You're in the
studio. You just got a new 2.2 GHz PC with 512
MB of RAM to run soft-synths and a new Apple
G5 to run Pro Tools. You look absent-mindedly
in the corner and see a dusty Atari 1040STE
on a stand. You only got it to run Cubase when
you were a teenager. Things have changed. The
MIDI timing is a bit better now on PCs although
you have to optimize it, but you can live with
it. Why keep that Atari?
There are many
reasons why you should keep it. Today is a good
time to have an Atari, probably more so than
in the past hey days of Atari. Why?
- The MIDI timing
is still there! The main reason why musicians
bought Atari was because of the built-in MIDI
ports. Thus the software designed for
it made use of these ports as no external box
- There is a
strong internet community for support. There
are many forums you can join as well as news-groups
to ask your questions and participate in exploring
- There is now
a wealth of software available as freeware or
shareware. Treasures from the past as well as
new developments. Let's take a look at some of
You can still
keep that MIDI timing and use the Atari as a
MIDI sequencer driving your PC/Macs, or have
the PC/Macs driving the Atari sequencer. Many
are available such as Cubase: yes, you can still
obtain Atari Cubase,
which includes dongle and documentation. There may be cracked
versions floating around the internet, but the real
thing is much better! Cubase is still considered
the flagship sequencer for the Atari platform.
If you want to try it out, there is Cubase Lite
as a free download now.
are alternatives to Cubase. Treasures from the
past include Master Tracks Pro, an excellent
first-time sequencer as well as professional
application. There are also things you will not
find in Cubase such as independent track looping
and a built-in SysEx dumper. You can also import
standard MIDI files and use the editing tools
in MT Pro to embellish them.
How about the
amazing Dr T KCS system which some consider
the best sequencer on the planet! Modules include
the PVG (Programmable Variation Generator),
Open mode which enables you to play 128 sequences
directly from the QWERTY keyboard, as well as system
exclusive patch editors, all within the same
program and running at the same time. There
are also extensive editing modules such as Tiger
(shown above) and event editing.
Hybrid Arts' SMPTE/Edit
Track has also found a place in history by being
used by the greats such as BB King, the Pointer
sisters, Yes, Fleetwood Mac and Jimmy Hotz.
An excellent choice for a sequencer as it can
do things that Cubase cannot.
Cubase-like sequencer is IMS 4.7, Intuitive MIDI
System Sequencer. IMS in my opinion is very
much like Cubase with the same keyboard shortcuts
for the transport, but with some very unusual
editors not found in Cubase (or any other sequencer).
also has some handy utilities which are usually
seperate programs: a MIDI monitor, a 2D controller
(like a joystick controller for controller mesages),
SysEx dumper and a tempo fader.
Another Cubase-like sequencer is Live Plus by Harold Plontke.
Working with Live Plus is almost like working
with Cubase. It uses the same keyboard shortcuts
for the transport bar. It has a set of tools
to work with in its "key-edit" mode.
also has the familiar arrange screen in which
you can move around patterns, name them and
assign MIDI functions, just like in Cubase.
A good alternative to Cubase.
However if you
want something completely different, then Eric
Ameres' RealTime is for you! Combining algorithmic
functions and a unique interface, RealTime allows
you to freely experiment and combine sequences
together. After "M" was produced and
ported over to the ST platform by Eric,
he decided to take some of the ideas of "M"
and "UpBeat" with his ideas of an
"Interactive Multitasking environment"
and developed RealTime, the Intelligent
Sequencer. This is the definitive algorithmic
sequencer for the experimental MIDI composer.
Then there is
the Rolls Royce of Atari MIDI: Notator SL. However,
is not freely available. You might be able to
find copies on eBay and Atari forums. There is an excellent Notator
resource at http://www.notator.org which is
home for the Notator mailing list as well as
downloadable versions of Creator and Notator
SL. However, you will need a dongle for those
to work. Some find the method of creating patterns
more intuitive and easier than in a Cubase-like
available sequencers include Sweet Sixteen by
Roni Music, Trackman Sequencer by Hollis Research
and Music*Micro by Ron Recker. There are many
more as well.
Here is what
I call the "left field" of Atari MIDI.
Algorithmic applications. These include groove
machines, analog sequencer emulators, MIDI file
dicers, and composition systems. In my opinion,
this is where having an Atari computer in the
studio can shine. These types of applications
are so unique, that you would be hard-pressed
to find applications like them in the PC/Mac
world. These include some newly coded applications
as well as historical yet useable software.
take a look at a few:
M is a one-of-a-kind program. Developed by Intelligent Music
in the '80s, it brought together ideas of an
"interactive" program in which you
actually use the computer in a compositional
process. In the words of the manual:
develops in three stages. First you specify
basic musical material as notes and chords.
Then you determine the ways that your basic
material will be transformed. Then you perform
your music by manipulating screen controls,
by playing control keys on a MIDI keyboard,
or by "conducting" with the mouse
on a multidirectional grid.
This is an application
which allows you to use the mouse as a musical
instrument. Basically it takes mouse movements
inside a grid on the screen (above) and transforms
them into four moving voices that can be assigned
different MIDI channels and sounds depending
on what you do on the QWERTY keyboard. Other
keys are live in real-time as controller
faders and for playing with tempo, transposition,
and a host of other features. In my application,
I also use it to audition soft-synths on my PC
as I am working on the sounds.
A newly coded
application, this combines several programs
in one: a grid sequencer in which you select
notes from inside a grid for playback, with many algorithmic functions for
changing the notes and patterns and a multi-phase
analog sequencer emulator (called the Rouge).
Pulsar is an
analog sequencer emulator with lots of twists.
You can also assign CCs (Continuous Controllers)
for each note of its 16 stages. Imagine what
you can do when controlling a soft-synth with
Dr Ambient's AEX
coded application, AEX combines algorithmic
elements with analog sequencer emulation into
a unique composition system. Completely keyboard-driven, you are able to change the overall sound,
drum patterns, algorithms and so on, simply by navigating
around the GUI with the QWERTY keyboard.
one of the most fascinating algorithmic programs
to appear for the Atari, and in my opinion,
unequalled on any platform. With today's rave
on techno and pattern based instruments (such
as the Roland MC505, Yamaha RM1x) Tunesmith
would feel right at home. It is capable of complex
yet pleasing phrases of exotic beauty with complete
control in the hands of the user. Algo-comp
at its best. This thing sounds great on soft-synths!
This is but a
very small taste of what is available. Other
programs include Brain Wave Lab by Marc Marc,
CAMUS: Cellular Automata MUSic generator, Electronic
Cow's Charming Chaos and Arpeggiator, Fractal
Music Composer by Hugh Mcdowell, Datamusic's
Fractal Music ST by Chris Sansom, MidiJoy by
Harry Koopman, MSG: The Midi Sequence Generator,
MIDI AX: Algorithmic System by Dr T, Mozart's
Dice Waltz, Patterner by Peter Kienle, the Hotz
MIDI Translator and many more.
You can run these
left-hand applications on the Atari and record
directly into the PC/Mac running soft-synths
for a unique sound and composition system. One
of the best reasons to keep the Atari!
You can also
use the Atari as an on-line patch editor for
the synths the Atari supports. These include
the Caged Artist series which are now available.
Using KCS, you can have the editors you need
all load at once for a multi-tasking environment
by editing the KCS.INF file within KCS. In my
own application, I can have DX-Heaven, 4-op
Deluxe with TX81z and FB01 editors as well as
the MT-32 editor all load at once on start
and I am ready to edit or choose sounds for
all my synths.
If you have a
DX7 or DX family synth, it is well supported
by many editors and utilities as well as the
best patch library on the planet!
While the Atari
does not support some of the new synths on the
market, there is still a need to support older
and still-used synthesizers. Having a dedicated
editor for that neglected synth will breathe
life into it again and thus find a place in
If you are lucky
enough to have a Falcon, you can obtain an excellent
soft-synth called ACE MIDI, sporting two oscillators
with four kinds of synthesis methods and sample
(WAVE and AIF) import, a resonant filter, two
a sequencer modulator, with 16 part multitimbral
on a stock Falcon!
Also, Dr Ambient's
AEX comes with a 256-color version for Falcon.
There is also Quaderno Falcon which makes the
best use of color I have seen in an Atari MIDI
application. There are also many audio editing
and recording programs available, as the Falcon
has a DSP chip.
What if I don't
have an Atari?
What's great about
all these software releases is that it mostly
under emulation on PC/Mac. STeem for PC and
NoSTalgia for Mac.The MIDI implementations work
well, however, the faster the machine you have, the
better the emulation is. It is possable to run
Atari programs and have a loop-back application
connected to your favorite sequencer to capture
the data. See link section.
with all these great uses for the Atari, I would
highly encourage to dust it off and set it up
for dedicated purposes within the studio. Download
some of the more adventurous software and try
it out. Electronic musicians should take advantage
of this opportunity to actually try some of
this historical, yet very useable software. While
it may not have all the graphic bang and whistles,
they are very useable and will provide an edge
that you may not have known about.