Your Personal MIDI Roadie
BY ROBERT EDSON
With a wealth of inexpensive MIDI modules now available, anybody can afford a setup that would have had Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman drooling a decade ago. Fortunately for them, roadies tended the keyboards of yesteryear, setting up, patching the sounds, and keeping things running smoothly. Up until now, in the home MIDI world, good MIDI "roadies" have been hard to find.
|MIDIBOSS version 1.3
512K, medium or high rez
Powerful, versatile system
A MIDIBOSS patch screen. Each patch can completely configure your MIDI
system, as well as define a different MIDI zone map for your controller keyboard.
Enter MIDIBOSS, the MIDI system controller from Johnsware. MIDIBOSS works with banks of MIDI system presets (128 per bank), treating your entire system tile way a simple patch-editor program handles its associated synthesizer. Calling up a patch sends out program changes, MIDI volume messages and system-exclusive files on all 16 MIDI channels. You can even include a predefined Zone map for each patch on your master key-board, with up to 16 overlapping zones split by note number, velocity or both. MIDIBOSS includes several utilities: a System Exclusive Buffer, MIDI-Thru and an option to view or print current MIDI data (with or without MIDI-to-English translation).
Designing A Patch
Opening the program displays the bank screen, showing 64 patches at a time on each of two pages. You can select patches with the mouse, cursor keys or a program message from your master keyboard. An autoload option allows your patch to be sent automatically when selected, or you can enter the patch screen, make any necessary changes, then click on SEND.
The left side of the patch screen displays your instruments and their corresponding MIDI channels. This list is stored as a separate file; a new list can easily be loaded from disk or reconfigured from a dialog box. Two columns in the center of the screen display the mute and solo status of each channel. Muting a channel prevents MIDI data from being sent Out on that channel; soloing a channel mutes every channel except the selected one. A third column assigns an initial program-change message to each channel.
The MIDI Buffer Capture screen accesses libraries of sysex requests and
captures sysex data from your system.
To the right of each instrument is a sysex file box, letting you assign a system-exclusive file to each instrument. Once an instrument has been "tagged" with a sysex file, the program saves the complete pathname for the file (not the actual sysex data itself, which minimizes the MIDIBOSS bank size). If you use a librarian which saves raw sysex data, you can tag your data directly from your librarian files.
Clicking the EDIT MAP button displays the zone map for the current patch. Up to 16 zones can be defined to map notes, program changes, pitch bend, controllers and aftertouch. Complex zone maps require significant processing and can start to cause timing errors. I had no appreciable timing problems until I started to map eight- way velocity layers, split into three different keyboard zones. If you keep the processed data down to a reasonable amount, this option can turn tile dumbest keyboard into a dedicated MIDI controller.
Settings are displayed in either hex or decimal notation, and entered in a variety of ways typed in, changed using the [+] and [-] keys, or with the right and left mouse buttons. Keyboard command equivalents are available for many program commands, making tile program ergonomic as well as handy for stage use, where there is little room for mouse maneuvering.
An integrated sysex capture mode lets you enter and transmit banks of sysex requests (the MIDI-ese small type in the back of our sequencer manual). When your synth receives a valid sysex request. it will dump the requested data (usually a bank of Patches) back to MIDIBOSS, which can save it to disk. These patches can be tagged to be sent back to your synth as part of a MlDIBOSS preset to make sure the expected sounds are available when you need them. Sysex requests can be saved to disk for future use.
Alternately, MIDIBOSS can accept data dumps triggered from your synth itself. I had a few problems dealing with some of my keyboards with the synth-initiated approach, but each synth has its own MIDI "quirks" that have to be dealt with in their own way. This module of MIDIBOSS is designed to he a general tool, not a dedicated librarian, and it is a welcome feature.
Compatibility And Limitations
I had no problems running MIDIBOSS as a desk accessory within Dr. T's KCS sequencer. According to programmer Steve Johns, MIDIBOSS will run as an accessory with most sequencers, including RealTime, Master Tracks, Cubase and Notator; however, not all sequencers will currently allow MIDIBOSS to send out sysex data. Sysex transmission can he disabled from either menu so as not to cause ally conflicts. The incompatibility lies with the sequencers, rather than MIDIBOSS. The recently released MIDI-Tasking programming standard from Atari, now being implemented by developers, will allow desk accessories to access MIDI ports from within programs without conflicts. Johns is waiting for final word on this new system software; presumably, a future MIDIBOSS update will clear up this problem.
Available memory permitting, MIDIBOSS can hold two patch banks. 520ST owners are restricted to a single bank in memory, preferably using the program in standalone mode. It works well even with a single floppy-drive system and no hard drive. Just dedicate a floppy disk to sysex files, and pop in the disk before selecting any patches that have tagged syex data. An extended-format floppy will hold either three full M1 banks (300 programs, 300 combinations, 20 sequences and 3 banks of global data), 16 D110/D10/D20 banks, or 42 DX7 banks (1344 patches). In this case, a little definitely goes a long way.
Johnsware has paid a lot of attention to detail; MIDIBOSS is easy to learn, easy to use and takes a lot of the drudgery out of MIDI use. Tile screens are well laid out, and movement through the program is logical and intuitive with tile mouse or keyboard. I've never received such personal attention from a software company either. Johnsware is a small company, owned and operated by Steve Johns, the programmer. The phone number on the documentation does not connect you to an impersonal (and often underinformed) customer service rep -you talk directly to the programmer. Johnsware also maintains online support through Category 22 of the MIDI Roundtable on the GEnie BBS.
If you are looking for one of the new, full-featured, universal MIDI controller/editor/librarians, MIDIBOSS isn't for you. But for hundreds of dollars less, MIDIBOSS is a versatile program that deserves attention, with powerful realtime key board-mapping capabilities that the generic patch editors do not have.
Robert Edison is a freelance musician in Atlantic City. N.J.