Explore life's ups and downs with MIDI arpeggiators and step sequencers for your Atari, expand your horizons with a multi-port MIDI cable, and find about TOS's French connection. Derek Johnson presents a readers' digest.
Last month, I took the opportunity to summarise some of the great software that's still available for users of our apparently moribund platform. This month, I'll continue in a similar, though abbreviated, vein. What I didn't have space for last issue was a quick run-down of some of the more off-the-wall bits of MIDI software that you can nab for your Atari -- so this time I'm covering arpeggiators and analogue sequencer simulators.
Ups & Downs
Starting with Electronic Cow for a moment, as we so often do, I'll mention their £15 (plus £2 postage) MIDI Arpeggiator. This is actually more of an analogue sequencer that generates MIDI data (though the latest version includes a 'mini arpeggiator' of sorts), and offers two tracks and a 16-step, pattern-based programming method. The clearly laid-out screen shows all the available functions, and the software is a doddle to use, producing pleasing results with no trouble at all. The software has a built-in MIDI mixer, each channel having two user-programmable auxiliaries, and program change, MIDI channel, and portamento switching is available for each track. MIDI Arpeggiator saves its output as Type 1 MIDI files, and entire performances can can be recorded to disk in real time. MIDI sync options are also available. You can contact Electronic Cow on +44 (0)1426 281347 or 0411 544133, email them on firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out their web site at ds.dial.pipex.com/electronic_cow/cownet.shtml.
Two further examples of analogue sequencer simulations are Tim Wright's Groove Analogue Sequencer Simulator and Neil Wakeling's Pulsar. The Groove was apparently inspired by Doepfer's hardware MAQ16/3 analogue sequencer, and, in similar fashion to the MAQ, offers three channels of up to 16 steps each. Each step can be freely enabled or disabled, note data can be transmitted (with velocity), and pitch-bend and other controller information is also assignable. Patterns can be transposed, played forwards or backwards, and chained into songs. The interface is quite user-friendly, and playing with the software can produce some rather fun results. Some users looking for a sync option may be disappointed, though: the last version I saw (which I downloaded from Shareware Music Machine, (www.hitsquad.com/smm/midi/atari.html), lacked this feature.
Pulsar, in rather circular fashion, was actually inspired by Groove, so you'll pretty much know what to expect. It's a little smoother (a result of being written in C rather than STOS), and has one or two extra features. Again, it's a 3-row, 16-step sequencer, with velocity. All three rows are independent of each other, and playback options include forward, backward, backward then forward ,and random. Most intriguingly, each row can have its own tempo, as well as a MIDI channel, transpose value and program change number. I last found Pulsar, which is postcard-ware, at www.tuva.demon.co.uk/atari.htm.
Real arpeggiators worth hunting out include Petri Sinisalo's Real Arp and the Phonix MIDI Arpeggiator -- no relation to the Electronic Cow package. Both can be found on Floppyshop's Sounds And Stuff CD-ROM (see 'This Moos Just In' box, opposite, about the latest distribution information). Real Arp is apparently 'flowerware' -- the author suggests you buy 50 red roses for your loved one if you use the software frequently! The software is quite sophisticated, offering both preset arpeggio styles (using familiar scale types) and a custom option. You have control over note length, velocity, and quite a few other parameters. One feature that is missing is a sync option, but the output can be sent to an external sequencer, though since it'll be freewheeling you'll have to move the notes around a bit.
The Phonix software, which is US$15 shareware, is a simpler package, and runs as a desk accessory. It does, however, sync to incoming MIDI clock. Nothing fancy here: just a choice of up, down, or up/down, octave range and a couple of other parameters. It works very well, though.
It's not often in my career as hi-tech music journalist that I've been in the position of reviewing a cable. In fact, this may well be the first time. I've been given the opportunity by Keychange Music, keeper of the Atari flame, servicer of your computers, and supplier of legitimate copies of Steinberg's Cubase. As mentioned in past instalments of this column, Keychange also supply a handful of hardware items to make the Atari musician's life easier. One is a multi-MIDI Out port interface -- which I hope to look at soon -- and the other is the Properjob MIDI modem cable. The concept is simple enough, and similar products have been
Phénix On The Rise
More news from the Centek camp: I've just heard that the French TOS-fanatics have completed the design of their Phénix hyper-powerful TOS-compatible computer, and that they're testing their first motherboard as I write. Details of the new motherboard, and the Phénix project in general, can be found at www.centek.fr. Contact System Solutions (details below right) for UK availability. Just to recap, Phénix isn't exactly a TOS clone, but it has TOS emulation. It's built around a 33MHz 68040 processor, overclocked to 36MHz, which will be upgradable to a 72MHz 68060. In addition, two processors can be run side-by-side. Two Motorola 56301 DSP chips (with provision for three more) will be specified, along with two DIMM sockets, for up to 256Mb RAM, and three PCI slots. Serial, parallel and MIDI interface options will all be accommodated by a PCI-format USB interface card. Options will include Zip and CD-ROM drives, 4.3Gb hard disk, and 3D graphics cards. Audio circuitry should be 20-bit, with 44.1kHz or 48kHz sample rates, and stereo ins and outs. External DSP will be mounted in a 19-inch rack: plans include a box that offers 32kHz, 44.1kHz and 48kHz sample rates, four audio ins and 12 outs, plus S/PDIF sockets. A further, pro-spec, box will offer 24-bit operation with a 96kHz sampling rate, XLR connectors and AES-EBU digital interfacing.
Keychange's Properjob takes the shape of a 2-metre lead (lengths of up to four metres can be supplied) with a modem plug at one end and a MIDI plug at the other. There are no securing screws, of the kind often seen on locking computer connectors, at the modem socket end, and Keychange have a good reason for this: in the event of an accidental pull to the lead occurring, the plug will simply come loose, rather than bringing your Atari crashing to the floor, as it could if it was screwed fast. With regard to drivers, the Properjob should work right away with Notator (have a look at the 'Export' section of your user manual for instructions) and with most copies of Cubase. If you lack the MROS drivers listed in the Properjob instruction leaflet, contact Keychange, who can supply them. At £15, the Properjob is relatively cheap (certainly cheaper than much of the competition) and you get a healthy length of MIDI cable into the bargain. Can't say fairer than that!
I'm often telling you what A Good Thing the Internet is, and sending you off to look for all sorts of software and public
As was mentioned previously in this column, Electronic Cow are now distributing Sounds And Stuff, the fab CD-ROM collection of MIDI and music software produced by Floppyshop before they retired from the Atari scene. What you might not know is that this volume, containing nearly 300Mb of useful stuff, currently costs just £18, plus £2 postage. Versions of much of the PD/Shareware/Freeware mentioned in this column are on the disk, along with a huge number of AVR-format samples, MOD files and MIDI Files. A collection of helpful text files covering audio and MIDI matters is also provided, as well as a fully working version of Electronic Cow's Sound Chip Synth v2.32. If you have a CD-ROM drive for your Atari, treat yourself to a copy.
The software is the brainchild of Martin Tarenskeen, the chap behind YSEditor Plus, the Yamaha 4-op synth editor. Martin also runs a user group for Zadok's UniMan Atari universal editor/librarian, and it's on this web page that you can find Mex2Mid. Point your browser at www.telebyte.nl/~mt/mex2mid.zip. It's only about a 12K download, and the software is really useful.