Paul Austin auditions the ultimate in Amiga sequencing — Bars&Pipes Professional 2.5.
Thanks to its natural affinity with a whole range of software and hardware, Bars&Pipes Professional is as much of a multimedia control centre as it is a MIDI sequencer. Now, Blue Ribbon have attempted to make the best even better, with the arrival of Bars&Pipes Professional 2.5.
Being more of a muso than a multimedia person, I must admit to being slightly hesitant about the direction of the latest release. With the program's expansion into multimedia, I was a little worried that its musical prowess would be put on the back burner in favour of yet more whistles and bells. Thankfully, the reverse has happened, and in fact nearly all the new features concentrate exclusively on the musical side of the software. Unfortunately, due to the huge number of changes, it's only possible to spotlight the very latest additions.
For anyone working commercially, time is definitely money. As a result, the arrival of simultaneous looping across all tracks has to be one of the highlights. Better still, thanks to the variety of track styles on Bars&Pipes Professional 2.5, it's even possible to record over a looping section. In reality, this is done by the addition of a linear track, which then plays in concert with the looping section.
For those unfamiliar with the program, Bars&Pipes Professional 2.5 offers three track formats; basic song tracks, linear tracks — which don't loop — and finally real‑time tracks. The difference between them is that both song and linear tracks respond to tempo changes, while real‑time tracks use absolute timing, always trigger at the same instant regardless of tempo alterations, and are ideal for adding sound effects to video productions. Whilst on the subject of video, the program's SMPTE handling has also been improved, thanks to automatic formatting. The Patch List has been enlarged, too, and alphabeticising has been added to the ToolBox — at last.
More hotkey commands are available in menu selections — all of which comply with the Amiga's intuition style guide. The double‑width, double‑height screen display has also been improved. In the new version, hotkey commands allow you to jump between the four screen areas, thereby avoiding the annoying screen dragging associated with its predecessor.
In the past, cutting, pasting and merging tracks wasn't exactly tricky, but now it's child's play, thanks to a collection of menu options which allow a single command to do all the hard work. A classic example is the new tool replication feature, which automatically copies a tool from one track to all the others. The reverse action is also available, with instant removal across individual tracks, a group or even the entire song. Another master stroke is the implementation of automated track splitting. Now, a single menu selection will split the track you're working on into separate tracks for every note at a specific pitch. Dividing a drum track, for example, is now simplicity itself.
Individual track editing has also been enhanced; you can now audition edits in concert with the rest of the production. No longer are you forced to update or close down the edit screen in order to test the changes. On a slightly less monumental scale, it's now possible to terminate track playback, mix clips from the right edit flag and scroll the display using arrow keys.
Step entry has also improved fairly dramatically, courtesy of the space bar. To extend a selected note, you simply tap the space bar and the note grows accordingly. Another much‑needed add‑on is the ability to cancel mouse‑driven edits by simply clicking the right mouse button — at which point everything snaps back into its original form. Lyrics can now be put in with syllable dividers, even across an entire measure or section. Autoranging has been added as an option, and now, when you open a edit window, the notes are automatically displayed — working from the lowest upwards.
As in the track window, flag editing has been enhanced. A shift‑click on a flag immediately invokes the bounds window, ready for numeric input. Some of the features already mentioned have also transplanted themselves into Song Construction, with the same ability to cancel edits using the right‑hand mouse button, plus much improved Bounding Box operations — which in the past tended to be a little vague.
Printing is a notoriously tricky business on most sequencers, and Bars&PipesPro has had its fair share of hard‑copy problems. Fortunately, Blue Ribbon have now addressed the problem, with a few much‑needed improvements. Arguably the most important aspect is the arrival of optional ledger lines below the Treble Clef or above the Bass Clef. In addition, you can now precisely set the number of measures per line, and the number of staves per page. Furthermore, a larger range of print resolutions has also been included. You can now be sure that both songs and groups will fill the entire page prior to a page break. Add to that the ability to print guitar tablature alongside your staves, and the hard‑copy equation is complete.
Although often overlooked, the program's ability to add new features via the accessory window is a key factor in its success. Like the rest of the system, this has also enjoyed a little attention in the form of the new Logical accessory. Basically, this brings boolean operations into a MIDI environment. Although usually associated with 3D modelling and mathematics, boolean operations offer a range of cutting and combining functions which, as far as I'm aware, are unique to Bars&Pipes Professional 2.5. The options on offer are as follows:
- Exclusion: In this case, any matching notes in both the source and target track will be removed.
- Intersection: This offers the reverse of the above, and removes notes if they are not present in both the source and target track.
- Union: This is very similar to merge track, the difference being that identical notes are merged into one rather than being simply overlaid — thereby avoiding potential glitches. A classic example of Logical in action would be to separate a clean MIDI sequence from the additional notes generated by a tool. For example, if you've used the Counterpoint or Echo tools to generate an accompaniment on a copy of the original track, the original could then be used in conjunction with the Logical Accessory to exclude the original MIDI information from copy, thereby leaving only CounterPoint melody or echos behind...
- Key Finder: As the name suggests, this particular tool will analyse a piece of music, and provide both scale and chord progressions. It will even play scales and chords against each other so you can hear the chord within the defined scale.
- Auto‑Mix: This gives PipeLine control of automated mixers such as the Ottomix‑equipped Mackie CR1604.
- Legato Tool: Although not a new addition to the ToolBox, this updated feature now offers a definable overlap, for a true Legato sound.
- Pattern Tool: Yet another update, which cures the annoying inability to record a Pattern section while listening to others — something which its predecessor never quite got the hang of.
- Guitar Tool: This is a real monster, providing an on‑screen fretboard to play solos or entire chords. In addition, single notes played from the keyboard can be automatically converted into standard guitar chords and inversions. It's even possible to define strumming styles, and add your own chords and performance preferences.
- List Tool: An absolute must for technophiles who require details and perhaps even a printout of exactly what MIDI information is flowing through a particular PipeLine. Great for them, but not exactly gripping for the rest of us.
- Drum Key Tool: Turn your Amiga keyboard into an instant drum pad. With a bit of effort, it's even possible to transform your entire keyboard, with a note on every letter. Obviously, after‑touch is sacrificed, but on drum tracks it's not always essential.
Due to the space limitations inherent in having only two pages, it's only really possible to scratch the surface of the entire program. However, I hope this brief list of enhancements provides a taste of the power this truly spectacular product can provide. Version 2.5 simply keeps up the Blue Ribbon record of excellence, and reaffirms this program's position as the Amiga's ultimate MIDI/multimedia sequencer.
Bars&Pipes Professional 2.5 is a modular beast, with each window triggered by its own icon. Here's a whistle stop tour of all the available edit and control screens.
Allows the importation of other packages and additional modules into the Bars&Pipes Professional 2.5 environment.
Full cut, copy and paste operations, enabling user‑definable clips to be shared between tracks.
A complete rundown on the state of the current production and your machine.
- MASTER PARAMETERS
Enables global definition of time signatures, lyrics, scales, chords, dynamics and rhythm changes.
- MEDIA MADNESS
A complete multimedia sequencer which allows samples, stills, animation, external hardware and third‑party software to play a part in a Bars&Pipes Professional 2.5 production.
Tempo feedback via MIDI, internal Amiga audio and colour cycling — all three can be mixed and matched as required.
- MIX MAESTRO
Completely automated mixdown with control for both volume and pan. All fader alterations are memorised by the software, and fader grouping is also supported.
- RECORD ACTIVATION
Complete specification of the data to be recorded/merged. Allows overdubbing of pitch‑bend, program changes, modulation and so on.
- SET FLAGS
Numeric positioning of location and edit flags in either SMPTE or musical time.
- SONG CONSTRUCTION
Large‑scale cut and paste of individual measures, verses or chorus, by means of bounding box and drag‑and‑drop mouse selections.
- TEMPO MAP
Tempo change using a variety of linear and non‑linear transition curves.
- TEMPO PALETTE
Instant tempo changes courtesy of four user‑definable settings.
- TIMELINE SCORING
Sequencing of a selection of songs over a defined period — ideal for planning an entire set for a live performance.
Selection screen for the hundreds of signal‑processing tools available within Bars&Pipes Professional 2.5.
Opens the main track window to enable recording, editing and the use of tools.
Main playback control window, which also provides access to user‑ defined flags, loop and punch‑in record modes.