Derek Johnson unearths a simple but fun Atari tracker and sound chip synth, and explains how your ST can help you train your ears...
Back in December 1994, Vic Lennard, when he was still in charge of this column, gave a rave review to a shareware 'tracker' program from AstraSoft called Stormtracker. I mention this because in my monthly trawl around the Internet, I found the AstraSoft web page. Stormtracker hasn't had any great developments since Vic looked at it, but it is now shareware, rather than a commercial program, with a registration fee of just £10. Trackers, for those of you who are wondering what I'm going on about, are pieces of software that let you create finished performances by layering and sequencing samples of audio. The finished product — both sounds and performance — is saved as a MOD file, which is the standard file format for trackers.
StormTracker is one of the best trackers on the ST platform, with an easy‑to‑navigate front end that emulates the feel of a pattern‑based MIDI sequencer. Essentially, it offers four audio channels, variable‑playback sample rate (to weigh sample quality against available memory), and the ability to load samples in a variety of formats (including AVR, SAM and SPL). The intuitive on‑screen staff display lets you easily choose a playback pitch for your samples, and if your raw material needs tweaking, an integrated sample editor lets you do basic loop and pitch manipulation.
David Oakley, who wrote StormTracker, is also behind DeskTracker (shareware registration £5), a simple but elegant MOD‑player desk accessory. Graphically, it's straightforward: you get just the controls you need, although there is an option for a gimmicky spectrum analyser and oscilloscope. Of course, both StormTracker and DeskTracker can be downloaded from AstraSoft's web site (www.astraware.com/index.html), but for the net‑less amongst you, check out the Goodman International public domain library (16 Conrad Close, Meir Hay, Longton, Stoke‑on‑Trent, Staffs ST3 1SW.
Trackers can be quite rewarding to use, especially if you have a good sampling package. Just don't expect completely pro results, especially on common‑or‑garden‑variety STs. If you're running a Falcon, however, StormTracker can take advantage of that computer's vastly improved audio hardware and sound quality.
Programs for creating music solely with the ST's built‑in 3‑channel sound chip often have a similar feel to trackers. Rather than chaining samples together, you're telling the sound chip what sound to make, and then defining a pattern of notes for the chip to play; such software is pretty much designed to produce music which can then be embedded in another application, typically a game or stand‑alone graphics‑plus‑music 'demo'. XLR8 — Chip Composer, from Sentry NL, has been on the shareware scene for a while now (registration is US$10). I found a link for this software lurking in the MIDI/audio list of the Ultimate TOS Software Index (ping4.ping.be/dipching‑drulkhor/PRG‑IND2.HTM" target="_top), during the same trawl that re‑introduced me to StormTracker. It seems to be a superior example of its type, with an accessible and graphically interesting interface, plus the option to output your performance over MIDI (when you register, that is!). The pattern‑based sequencer is joined by a complete instrument editor with tone controls, and volume control over every pattern or individual note. Accept that the sounds produced by your Atari's sound chip will pretty much always sound like they belong in a mid‑'80s computer game, and you can have quite a bit of fun. Have a listen to some of the example files to hear some interesting examples of what can be achieved. Cheesy, yes, but more complicated, musically, than you'd think a 3‑channel chip would be capable of.
There are several examples of ear training tools available for the ST, and I've just discovered a new one: Hearcoach v0.93 is the first program from Swede Joakim Hgberg, and creditable it is too. For now, all the software will manage is interval drills, but Joakim hopes to add rhythm, scale and chord exercises in the future. Using Hearcoach is a doddle. First of all, you select which intervals will be played to you, via the ST's speaker or as a MIDI note; intervals from a minor second up to a perfect eleventh are supplied. You can then choose a MIDI playback channel, along with program change and velocity, the lowest and highest note values that can be played, and note length. There's also an option to automatically play the next interval immediately after you've correctly guessed. For the completely baffled, the software will show you the correct interval, and if you want to keep track of your progress, a chart shows you which intervals you did and didn't get right.
HearCoach is actually shareware, but the registration is just US$2! Find it
at: hem1.passagen.se/gokmase/atari/" target="_top