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Cross Platform

Atari Notes By Derek Johnson
Published May 2001

They call it the diamond drag...They call it the diamond drag...

If you're an Atari owner who would also like to work with other computers, you may not have to lose access to your favourite Atari applications. Derek Johnson offers some platform‑crossing suggestions.

Last month, my column was sparked off by a reader's email, and it looks as though it's happening again. But I warn you now: the subject matter may be a bit much for die‑hard Atari users!

PC Breakthru?

Cross Platform

Reader Sue Zmarzty recently emailed to say that she's planning to move to a PC‑based music system — heresy, I hear you cry! At present, she uses the Breakthru sequencer from Gajits on an Atari 1040STe, but there's one thing she'll miss when she makes the move to PC: Breakthru's diamond drag editing system. I'll let her say it in her own words: diamond drag "enables direct, intuitive step–write editing of individual notes on the piano roll screen [where] the notes are shown as small rectangles with vertical down‑pointing tails, not as formal music notation... to edit any note, move the cursor over the note in question and click. This produces four diamonds surrounding the note, each representing one parameter. The left diamond represents note‑on time. To edit, simply click over this diamond, with the mouse button held down, and drag the note left or right to alter the note‑on position. Releasing the mouse locks the parameter at its new setting. The right‑hand diamond represents note‑off position. The top diamond enables the whole note to be dragged to a new position in time or pitch. The last, bottom, diamond is attached to a vertical tail that controls a note's velocity; simply alter the length of the tail to alter the velocity. It's brilliant — no dialogue boxes, no typing, no hassle."

Well, it's always the way: change computer platforms and you can instantly lose access to the unique software you've grown used to. Breakthru, a worthy sequencer which even includes limited audio integration for STe users, was previously marketed under the Gajits brand and is still available, along with other Gajits software, from parent company Software Technology Ltd. They can be reached by phone at +44 (0)161 355 1980 or on the web at‑ Unfortunately, the package was never ported to the PC.

My first response to the problem of not being able to use favourite Atari software when changing platforms is to keep the Atari in the studio. My own Atari rig is linked to an Apple G4 via a multi‑port MIDI interface, so that I can sync software running on the Atari to a MIDI + Audio sequencer on the Mac, or beam MIDI data back and forth between different software for editing and processing with the tools that are available for each platform. Sue could do the same thing with her PC: create the MIDI part of her track in Breakthru, while sync'ing it to whichever application she's using on the PC. If desired, she could import the Breakthru sequence into the PC when it's time to finally mix the song.

Full Steem Ahead

If for some reason, Sue can't hang on to the Atari — studio space might be tight, for example — there may be another answer: an Atari emulator for the PC. I haven't much experience in this side of things, since I don't plan to give up my Atari. I've tried a Mac‑based emulator, though, and found it to be sluggish, with no MIDI support. There are a number of emulators for the PC, and I've recently become familiar with one that seems to be more compatible with Atari MIDI software than some of the other options.

Brothers Russell and Anthony Hayward, the developers of Steem Engine (Steem standing for STe Emulator) report that their software is getting good reports for its handling of Atari MIDI software. It "seems to work for most MIDI programs", and they know of several users who have retired their Ataris, continuing to run their favourite Atari software on their PC under Steem. The best thing would be to test the software first. Luckily, it's freeware, downloadable from the Steem web site, and all the authors ask is that you let them know what you think. They're relying on user feedback to help the software develop.


News Bites

• XG SYNTEDITOR: If you've got an XG‑compatible General MIDI synth or module from Yamaha, Mark Jarvis's freeware STXG should be your next download. It's a desk accessory that allows you to control and edit any such instrument alongside a MIDI sequencer such as Cubase, Notator or Trackman. A menu system helps you navigate the various edit pages, including system, effects, drums, A/D input, and multi‑parts. All edited parameters can be saved as a standard MIDI file, for loading into a sequencer track. STXG should run on any flavour of ST with at least 1Mb of RAM and a hi‑res monitor or emulator.

  • ASP EMAIL CORRECTION: Just a quick note to let you know that the email address published last month for Abingdon Synthesis Projects, home of Atari gadgets, was out of date. The correct address follows... Sorry Chris!
  • ATARI ANSWERS: Following last month's bumper introduction to using the Atari for music, I'd like to point you to a couple of web sites that offer good general information for Atari users, music and otherwise. Nicholas Bale's Atari ST Quick FAQ does just what it says in the title, and Mark S Baines' £5 shareware text version of his Atari A to Z book is pretty good value.