to keep shelling out money for accessories and updates. I also have accessories available for them on bulletin boards and SIGs that they can download themselves. I also give out free patches with the programs- on some, up to 2,000 sounds. Samples are a different story. It takes some doing to get a good sample and I do sell those.
START: You have a number of products out and a lot more to come. Do you have a general plan for production? How do you decide what's next?
CF: I rely on consumer response. Unfortunately, not all my decisions are made on the basis of business sense. If I find a machine I like, I may do a package for it for my own use, even if I don't think I'm going to make a lot of money on it. Hilary Kates, the co-owner of Compu-mates, isn't fond of that attitude, but that's why she's the president. A product doesn't have to be a million-seller to be good.
START: What languages do you use for your software?
CF: Generally, I like using the Forth programming language. My favorite so far is 4X Forth, the Dragon Group Forth, because of its editing features. You can write real fast routines with Forth, and you can actually write 68000 assembly code in Forth and you can run it right from the editor. This is important in the creative process. You don't have to wait to compile it, link it and all that. When I write for super speed I write in machine language. This really stifles the creative aspects of a program, for the above reasons.
START: What are some problems you've had in designing software for various synths?
CF: Generally, you would think that the MIDI data in the manual from the manufacturer would be the bible. I've seen a number of people have problems writing for a particular synth, getting mad at the machine and then bailing out on the project. I had the same problems and finally I realized maybe I'm right and the MIDI data is wrong. In this case, the manufacturer ended up giving me $1,000 just to rewrite their MIDI implementation. There seemed to have been a translation problem between Japanese and English.
Nothing is bugless. One of my favorite programmers is Tom Hudson. 1 think he's on a mercenary mission for eggheads. Even in his marvelous programs, one will find an occasional bug.
START: So don't necessarily trust all the MIDI implementation information from a company?
rock and roll more
CF: Right. They're probably not going to spend a lot of time with their best engineer putting out their MIDI implementation chart. They're going to get some kid to sit down and put all that together for their publication. On one system, they had the MIDI bytes for bass and treble reversed, and every program written for it had the same problem.
START: What other pitfalls might there be for someone starting their own MIDI software company?
CF: My recommendation would be to go through a reputable company as a developer. I didn't because I only knew one or two when I started and they put a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths. If I had my druthers before I started my own company, I wouldn't have done it. Just take your time in selecting, because there're a lot of schlock operations out there.
START: What are some things that are important to look for in MIDI products, such as editor/librarians and sequencers?
CF: Look for something that works in real time, that's transmitting MIDI while you're making changes. One of the worst things is to work on something and then have to dump it into the synthesizer to hear what you just did. When you're in the studio or on stage and doing serious work, you're not going to have time to do a lot of thinking about what you have to calculate next.
Also, you should insist on getting a demonstration of MIDI software before you buy it, to see if it's what you really need. If you don't get a demonstration, call the manufacturer and tell them the store refused to give one, and ask where you can get a demonstration. Insist on it. Never buy a piece of software or hardware blind.
START: Where do you feel MIDI and music software are headed in the future?
CF: Through the roof. There are so many ideas that haven't been tapped yet, it's only going to get better and better There's no saturation point as far I as can see.
START: You don't think there's going to be a shake-out for those who aren't clever enough to survive?
CF: There are a lot of geniuses out there who can design really
good products, but if they don't have a good company structure, it's death
to that company. That's why I suggest that any would-be programmer who
has a good idea to go with one of the established companies, because he
could get swallowed up in a pinch.