MIDI editing with ease
In the world of MIDI, them are lots of developers trying to sell sequencers, patch librarians, editors and every other type of music software imaginable. In this welter of hype and hoopla it's a real pleasure to find a package that does what it sets out to do, cleanly, efficiently and without a lot of fuss. If I were looking for one word to describe MIDIsoft Studio, it would be clarity. I wish every package I work with was this straight forward.
Something you become inured to when working with computers is the proliferation of bad manuals. It becomes normal to struggle with documents that are barely comprehensible. With this in mind, I was completely taken by surprise when confronted with MIDIsoft Studio's manual. They have done a splendid job in producing a clear, well-organized and well-thought-out document. It has a glossary that should be very useful to those just getting involved with MIDI systems. The table of contents, in conjunaion with the glossary, make up for its only weakness, which is the lack of an index. Overall, though, it's a clean and impressive effort.
MIDIsoft Studio, as opposed to sequencers that work like drum machines, functions like a multi-track tape recorder with 32 tracks. The metaphor is carried to the nth degree with Fast Forward, Reverse and other tape recorder-like "buttons" on the screen. This makes your operations very straightforward; so much so that with a little savvy, you could run this program quite easily without reading the manual at all.
You have one primary work screen, and can access everything through the usual drop-down windows. You can See 12 tracks at a time and scroll up and down through the rest of the 32 tracks. There are a generous 24 characters available for labeling the tracks. In addition to having the tracks in Play, Record or Clean modes, you can turn tracks Off or Solo them. This is very useful for editing and isolating musical problems. Solo and Off perform the same useful functions as they do on a professional mixing console. After using them a bit you will fmd them indispensible. A caveat: There is a small inconsistency in data entry. You can enter most numeric values with the mouse or by direct entry, but in a few cases you must key them in exclusively. In addition to the usual Desk and File menus there are three menus involved in running the program: Setup, Edit and MIDI.
The Setup window contains some very nice features. Though the program is aimed at a large general audience, some of the features nestled here make it attractive for serious professional users as well. The program will recognize or send a MIDI Song Position Pointer. This is important for synchronizing your sequencer with other devices that have an internal clock and record song information, such as drum machines, other sequencers, and sequencer-to-tape synchronizers. The MIDI Song Position Pointer can be sent or received so that the receiving device knows its position in a composition at any point in time. This is particularly critical if you're doing work with video or film.
Another advanced feature is its control of the various MIDI modes and Local On/Off for each channel. Local On/Off disconnects your keyboard from its own internal sound generators. "Great," you say. "Just what I wanted-a function that makes it impossible to play my synth!" Ah, but what it does allow you to do is play other synths through MIDI while your sequencer plays the internal sound generators of your master keyboard. This and the other MIDI features allow you to make better use of the keyboards you have and lessen the need for a sophisticated mother keyboard. Personally, I've never liked the idea of spending money on something that doesn't make any noise, so I've always avoided buying a dedicated master controller. This Feature gives you one of the important elements of such a controller.
The Setup also gives you control over the number of bars of count off, the meter, After-Touch filtering, the output of the MIDI clock and a few special features for the advanced user. My particular favorite is "Fast Mouse," which isn't. What it really does is reduce the distance the mouse has to travel on the pad to move the cursor a particular distance on the screen. You get more done with less movement. The so-called "Expert Mode" is something that, personally, I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot MIDI cord. It removes the warning flags and windows for many of the destructive commands. I'm the kind of guy who needs to be slowed down--I'm the first one to get over confident and blithely throw three hours of work down the toilet. I'll leave "Expert Mode" to those less breezy and more methodical individuals.
"Auto-Rewind" is a nice feature. It saves you some time when you're setting up for the next bit of recording. There is also an After-Touch Filter in the Setup window, though with a megabyte of memory on the 1040 ST (and more on the Mega STs) there is little worry about using up the available memory. If you're writing pieces that long, perhaps you should consider your audience's endurance! I can see that, occasionally, you may encounter situations where the After-Touch is controlling a feature you'd rather not use. For instance, perhaps when you are recording a track on your master keyboard the After-Touch is controlling Modulation. When the track is sent to the appropriate module, the patch you want happens to use After-Touch to control Pitch Bend. In a situation such as that you could use the After-Touch filter to remove the undesirable After-Touch information.
The Edit window has two general types of editing available: edits affecting an entire track and edits affecting portions of a track. Under the former you have Erase, Copy, Move, and Combine (often referred to as Merge in other applications). What is more interesting is the approach to area and fine point editing. They have not implemented any clever graphic representations to make life sweet for you, but they do have an effective means of achieving this all-important level of control. I've spoken to the developers, who've assured me that they do have some interesting developments in mind fir this area. Eventually, you'll be able to do editing through graphical notation. The 1040ST ought to be eminently well-suited for this approach.
The four modes of editing that you do have at this time are Insert, Delete, Paste and Erase. Erase removes information from a track but leaves a hole. Delete, however, removes the information and the resulting blank area, leaving the track shortened. Using these modes along with the Edit Mark windows should allow you to do any standard editing that you wish. Generally, editing with numbers isn't as much fun as being able to look at something and say "that's him! That's the bad note!" and promptly zap it. To make finding the offending error a little easier, they have created Step Play. By using the right mouse button on the screen's Play "button" you can step through part of a track one note or chord at a time. This makes the setting of Edit points a lot more intuitive and less like a lesson in business accounting.
Another feature with some nice elements that we're seeing in more sequencers nowadays is the quantization, which allows you to control not merely where notes start but their lengths as well. There are a total of four modes: no quantization, controlling note attacks, controlling note endings, or both. MIDIsoft also allows transposition of tracks or portions of tracks.
I'm not a big fan of step entry but MIDIsoft Studio's system seems to work with less hassle than most. By using one hand to select pitches on the keyboard and the other to control the parrameters of the Step Entry window, you ought to be able to really fly along, with practice. The program will receive velocity information from the keyboard so this form of data entry should be more expressive than most--again, with practice.
The MIDI window allows you to do a MIDI reset, send a message to the synths for self-tuning, and send Song Selection cues for other sequencers. The handiest item is the All Notes Off command. Anyone who's spent much time working with Yamaha's DX/TX line of FM modulation synths is familiar with their special "Insta-drone" feature. It's nice to be able to fix that kind of problem without having to search through your modules to find out which one has started improvising without permission.
The people at MIDISoft have an attitude toward product development that's very promising for future development. I have seen two releases so far, and the second is a naturally evolved and improved version. The program as it stands does not feature a lot of bells and whistles but concentrates on the basics, which are implemented intelligently. As future MIDIsoft releases offer more and more power, the program should retain its clarity and ease of use if the developers continue as they have.
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Bellevue, WA 98009