This month, Vic Lennard takes a short trip down sequencer memory lane...
If you've been around the ST sequencer market for some time, you'll have seen sequencing packages come and go. Steinberg's Pro 24 may have given way to Cubase and C‑Lab's Notator to Emagic's Notator Logic, but there have been plenty of others. Remember Passport's Mastertracks Pro? Or Intelligent Music's Realtime, Martin Russ's personal favourite? Both are long gone, but as usable as the day you bought them — if you still happen to be running one on your computer.
Some of these 'cult' programs disappeared through lack of sales, and some were just binned by their manufacturers. However, if there is one sequencer whose past is littered with misfortune, it has to be the one to which this month's 'Atari Notes' is dedicated...
In the 'Barefoot Software' side panel in last month's column, I mentioned that the MIDITrack series of sequencers were still available in this country courtesy of Digital Village. Unfortunately, the limited space meant that I couldn't really expand on this brief news piece, so let's set the record straight.
I bought my first ST back in 1987, and spent some weeks searching for the right sequencer. Steinberg's Pro 24, C‑Lab's Creator and KCS from Dr.T were all checked out, but the one that ended up being used for the next four years was Hybrid Arts' SMPTETrack. Why? Because it offered the most flexible way of working, without thrusting too many numbers in my face, and was reasonably priced given that the SMPTE time code hardware was included. I have to admit to also being blown away by the way the demonstrator (Bernard Jones, now of Rose Morris) showed what the program was capable of.
During a period of four years, SMPTETrack was responsible for creating a large number of album tracks and music for pictures. The SMPTE side never let me down once — which is something I cannot say for any other system I've ever worked with — and the software was continuously upgraded, first to include an Event List editor and then a graphical one. I worked as technical support for Syndromic Music and then, as they became known, Hybrid Arts UK, also beta‑testing updates for Hybrid Arts in the States.
Hybrid Arts UK disappeared first, followed by the main American company. Stefan Daystrom, the programmer, set up Barefoot Software, to continue developing MIDITrack and released the Platinum upgrade last year – at a time when there was no UK distribution! Yet here we have a piece of software that has been responsible for at least two Oscar‑awarded film scores, and a whole host of commercial album tracks and singles.
Digital Village is currently selling EditTrack Gold (the predecessor to Platinum) for £49, which represents the best value for money of any sequencer under £150. In fact, the software is identical to SMPTETrack but without the external sync'ing hardware. You get 64 tracks, and a choice of working in terms of patterns or linear tracks. The Event List editor is the best on the market — even SysEx messages are listed as individual events for the more adventurous who want to edit them — and the graphic editor is very usable, with comprehensive editing functions. If you do want the SMPTE hardware, SMPTETrack Platinum will set you back just £199. No other sequencing package offers so much at such a low price — and it runs on a Falcon in up to 16 colours!
If the program falls down in any way, it has to be in the lack of real‑time editing. Outside of the likes of track delays and transpose, most other editing can only be carried out when the sequencer is stopped. Stefan's answer to the question of "why not implement real‑time editing?" is that the timing of the sequencer is all‑important, and real‑time editing compromises this. From experience, I tend to agree, although the ease‑of‑use that real‑time editing offers is difficult to do without once you're used to it!
My reason for hijacking this month's Atari Notes in this way has nothing to do with any connection I may have had with the company in the past. The point is that many of you are probably using the likes of Sequencer One, Concerto and perhaps one or two of the PD offerings, and are considering what to upgrade to. If you're after a rock‑solid sequencer that allows you to work as you like, rather than dictate a way to you, then take a close look at one of the MIDITrack sequencers. What they lack in bells and whistles they more than make up for in terms of functions, including on‑line help, track unmix by MIDI channel, zone and key, shadow tracks, duplicate event removal, real‑time fader for MIDI controllers and much more. Take a look around the screens on this page and see for yourselves...