Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 56 / JANUARY 1985 / PAGE 104


Sequential Circuits Music Sequencer For Commodore 64

Richard Mansfield, Senior Editor

Requirements: Commodore 64; cassette or disk drive recommended.

With your computer, the Sequential Circuits Sequencer package, and a music synthesizer, you've got more musical power at your fingertips than anyone would have believed possible even a few years ago.

A synthesizer is something like an electric organ, except it's far more powerful. It's a computer that plays music. Through its keyboard, you can sometimes come amazingly close to the sounds of acoustic instruments. And because you are able to control all the elements of a sound, you can also create instruments that have never been heard before. It's a remarkably fertile environment and musicians are just beginning to tap its potential.

Why Buy An Organ?

Now that quality synthesizers are relatively inexpensive, more and more people are considering them as an alternative to the traditional home organ or piano. After all, why buy an organ when it will always—no matter what button you press—sound like an organ? A synthesizer has all those organ sounds, but also has a harpsichord sound that you cannot distinguish from the real thing, as well as dozens of other sounds which more or less duplicate traditional instruments.

When you've got a whole orchestra at your disposal, one of the first things you want to do is orchestrate. That's where a sequencer comes in.

Historically, very few people have had the talent or the luck to be able to experiment with orchestration: combining various instruments into a musically pleasant arrangement. Those days are over. On some synthesizers you can play a viola part, then listen to the viola playing back while you add a violin melody. Next, while listening to the viola and violin, you can lay down a harpsichord and later put in a flute or whatever. Instant chamber ensemble. You've become a one-man band.

There are two ways to layer the different sounds of a synthesizer: with a multitrack tape recorder (expensive), or with a sequencer (now inexpensive). A sequencer is like a digital tape recorder, except you've got more control than is possible with a tape recorder.

Laying Down Tracks

Here's how it works:

  1. You tell the sequencer that you're about to lay down track 1.
  2. You play the synthesizer keyboard, perhaps a bass guitar sound.
  3. As you're playing, the sequencer is memorizing the volume, the voice, the speed, the rhythm, the individual notes, and even expression (how hard you pressed the keys, assuming your synthesizer has a velocitysensitive keyboard).
  4. You then instruct the sequencer to start playing track 1 while simultaneously recording track 2.
  5. While listening to the bass line on track 1, you come in hard with a lead guitar.
  6. Repeating this process, you can add up to six tracks with the Sequential Circuits Sequencer.

To make things even easier, the music industry has accomplished something that has thus far eluded the computer industry: a standardized interface. Called MIDI, it allows you to connect most synthesizers to each other, and allows them to communicate a great variety of musical information. It is through this interface that the sequencer controls one or more synthesizers.

If you use two synthesizers, you can record two voices simultaneously. Also, Sequential Circuits makes a synthesizer called the Six-Trak which can play different voices simultaneously when you add its Sequencer Expansion Software package.

Even by itself, the unexpanded sequencer has many attractive features. You can record and play back a musical line on one of the six tracks in the digital recorder. If your synthesizer is polyphonic (can play more than one note at a time), the sequencer will memorize as many notes as you play. Many synthesizers, however, do limit you to playing a single voice, such as a trumpet, at one time.

The six layered tracks, memorized by the sequencer, can be individually edited. Tracks can be looped, erased, copied, or transposed to a new key. You can also change the tempo of your piece after it's recorded—without affecting the pitch.

The combined sound of all six tracks is called a sequence. Up to eight different sequences can be chained together to form a complete song, and sequences or songs can be saved on tape or disk.

A Special Autocorrection Feature

One of the most extraordinary features of this powerful music software is called Autocorrection. Any track or song can be automatically brought to greater rhythmic accuracy. In practice, this means that if you're not always quite on the beat, you can have the computer adjust the rhythm to suit your tastes.

What's more, you define the degree of accuracy: anything from a quarter note to a thirty-second triplet degree of resolution. That way you can decide how much correction to apply. If things are too perfectly timed, the music can begin to sound mechanical and cold. If they're too loose, it sounds amateurish, untalented.

If you've ever wanted to try composing music, conducting an orchestra, or running a recording studio, the Sequential Circuits Sequencer, a synthesizer, and your Commodore 64 will now give you the essential tools. You'll probably be surprised at the quality of the music you can invent with a little help from these friends.

Sequential Circuits Music Sequencer
Sequential Circuits, Inc.
3051 North First Street
San Jose, CA 95134