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?
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
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!
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
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!
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.
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.