Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 3 NO. 10 / MAY 1989

The ST/MIDI Connection

Break On Through to the Other Side


You might have thought Christmas was in December, but musicians know it really comes one month later with the winter NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) trade show. Although most companies are saving their new product releases for NAMM, there are a couple of new goodies to tell you about. Look to next month's issue of START for an in-depth report on the NAMM show by our frequent MIDI contributor Jan Paul Moorhead.

Default configuration for GenPatch ST showing instruments it can
access directly. Additional ones can be created easily for any MIDI

This month we will take a look at MIDI files, what they are and why you would want to use them. The newly endorsed standard MIDI file format may be the needed Rosetta stone to allow programs from different developers to work on or with the same music files. Imagine laying down some tracks with your sequencer, then sending the file around the world to collaborators--who use different sequencing programs and even different computers!

Update on Updates

What better way to start the new year than by upgrading your workhorse software? New versions of SST Super Sequencer (version 2.0) and Superscore (version 1.3) have been released by Sonus. Hybrid Arts is also in the spirit with new versions of their MlDltrack sequencer programs, now including MIDI file compatibility, and ADAP I version 1.3.

The Copyist scoring software from Dr. T now comes in three flavors. The new version (1.6, now shipping) is available in entry level, standard and advanced models: Copyist Level I, II, III. A menu bar has been added for accessing program commands. All three versions can run under Dr. T's proprietary multi-program environment (MPE), sharing data with the Keyboard Controlled Sequencer and other compatible programs. The Level III version can export scores in several formats suitable for desktop publishing applications (such as EPS, TIFF) and comes with the Sonata font for Postscript output. Samplemaker, the sample synthesis and editing program also from Dr. T, now supports the Ensoniq EPS.

Bank Deposits

A librarian program is one of the unsung heroes of the MIDI age. Unlike its more flashy siblings, like sequencers or patch editors, the librarian is a fairly passive beast. It takes in whatever MIDI data you feed it (patch banks, sample dumps, sysex info, etc.) and spits it back on demand. Typically, a single librarian file can hold all the data to configure your entire MIDI setup at once.

GenPatch ST from Hybrid Arts has long dominated the ST librarian program niche. It comes ready to use for a host of different MIDI equipment; and can be programmed to handle those not already covered. Numerous configuration and synthesizer patch data files in GenPatch ST format can be found on MIDI bulletin boards that attest to its popularity.

Two new programs that may change the ST librarian balance of power are Omni-Banker ST from Paradigm Software Products and Super Librarian from Pixel Publishing. Both of these can work as desk accessories and come ready to handle almost all common MIDI instruments and effects devices (expandable to add new ones). Showing faith in its ability to meet your needs, OmniBanker ST even comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee on direct orders.

New on the Block

Passport will port Encore, their Macintosh scoring program, to the ST. Fully compatible with their Master Tracks sequencers, Encore can also read standard MIDI files, accept live MIDI input or work from the mouse in step-time. Dr. T has added two more patch editors to the extensive Caged Artist line. These new ones are for the Yamaha DX7II (and compatibles) and Korg M1.

Sample score from Copyist Level III showing the variety of print
options available from the command menu.

Those looking for something a bit different should check out Laurie Spiegel's Music Mouse. This program turns the mouse controller into a real-time performing music instrument. Offered by Aesthetic Engineering, this port of the popular Macintosh program offers a number of enhancements over the original version.

Making Use of MIDI Files

Back in the old days (last year), picking a sequencer program was a bit like getting married. You tried to find the one program offering most of the features you needed and learned to overlook (or work around) its flaws. If you were really lucky, there were compatible programs available to take care of additional functions like scoring, algorithmic composing or librarian functions. Musicians were divided into camps, separated by both the computer and the software they chose.

MIDI files came about as a way to bridge these chasms between users and between programs. They are largely the brain child of Dave Oppenheim from Opcode Systems, a major Macintosh MIDI software developer. He proposed a standardized format for storing sequencer music data that could be shared between programs across all computers. The preliminary standard was put forward in 1986 and, slowly but surely, picked up by other developers. The finalized version was adopted last June by the MIDI Manufacturers Association and became part of the standard MIDI specification.

The standard MIDI file format provices for three levels of complexity. Type 0 is the simplest and has all MIDI data contained as a single linear track. Type 1 files allow for multiple linear tracks while type 2 files can handle multiple tracks of multiple independent sequences (patterns). Depending on their sophistication, not all sequencers will recognize all the information contained in the MIDI files. Virtually every major ST sequencer and composing program can recognize type 0 MIDI files, either directly or through a conversion utility. Hybrid Arts sequencers are the only holdouts at present; however, new, compatible versions should be available by the time you read this.

Super Librarian from Pixel Publishing can work as a desk accessory
and handle almost all common MIDI instruments and effects devices
(expandable to add new ones).

A MIDI file is made up of data chunks. There are two types of chunks: header and track. Header chunks define the file type (0, 1 or 2), number of tracks in the file and the time base. Actual sequencer data are represented in track chunks through three types of activities: normal MIDI events, sysex events and a new entity, meta-events. MIDI events operate at the note level (note on, change program, etc.), sysex events are for the instrument level (load a patch file, change internal settings, etc.) and meta-events are for the application program level (time signature, key signature, Iyrics, etc.).

What can we do with MIDI files? For starters, you can exchange music files using your sequencer on an ST with someone across the country who uses a different sequencer on a Macintosh, Amiga or IBM. You are no longer tied to software from only one developer. If you love your sequencer but covet a scoring program from a different company, fill your needs with MIDI files! Better yet, be a MIDI connoisseur and use the best parts from several different programs. Lay down some starting tracks with a sequencer. Feed them into an algorithmic composing program and take the combined output into another sequencer that has advanced editing capabilities. Finally, send the whole shebang into a primo scoring program to document your masterpiece.

Well, okay, maybe you can't blithely run hither and yon among all programs yet but the pieces are falling into place. By way of real-world testing, I successfully created a drum part with MusicSoft's MIDI Drummer in MIDI file format and imported it into Dr. T's Keyboard Controlled Sequencer and The Copyist. Worked like a charm.

Just as MIDI redefined our approach to musical instruments, MIDI files will offer new ways to work with software tools. For those interested, copies of the MIDI file format (along with the detailed MIDI specification itself) are available from the International MIDI Association.

START Contributing Editor Jim Pierson-Perry is a research chemist and semi-professional musician who lives in Elkton, Maryland.

Have any questions, comments or new product information? Drop Jim a line care of START; or through electronic mail: PIERSONPERRY on PAN, REMO on GEnie or 73617, 1300 on CompuServe.


Music Mouse, $79. Aesthetic Engineering, 175 Duane Street, New York, NY 10013-3309.

Copyist I, $99. Copyist II, $249; Copyist III, $399; Keyboard Controlled Sequencer version 1.6 $249; Samplemaker, $299. Dr. T's Music Software, 220 Boylston Street, Suite 306, Chestnut Hill, MA 02167, (617) 244-6954.

ADAP I version 1.3, $1,995. GenPatch ST, $149; Synchtrack ST $375; SMPTE Track ST, $575. Hybrid Arts, Inc., 11920 West Olympic Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90064, (213) 826-3777.

International MIDI Association, 5316 West 57th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90056,(213) 649-6464.

MIDI Drummer, $99.95. MusicSoft, 1560 Meadowbrook, Altadena, CA 91001, (818) 794-4098.

Omni-Banker ST, $95. Paradigm Software Products, 1369 Concord Place Suite 3-B, Kalamazoo, MI 49009, (616) 372-5972, extension 752.

Encore, $495 (Macintosh); Master Tracks Jr., $129.95; Master Tracks Pro version 2.0, $349.95. Passport Designs, Inc., 625 Miramontes Street, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019, (415) 726-0280.

Super Librarian version 2, $149. Pixel Publishing, 1573 Eglinton Avenue West, Toronto, Ontario M6E 2G9 Canada, (416) 785-3036.

SST Sequencer version 2.0, $149.50; Superscore version 1.3, $299. Sonus Corp., 21430 Strathern Street, Suite H, Canoga Park, CA 91304, (818) 702-0992.