|★ APPLICATIONS ★ CREATION MUSICAL ★ THE SOUNDTRAKKER 64K / 128K/ (BSC) ★
|THE SOUNDTRAKKER 64K / 128K/ (BSC) (Amstrad Action)
|EQUINOXE vs. SOUNDTRAKKER
There comes a time in everyone's computing life when they realise that there's more to all this lark than just playing games and writing letters to the bank. Sooner or later we all wonder what we could do with the machine's musical capabilities. What do you mean, you've never wondered about that at all? Get wondering, it's interesting.
Soundtrakker is a French-designed music package that allows you to create instruments, program tunes and save them to disc, either for fun and amusement or for use at a later cate in, for instance, your games.
The CPC, as you may be aware, has three sound channels. This means that when you're programming music and effects you can have three different things going on at once. In musical terms, this allows you to have a melody and two accompaniment parts, and in Soundtrakker you have access to all three.
Tunes are recorded in short sections, (either one step at a time or in real-time) and these patterns can then be linked together to form whole songs. The pattern lengths are adjustable so that you can program tunes in any of the more common time signatures (mixed time signatures may be a little more tricky) and are sufficiently long that you can use quite short note values.
Time is on my side
Tempo is adjustable, but only in the roughest terms. You can't, for instance, adjust it so that it plays along with some other source, or set it to play at a definite speed.
This is okay for game tunes, where strict tempo isn't actually all that important and faster or slower is all you're ever really going to need. But it's no good for serious musical applications and you're probably not going to write a number one hit on it. But you weren't going to try that anyway, were you?
So let's get down to specifics. You're supplied with a set of basic instruments (which you can edit, if you wish) or you can easily create your own. So you load up a couple of sounds and get settled down for a serious programming sesh.
Bach to basics
I decided that writing a tune of my own wouldn't really test the machine's capabilities (I have absolutely no talent) and would take far too long, so I thought a bit of Bach would do the trick. I chose 'Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme' (the Lloyds Bank ad tune), because it's got a nice twiddly melody, a moving bass line and a left hand part you can ignore (I wanted to put some drums in on the third track).
So off we go. I loaded a piano as instrument 1, a bass drum as 2, and a snare as 3. Using 'Edit' mode, I set to work programming the melody. The tune's in 4/4 time and the smallest note is a semi-quaver (actually, that's not quite true, but I'll live with that). So if the pattern length is set to 64 (in the 'Set up' menu), we'll be able to program the whole thing in short bursts of four bars of 4/4 with sixteen steps in each bar - just the ticket.
With the instrument set to piano, I just programmed each of the notes onto track one (a quaver takes two steps, a crotchet four, etc). Programming the first four bars took about five minutes. I made a few mistakes with the timing at first but it was a simple matter to play the pattern, find out where it was going wrong, and go back into Edit to put it right. The next four went just as smoothly and so on.
The next step was to chain my four patterns together to form the whole of the first 16 bars of the piece. Piece of cake. Simply go to the Song Edit menu and write the number of each pattern in the relevant box. This means, for instance, that if the piece has a repeated phrase, it's easy to simply tell the machine to play it twice. Anyway,
I'd just programmed it straight so the step 01 was pattern 00, step 02 was pattern 01 etc.
Adding the bass line was simply a matter of editing the patterns and programming it onto track three. But why, Tim, didn't you use track two? Ah, yes, well you see, it's all in stereo.
Track one goes to the left, track two to the middle and track three to the right. There was method in my madness.
Next up was the drum pattern. I wanted a sort of hip-hop groove thang, so it was a simple matter just to bung a snare drum on the off-beat.
But how does the bass drum pattern go? No problem, just put the program into Record mode and program the bass drum in real time. All I had to do was set the thing running and stab at the relevant key whenever I wanted the bass drum to sound. Once I'd got it just as I wanted it, I was able to copy the rhythm in Edit mode for the other patterns.
Within a little over half an hour's fiddling about I'd sorted out sixteen bars of eighteenth century German musical fun, complete with a hip-hop groove. Isn't technology wonderful?
So simple, even the cat...
It was surprisingly simple to program. Much simpler, for instance, than the sequencer I usually use, and chaining the four patterns together to form a song was even easier.
Everything you need to know is there on screen (all the command keys are listed for you). In fact, when I first sat down with the program we didn't have any instructions at all and I still managed to persuade it to play me some music.
That's definitely the mark of a good piece of programming - something you can use straight away without having to refer to a complicated (and usually badly-written) manual.
The end result of my Bach experiment was pretty groovy. People wandering past the AA office popped in to find out what was going on and the whole thing was judged to have been something of a success. Just think what I could have achieved if I'd written a fab new tune of my own.
The bottom line is that if you have any interest in trying to make music on your CPC then this will serve you very well indeed. It's easy to use, it makes a pleasant sound and the sounds are easy to bung into your own programs.
You're not, as I said, going to use it to record a number one single (although, with the way the music scene's going right now, it's not completely beyond the bounds of possibility) but it's a damn good (and inexpensive) way to get down to some serious musical experimentation.
A very smart, easy-to-use little program. Good on-screen information and tidy system of menus. It'll keep you musically busy for a goodly long while.