THE MUSICAL ST,
MIDI patch editors
by Jim Pierson-Perry
Last issue (Summer 1987) I covered three different categories of MIDI software--player, sequencer and librarian programs. This time I'll look at patch editors, with a mini-review of each program, and I'll highlight some of their specific features in the summary chart.
As I said last issue, many consumer MIDI programs are equally suited for the professional musician, and if you make your living (or at least try to) by performing music, then you should definitely examine the software covered here. To use most of these products, you need only your ST and a MIDI compatible synthesizer such as the popular Casio CZ-101, Yamaha DX-7 or Ensoniq ESQ-1. Also, I'm assuming that if you're reading this, you're already somewhat familiar with the world of MIDI and music software, but if not, I've listed several good references at the end of this article to get you up-to-date.
If a music sequencer is the musical equivalent of a word processor, then patch editors are the printer drivers that make sure the translation from idea to performance gives the desired final result. If the powerhouse heavy metal synth lead you wanted comes out sounding like a duck being run over by a school bus, your audience may be nonplussed, to say the least.
At its most basic, a patch editor should provide an easy way to enter values for a synthesizer's various instrument parameters, which shape its musical tones. Some instruments, such as the Yamaha FB-01 synthesizer, have little or no way to manipulate the parameters with hardware; for these machines, an editor is the only effective way to create desired sounds.
Beyond simple parameter input, graphic display of sound envelopes can help you visualize how different components, such as pitch, volume and frequency filtering, will change with time. Some of the better programs extend this to let you directly edit each voice by manipulating the envelope graphs. Other useful editing features include the ability to copy envelopes between components, insert or delete segments into envelopes, and compare modified patches to the originals. Some programs even use internal artificial intelligence to generate new sounds.
Since most synthesizers contain banks of multiple voices (such as the 16 presets on the CZ-101), most patch editors contain integrated librarian functions. These serve to upload and down load patch data between the synthesizers and the ST, select individual patches for editing, and combine various voices to form new banks.
CZ Patch ($99, Dr. T) was the first patch editor program released for the ST. It's a reworking of the original Commodore 64 version, which has achieved industry standard status. CZ Patch works with Casio CZ-101/1000/5000 synthesizers but does not support the new CZ-1 or CZ-230S. It is extremely easy to use and can hold up to four banks of sounds in memory at once. You can use either function keys or the mouse to select program options. The edit screen shows the three Casio envelopes (pitch, filter, volume) simultaneously for a single voice. Although you can't edit the graphs, they dynamically follow changes to the parameter data to give visual editing feedback.
One unique feature of CZ Patch is the option to see parameter data in a time-based format; another is the ability to scale entire envelopes to change duration or amplitude. The program allows you to input parameter data by clicking on a location and then typing the value or moving an on-screen slider. You can also make printouts of patch data, though they may look cluttered. CZ Patch uses some GEM features, but doesn't support desk accessories and has no provision for formatting a data disk from within the program. It comes with 15 banks of preprogrammed patches to get your sound collection started. I have used this program for several months and am quite satisfied with its dependability and features.
The CZ-Android ($99.95, Hybrid Arts) offers an alternative patch editing program for Casio synthesizers; it's the only one that fully supports the new CZ-1 and CZ-230S. You can choose between entering parameter data by clicking the mouse buttons (left to increase values, right to decrease them) or by editing graphs of the envelopes. Unfortunately, only one graph can be displayed at a time, which makes it difficult to visualize an entire voice. The program uses a full GEM implementation, including desk accessories and options to rename and delete files and format disks. Patch data printouts are clear and well organized.
CZ-Android is designed to use artificial intelligence to either modify existing patches or create new ones. It's fun to play with, but this particular AI implementation does not often come up with startling new sounds. Two banks of patches are included on the disk, many of which are fairly good. The program is easy to use and I can recommend it. Whether you should use CZ-Android or CZ Patch will depend on whether you prefer graphical editing and AI patch generation or more extensive envelope editing capabilities and faster data input. I cheat and use both, but you should try each program to see which style best fits your needs.
DX Heaven ($99, Dr. T) is a patch editor for the Yamaha DX-7/TX series of synthesizers and, like CZ Patch, is a rework of the original Commodore 64 program. Patches for the DX/TX synthesizers are much more complex than those for Casio synthesizers; each patch consists of up to 6 independent sub-voices (operators), each with its own envelope, and a host of additional parameters. DX Heaven is an easy-to-use program which offers both librarian and patch editing functions. Numeric data can be entered using an onscreen slider via the mouse or by graphical editing of the operator envelopes.
MIDI Thru with channelization is supported, which allows you to test play a patch from a master keyboard, with the MIDI data sent through the ST and back out on a different MIDI channel to the target synthesizer/expander. This is especially useful in programming a TX-816 which can sound different patches on each of 8 channels at once!
Although some GEM features are implemented, desk accessories are not supported. You can format a data disk from within the program in either single- or double-sided format. Printout options are for listing patches within a bank and all parameter data for a single patch. For those "occasional" boo-boos, an Undo function is available. Computer-generated patches can be created using a randomization function which works on all patch parameters or just selected ones which you specify.
In using DX Heaven, my only criticism is with the mouse-driven slider to enter numeric data; I would prefer to be able to simply click on the parameter and type in its value. It would also be nice to include the function parameters on the same display with the operator parameters and to go with a full GEM implementation. The documentation is clear and complete, with the maddening exception that no screen displays are shown for reference. Despite this, the program is a good workhorse patch editor and can be recommended.
Perfect Patch ($59, Aegix) is a patch editor program for the Yamaha DX-7/TX series of synthesizers. The program is well named; put simply, this is the finest patch editor I have ever seen for any computer and/or synthesizer. All patch parameters are accessible from a single screen, with simultaneous display of all envelope and scaling graphs. With the touch of a button, you can change all graphs to display their numeric values. You may edit graphically or by numeric values. Keyboard scalings, envelopes and even entire operators can be copied from a source to multiple destinations in a single pass.
The program is fully GEM-based and holds up to three banks of 32 patches in memory at once. MIDI Thru with channelization is supported. The documentation is thorough, well-written, and includes descriptions for various instrument configurations with which the program can be used. My only complaints: There is no provision for formatting a data disk (though it could be done through an appropriate desk accessory), and the only way to get a printout of patch parameters is by using the built-in ST screen dump routine. I strongly endorse this program; it's worth looking at even if you don't own a DX-7, just to admire its design features.
SIDE BY SIDE
The accompanying chart compares the features of these four programs side by side. Whenever possible I have tested and verified the features myself, rather than just listing the manufacturers' claims.
Consumer MIDI programs often prove to be high-powered bargains for musicians. If you own a MIDI keyboard and you're just interested in seeing what your ST can do with it, you'll probably find the programs I've covered in this issue and the last to be more than adequate. If you're a professional musician, consumer programs are worth a careful look, though they may not be quite enough. You'll find a survey of professional MIDI software in an upcoming issue of START.
Jim Pierson-Perry is a research chemist for DuPont, who leads a double life as a programmer, musician and START's MIDI expert.
LIST OF MANUFACTURERS
Perfect Patch, Aegix, P.O. Box 9488, Reno, NV 89507, (702) 329-1943
CZ Patch, DX Heaven, Dr. T's Music Software, 66 Louise Road, Chestnut Hill, MA 02167, (617) 244-6954
CZ-Android, Hybrid Arts, Inc, 11920 West Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064, (213) 826-3777
"The Ins, Outs, And Thrus Of MIDI." Tom Jeffries, START, Spring 1987.
"The Musical ST" Jim Pierson Perry, START, Summer 1987. "Save Your Synthesizer Sounds." Tom Bajoras, START, Summer 1987.
MIDI For Musicians. Craig Anderton, AMSCO Music Publications, 24 E. 22nd St. New York, NY 10010, (212) 254-2100. $14.95.
Introduction to MIDI Programming. Abacus Software, Inc., PO. Box 7219, Grand Rapids, MI 49510, (616) 2415510. $19.95.
Keyboard Magazine, 20085 Stevens Creek, Cupertino, CA 95014, (408) 446-1105. $23.95 per year.
Electronic Musician Magazine, 2608 Ninth St., Berkeley, CA 94710, (415) 843-7901. $22 per year.