Super Conductor

Reviewed by Paul Huggett

 

Issue 30

Nov/Dec 87

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Paul Huggett takes a look at one of the most economical software packages for musicians. Can good Midi software be had at a reasonable price?

Microdeal
49.95

Atari's decision to fit a MIDI interface as standard to their computers has lead to the ST becoming quickly established as the premier musician's micro. Products now cover the whole range from the full spec system used by top producers and musicians, down to simple programs for the novice.

Unfortunately most professional MIDI packages have a suitably professional price tag, whilst the low cost packages on offer tend to offer only the most basic facilities. Microdeal's Super Conductor is a MIDI sequencing package aimed at the low end of the market but with many features which are comparable with the more upmarket products.

TEN SONG BUFFERS

Super Conductor's first screen displays a list of the songs currently held in the ten song buffers. You can switch between these buffers with the function keys Fl to F10 at any time during editing. It is possible to play these songs in sequence which could be very useful for live performance or demos!

Whenever Super Conductor needs a reference to a position in a block or song, the Bar/Beat/Click format is used. Every bar of the song is divided into beats, and every beat is divided into 96 clicks. That is three times the resolution of the MIDI standard, so it should be good enough for most people!

RECORDING AND PLAYBACK

Unlike many sequencer packages, Super Conductor does not attempt to emulate a cassette recorder with the familiar 'PLAY', 'STOP', and 'FAST FORWARD' type buttons. Instead, Super Conductor takes advantage of the fact that most music is structured in some way; verse 1, verse 2, chorus, verse 3 and so on. These sections are called 'blocks' and you simply record a block for the chorus, and one for the verse and repeat them as many times as necessary.

A Super Conductor block contains any type of MIDI data including note events, aftertouch, controller changes, program changes and pitch bend. Normally, these events are accompanied by a MIDI channel number but Super Conductor removes the channel information when the track is recorded and so is able to reassign the MIDI channel on playback. Each of Super Conductor's sixteen tracks can be assigned to any of MIDI's sixteen available channels (confusing, huh?). It is possible to assign any of the channels to the internal speaker during playback if you should run out of synthesizers although the usefulness of this facility is restricted by the limitations of the ST's sound capability. Personally, I would happily forego this option in exchange for a metronome at playback since without one I found it difficult to decide how accurate the timing of my latest masterpiece was (or wasn't)!

Each track can be individually muted (silenced), but the program lacks a 'solo' facility to enable you to quickly listen to a track in isolation.

The Super Conductor editing screen displays sixteen bars which represent the contents of each of the sixteen available tracks. As blocks are entered into these tracks, you get a visual display of the structure of your song.

In use, I found it best to initially record very small blocks which could be later combined into larger groups as the song required. You can insert, delete and copy blocks simply be pointing to the required position and clicking the left mouse button couldn't be easier!

EDITING

Super Conductor provides a comprehensive editing facility which enables you to examine and alter the MIDI data contained within a given block down to the finest detail. You are presented with a screen which displays, in chronological order, all of the MIDI events contained in a block. You can insert, delete and edit these events as desired.

Although the editing facilities are very thorough, many musicians are likely to be absolutely horrified by the sight of all those numbers. I can't help feeling that a graphical display such as that used by the Steinberg Pro 24 would have been a much better solution.

After a block is recorded, you can filter selected types of MIDI data, transpose it, and quantize it (correct it for timing errors). Quantization is a very useful tool which can make the difference between a song sounding just ordinary or being 'tight'. However, if you overdo it, you can easily end up with something that sounds stale and mechanical. The ability to filter data from a block can be especially useful if you have a keyboard which transmits after-touch information which often wastes a vast amount of memory. Although these functions perform their designated task perfectly, they suffer from the disadvantage that they operate DESTRUCTIVELY on the data itself. Once you have quantized or filtered a block, your original data is irrevocably altered. The moral must be to save your data first!

DOCUMENTATION

Super Conductor is supplied with a comprehensive manual which does an excellent job of guiding the user through the program. It includes the complete MIDI 1.0 specification, an index and an appendix containing descriptions of all the possible error messages all of which are very welcome.

VERDICT

There is no denying that this is a capable package. For a low-cost MIDI sequencer it provides a comprehensive range of facilities and good use of the GEM environment. On my wish list would be the ability to have a metronome click on playback without one it is difficult to tell just how accurate your recorded performance was. I would also have liked to see the ability to synchronize with an external clock without it synching to tape is virtually impossible.

A professional musician or producer would probably do better to look at one of the more upmarket packages such as the Steinberg Pro24 or the Hybrid Arts systems, but for the amateur, the simply curious or for those who lack deep pockets, I would not hesitate to recommend Super Conductor.

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