No, you didn’t read it wrong — it’s just a smattering of everyday Swedish by way of an introduction to the latest MIDI interface from the land of snow.
Producer: Icon Designs
Someone in Sweden has gone to an awful lot of trouble to think this one out. The result is a very versatile and not too hard to use real-time sequencer with rather advanced editing facilities. It goes two tracks better than most low-budget sequencers in that it will record up to ten tracks that can be played back simultaneously. Now, there are several MIDI sequencers about of both the real and step time variety but this one scores on two fronts: in the way in which it records the information and in the degree to which you can fiddle about with (sorry, edit) it afterwards.
The hardware is contained in a sturdy brushed steel box coloured red which looks like it would withstand several bouts of tap-dancing. A ribbon cable attaches it to the back of the Spectrum and, oops, we hit a slight obstacle. It’s been designed to fit the rubber-key variety and so one either rips the keyboard off the Plus or goes in search of a suitable plug to replace the one supplied. It has two MIDI outs, a Roland compatible DIN sync (for older synths made by Roland), Clock In/Out with a selectable amount of pulses per crotchet which enables you to harness the forces of most older sequencers and non-MIDI drum machines. It can also give out signals for tape synchronization which means that a spare track on a multi-track recorder can be used to synchronize the whole piece as you record it onto tape with overdubs — offering endless over-dub possibilities.
The software arrives on cassette but can be downloaded to Microdrive. It has only one screen display that shows ten columns, one for each track, which are in alternating yellow and white for visibility even in monochrome. When a track is being used it turns a jolly shade of black. The bar numbers are listed from top to bottom of the screen in one of the left-hand columns and each track can accommodate up to 1,000 bars. A ‘memory-used’ column to the left of the bar number column gradually fills up as memory space is used.
The recording process works not a little like the cut-and-paste facility of a word processor. Sections of your piece of between one bar and 255 bars in length are recorded in one go — each section is termed a ‘segment’ — and given a reference: A1 B2 C1 and so on. When recording a segment, the desired speed has to be selected — this could be a bit tricky on the first segment if you don’t have a drum machine, as there appears to be no audible metronome click.
A segment cannot be played back unless it has been inserted into a track: look at the screen display and work out where you want a segment to be inserted and whiz the track pointer to the required position. For some reason or other the track position line works from Z and W keys rather than the arrow keys which seemed a little odd. It is a horizontal dotted line that bisects all track columns and therefore gives you the bar number you are at. So far so good. The beginning and end of each segment is shown by a solid horizontal line across the track column.
When a new segment is being recorded you start from wherever you have positioned the track pointer and can choose which segments to hear that are coincident with the track pointer position. It has a convenient ‘Go To Bar’ function to save tedious screen scrolling. Cunningly, when a segment in the middle of the piece is being recorded and a MIDI drum machine or other sequencer is in use, the system locates the correct bar in the drum machine so that everything plays back from the correct bar. This is part of MIDI protocol known as ‘song position locate’ and is only usually available when you pay above £500 for a disk-based sequencer!
Once a segment has been recorded it is possible to do virtually anything with it that MIDI allows: for instance correcting your bum timing (more correctly called ‘quantising’) to a hemi-demi-semi-quaver (known as 96th note quantisation) and some of the MIDI codes can be added or removed for various functions such as program change, after touch, pitch-bend, modulation wheel and sustain commands.
It is useful to be able to disable the velocity sensing function until it’s absolutely necessary as this takes up piles of memory very quickly indeed and has often been the stumbling block of other real-time recorders. If you are sufficiently patient you can refer to a MIDI codelist and insert individual instructions. Any segment can be transposed, and in fact a completely different set of MIDI codes can be inserted. Two segments can be merged together — very useful if you want to play something on one keyboard but are incapable of realising it in one go (there’s a lot of it about at Christmas). The time signature (beats per bar) of each segment can be different although once specified it is permanent. This is really more by way of an aid to find your way around the tune than anything else.
Having roughly assembled the segments in the tracks, each track is assigned to a MIDI channel. Segments can be copied and generally inserted or deleted anywhere you like. Overall tempo changes can be put in as commands or executed in real time as the piece is playing.
At first, the concept took a little getting used to. But the advantages are quite staggering. Usually the screen display shows 11 bars at any one time but it is possible to squash all 1,000 bars on screen by selecting different screen resolutions from 1 to 8. Things get pretty tiny, admittedly, but you have a very useful overview of the whole piece, warts and all.
Generally this is a friendly and flexible sequencer that offers facilities found on far more expensive dedicated sequencers but with the advantage of visual display. The User Manual, although very comprehensive, suffers a little as it does not include a step-by-step example with illustrations — an approach that is a lot quicker and easier to follow.
The sequencer isn’t cheap: £200 may seem like a lot of money to lash out, but I hear there are more programs en route via the North Sea for the unit, and I would think that like most things the end justifies the means. If you are into MIDI music systems then this represents a first class product at a fraction of the cost of a less amenable disc-based recorder.