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Cool School Interactus Circle Of Digi Volume One

I have to admit that I was intrigued when I first saw Circle of Digi Vol 1 at a recent AES show, and the fact that the manufacturers were in the process of negotiating UK distribution gave me a good excuse to review a copy. Essentially, Circle of Digi Vol 1 is a dual‑format Mac/PC interactive CD‑ROM designed to provide product familiarisation for Digidesign's Pro Tools, Sound Designer, Sample Cell and a number of third‑party developer options. It all seems like a very good idea — if you need to find out about something, you can go straight to the topic of your choice, read a concise explanation and, in many instances, see a short movie clip.

Rather than present everything as boring menus and lists, Circle of Digi Vol 1 presents you with a virtual world that looks not unlike a cubist representation of an atom, where the coloured spheres are different modules. There's also the 'Circle of Digi' itself, where the eight major topic modules are arranged as icons on the circumference of a circle, and clicking on one of them takes you to the relevant topic. Of course, this being a multimedia presentation, it doesn't simply hop from module to module, but instead does a kind of hyperspatial 'whoosh' thing, complete with sound effects.

Level 1 of each module provides you with a short list of headers: Introduction, Concepts, Basics and Troubleshooting. Selecting one of these calls up Level 2, comprising two text windows and a third window, which may hold text or a video clip. All the while, the presentation runs commentary, music and sound effects to try to keep your attention — it's all very slick. Level 3 gets you to full‑screen flow charts and diagrams, as well as interactive examples. Subjects covered include the fundamentals of sound, computer basics, and MIDI and digital audio; there are also many photos and screenshots, some animated.

Finding your way around Circle of Digi Vol 1 is pretty easy, but my main gripe with any product of this type is that your progress is slowed by having to wait for the beautiful but gratuitous graphics to draw themselves every time you move to a different location. What's more, when you finally do arrive, it's often to find that your ultimate reward is just a few paragraphs of text that don't go into nearly as much detail as you'd hoped. Some of the movie clips are helpful, and there's no doubt that a lot of thought has gone into making this a polished learning aid, but after just an hour or so with it, I felt an overwhelming urge to go back to the faster and more thorough owner's manual supplied with the relevant Digidesign products. My PC also crashed a couple of times while using the CD‑ROM.

Circle of Digi Vol 1 is an entertaining and useful introduction to Pro Tools, Sound Designer and Sample Cell, but it isn't a substitute for a user manual, and I don't think that it has a great deal to offer to anyone already using the products in question. A great idea, but in many ways it's a triumph of presentation over content, and even on a Pentium PC running a quad‑speed CD‑ROM drive, it feels slow. Paul White