Alchemie Junior

MIDI News and Reviews. By Phillip White. ALCHIMIE JNR V2.22 >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Greetings ACE chums. Well what should land on my desk the other day but a real working PD MIDI sequencer! (This is not in actual fact what happened, but it sounds nice). Well why am I so excited? It has something to do with the fact that I have come across several PD MIDI sequencers and music utilities in my time with ACE, and they have without exception been roundfiled. They either a) do not work at all b) work some of the time c) are written in German and do not work. This one puts the rest to shame and gives those that cost 100's of dollars a run for their money. CREDITS ~~~~~~~ The name of this Sequencer, is Alchimie Jr V2.22 and is meant to be an introduction to their Senior version. If the Jr version is anything to go by, then the Snr version will be one to watch out for. The program is Swiss and is written by D. Canevesi and D. Crettol of Prosoft Informatique. It is 227KBytes big, will fit in a 1040 and runs in monochrome only. A BRIEF INTRODUCTION ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ There are several very high quality sequencers available for the ST which has the lions share of the music computer market. But they don't leave much change out of a grand and are not a wise purchase for the casual user. Budget or entry level sequencers are a bit of a disappointment, as they tend to be stripped down versions of their professional counterparts and can be frustrating if one is not a proficient musician. Paradoxically, the more advanced a sequencer is, the better it is for the beginner, as the enhanced features make such operations as editing songs, easier to deal with. Public Domain and Shareware sequencers generally leave me twitching, so it is with pleasure, that I introduce Alchimie Jnr. Like all good PD (It is really Shareware, send $25) software, the docs come on board. There are two sets, a reference manual and an instant gratification file. The translation is from French, and inevitably some concepts get lost, but not a major problem. I advise a printout as soon as possible as even an old MIDI hand like myself had a wee problem with trying to figure out how the thing worked. When the application is run, the first thing that hits you between the eyes is an item selector, you are given a choice between loading 'Musette' or 'Polonais' by J.S.Bach. I recommend Musette, it is quite cheery. You can of course cancel and leap straight in but first off it is best to use the demo song as a guide. The file extension is .SNG which is the Alchimie proprietry file format. It is not compatable with other SNG extensions such as Steinbergs. There is however, the capability of importing and exporting MIDI song files. This is very good and to my knowledge unheard of in any other PD sequencer. The MIDI song file is a standard file format that allows music to be freely interchanged between different sequencers, even on different computers. A QUICK TOUR ~~~~~~~~~~~~ Now that the song is loaded, one can see the screen, yep one screen and wow they sure try and pack a lot in. Take a look at the screen shot, (alchimie) and see what I mean. Everything runs under GEM so there are a lot of windows to juggle. In appearance and operation, it is a bit of a hybrid between Cubase and Pro24 with a sprinkle of Dr T's MKS thrown in. The documentation informs us that up to 16 songs can be in memory and each song is composed of 256 patterns which consists of 256 tracks. Well I don't know if it is true or not. I doubt very much whether one could cram 16 songs onto a 1040. I had some initial problems understanding this program because of the way in which I have used other sequencers. At the top of the hierarchy is the song and the master track which is used to group patterns together. The tracks are used to make the patterns, unlike Steinbergs method where patterns make up the tracks. This means that song composition in Alchimie is based on 'drum machine' style programming where patterns are simply strung together and repeated as needs be. THE CONTROL PANEL ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The actual means of moving around is by mouse operation and values are input via the keyboard. Some obvious things are not very. Like where is the Load/Save command in the file menu? Oh silly me, I must drag the Disk Icon to the song window..... Like all good sequencers Alchimie forces you to name every piece of information after a while as you soon get hopelessly lost. There are plenty of pop up windows full of information about patterns, tracks and songs and the opportunity to name them. As time goes by and your windows start to fill up, you have the option of reducing the fontsize by a factor of tiny, to miniscule. The desktop has a control panel that contains buttons that mimic that of a tape recorder, ie record, play, fast forward and reverse. Also included is the timer section and a record buffer which fills up when MIDI information is recorded. When recording it is possible to split notes and events from different MIDI channels to various tracks. The timer section has programmable start and end points to define the length of the recorded track. The resolution is 96 PPQ. Other record options are cycle mode and punch in and out. Cycle means that the selected recording section is repeated and notes added to. Punch in means that the selected section is recorded over, useful for correcting errors. Once a section is recorded into the buffer, then it is transferred to a track, where it becomes part of a pattern. This can be done automatically or at the users whim. SOME ICONS TO PLAY WITH ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ There are some icons on the desktop, these are STACK, DISK, PRINTER, TRASH and FILTER. The Stack is effectively a clipboard for the cutting and pasting of bits of patterns and tracks. Disk is for saving/loading songs and patterns. Printer, for screen dumps. Trash is for erasing songs, patterns and tracks. The Filter, disables certain MIDI events on record, such as controllers or program changes etc. THE WINDOWS ~~~~~~~~~~~ Most of the operations within Alchimie take place in the windows. For the song, pattern and track windows there are similar procedures. Extensive use is made of the mouse, with naming, moving, playing of songs and patterns accomplished by the ubiqutous point click and drag. There are numerous pop up menus that serve either to modify data or as a status indicator. For example, in the pattern window, a new pattern is created by doubleclicking in an empty space, and filling in the dialog box which asks for a name, the length of the pattern and time signature. A pattern can then be dragged to the play button to be played, copied, merged, trashed or saved. THE TRACK WINDOW ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ There are 256 tracks available for each pattern, and each one has some information attached to it in the tracks window. The relevant items are. TRACK NUMBER. TRACK NAME NOTES. PLAY FLAG. SOLO FLAG. CHANNEL. TRANSPOSITION. Track number and name are pretty obvious. Notes is the count of events in the track, includes all MIDI events. Play flag selects that track for playback, otherwise it is muted,. Solo flag soloes that track, ie mutes every other track. Channel selects the output MIDI channel if ** then same as recorded. Pitch and volume change the pitch and velocity of the notes for the track. Duration changes note duration, by greater or less than 100%. Each of these paramaters can be changed by mouse and keyboard operation. Tracks can be moved, cut, copied and trashed with gay abandon. In the case of having lots of tracks, It is possible to do a search operation on a track name, hopefully the right track will be highlighted. THE PATTERN WINDOW ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Most of the operations in the pattern window, are similar to that of the tracks window, apart from a few restrictions. A pattern can only be created as long as a valid song is selected. Also the pattern length is forced so that all events in the tracks are within pattern bounds. The relevant items for the pattern window are. NUMBER and NAME. LENGTH. SIGN. Once again Number and name are self evident. Length indicates the duration of the pattern. Sign, is the time signature. There are two types of patterns, EVENTS and EXCLUSIVES. An exclusives pattern is created when the input buffer containing exclusives messages is dragged to the pattern window. I interpreted this as referring to system exclusive messages, but the documentation was very skimpy on this. Operations such as Cut, Copy, Move and Erase, are the same as for the track window. THE EDITING WINDOWS ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ There are two editing windows, the GRID and the EVENT LIST. It is not possible to have more than one of each window open for each pattern, but both types can be active for editing purposes. Changes in one are updated in the other. It is possible to edit and play/record, at the same time. THE GRID ~~~~~~~~ The GRID window has a control and a display section, bars are displayed as solid vertical lines, while times are dashed ones. Notes are shown as a small square with a thick line and a triangle. The square is the start time, the triangle is the end, and a shaded area above, indicates velocity. The end result is that the notes look like hairy arrows! The control section is fairly complex, with such variables as ZOOM/POSITION, for adjusting scale. STEP TIME input button, for selecting step input. An INFORMATION box for note length, pitch velocity and position. Grid quantum, is for defining the note position. There are many more functions in the control section that are too numerous to mention here, sufficient to say that the grid editing window is well catered for in the control department. The display options for the grid are as follows. From the VIEW menu select OPTION, which alows notes to be viewed from ALL tracks, or from those tracks with the PLAY flag set, or only those from the current track. The EVENTS option, allows all MIDI events to be displayed or only those which have passed through the input filter. There are several operations that can be done on notes. By clicking on the note it is possible to change pitch, position, length and velocity by use of the mouse. A note can be dragged to the trash can or moved around the grid at one's whim. An area can be defined so that operations can be performed on all notes within that area. An area can also be moved and copied within the grid. Yes, the area can also be dragged to the trash or to the stack for inclusion in another track. When Alchimie is playing there is a sort of pseudo scrolling effect for the grid window. A vertical bar moves from left to right acros the page but the window does not update. This must be done manually, not a great problem, and better than a static display. THE EVENTS LIST ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The EVENTS LIST window, is rather more spartan and as the name suggests, is a long list of every MIDI event, be they notes, pitchbends, program changes and what have you. Like the Grid window, there are options for selecting which tracks shall have their events displayed, ie all, play flag selected or current track. The information that is available in the Events List consists of. TRACK. The track of the event. POSITION. Where it is. CHANNEL. The MIDI channel of the event. MESSAGE. What event it is. PARAMETERS. According to what type of event, these can be changed. Editing is accomplished by double clicking on an event and changing the parameters. Inserting is possible and a dialogue box pops up to ask you what you want to insert. This is very handy for plopping in a program change. As in every other window, events can be moved, copied and trashed. Both the GRID and EVENTS LIST windows have their strengths and weakneses when editing recorded material. In practice it is best to use both windows at the same time for maximum editing pleasure. MENUS GALORE ~~~~~~~~~~~~ The dropdown menus have many other functions and I do not intend to list them all, only the more interesting ones. The OPTION menu has already been mentioned with the options of selecting which tracks have their data displayed and whether it is filtered or not. The FUNCTION menu has a global effect on a track or menu. Operations which are possible are. INSERT. Inserts a blank section into the defined area. REPEAT. Repeats a defined area by a selectable amount. STRETCH. Stretches or shortens an area. DOUBLE. Yep, that's exactly what happens. REVERSE. Indeed ROTATE. much the same as reverse, bit silly really. EXECUTE. Now this is the fun one. Click on this and another program can be run with Alchimie sitting in the background, a song can be playing while you do this. The manual recommends that all your work be saved before try this out and it warns that things could go wrong. I was leaping up and down because I thought that it would be possible to run a patch editor with the sequencer. Indeed this is it's purpose, although I found that the CZ editor I use would not access the MIDI ports. I did not have another editor to try out, but the CZ editor is a bit of a pig to use anyway. Other programs such as word processors worked just fine. IMPORT. Import a type 0 or type 1 MIDI file format song. EXPORT. Export " " " " " " " " " " EVENTS menu. This contains the operations necesary for editing any particular kind of message or parameters of a message, these are. CHANNEL. Fix the MIDI channel number for the events in the chosen area. CONTROLLERS. Change the controllers in area, mainly for instrument compatibility. QUANTISE. Two operations available will quantise data or humanise it. NOTES. Transpose the pitches of the notes in an area. Or translate.... The manual does not make it very clear on what exactly this does, but it looks complicated. VELOCITY. Four operations are possible, FIX, TRANSPOSE, SLOPE, and COMPRESS. Fix, sets the velocity in an area to a chosen value. Transpose, increments or decrements the velocity to a desired value. Slope, will alow a gradual increase/decrease of velocity over an area. Compress, will compress/expand the velocity around a central value. DURATION. Operations are FIX, QUANTISE, and TRANSPOSE on an events duration. COMPRESS. Removes a certain ratio of pitch bend, channel and poly aftertouch. MIDI IN. Allows the user to define what MIDI events are recorded in the input buffer. MIDI OUT . Options are running status. Synchro enable/disable. MIDI Thru enable/disable. Metronome, clickout enable/disable. SAVE. Save the desktop (A very thoughtful touch) THE DATA FILTER. Is very sophisticated and can be set up to only act on certain ranges of information. For example strip the aftertouch from all notes above MIDI note number 64 with a velocity of 98........ Nuff said. Filtering is quite important because some controllers, such as aftertouch send out a lot of data which only takes up memory. THE MASTER TRACK ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Master track defines how patterns are ordered into a song. It basically consists of a list of instructions that are executed when the main counter reaches the time specified in the position field. The instructions are as follows. PLAY. Play a pattern. The number of the pattern, the name of the pattern and the number of repeats must be given. TEMPO and TEMPO CHANGE. When a tempo instruction is encountered the song will play at the new tempo. A tempo change will order a change by a specified amount. REPEAT. Will repeat the next part for the desired number of repetitions. New parameters can be inserted and modified in the Master track, also instructions may be erased. THE RAP UP ~~~~~~~~~~ Once a few of the basic concepts had been understood, I found Alchimie to be easy to use. Because it relies on GEM, I would recommend a software Blitter such as Turbo ST for speeding up the screen draws. At times I found the action to be a little on the jerky side but not unbearable. The main bugbear I have is in trying to work ones way around all the windows, there is a lot of information there to work with. To compensate, there are numerous keyboard commands to save on getting an arthritic right wrist and an information file can be edited to provide the optimum desk layout. Just for the record, there is no right or wrong way to design a MIDI sequencer, It is really up to the writers imagination as to how they choose to manipulate MIDI data. One could have a sequencer based around clock dials or maybe little animated postmen that drop data in letterboxes... Ah I'm being silly now. All in all I am very impressed with this program. as I stated earlier, Alchimie Jr. puts every other PD MIDI sequencer for the ST to shame. For the beginner I would recommend this ahead of any other entry level sequencer. It has a pretty steep learning curve but so does every other professional sequencer. I certainly would not begrudge the authors their $25. Alchimie Jr 2.22 is available from ACE NSW Public Domain Library. Copyright 1990 For ACE NSW Inside Info Permission to reproduce this article may be obtained from ACE NSW GPO Box 4514 Sydney NSW Australia 2000 or via ACE BBS 02 6641303 FIDO 3:712/520

Phillip White


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