Christopher B. Wright is a technical writer in the Richmond, VA area, and has been using OS/2 Warp since January 95. He is also a member of Team OS/2.
Blast Back! Send a private message directly to Christopher B. Wright with your thoughts:
Go to a Printer Friendly version of this page
Summary: MIDI Station Sequencer is a surprisingly useful program. While it lacks some features I'd like to see (such as a more intuitive way of assigning MIDI patches to tracks, and a piano roll view to make more precise additions to your work) it is an excellent free-form MIDI sequencing program with room to expand.
If Cakewalk is the standard by which all MIDI sequencing programs are judged, think of MIDI Station Sequencer as a "Cakewalk Lite" in training for the OS/2 platform. MIDI Station Sequencer has started on the path towards being a rich and versatile sequencing application, and while I can think of many things I'd like to see added in future versions, it covers the bases very well and will be a valuable addition to any OS/2 MIDI enthusiast's studio.
However, don't try to use this application unless you have a card that will correctly use the RTMIDI drivers. It absolutely depends on functioning RTMIDI drivers -- without them, this program will not work at all.
Installation, Documentation, Support
MIDI Station Sequencer is almost 1.6 megs large and can be downloaded from various locations on the Internet, including BMT Micro and Hobbes. The program costs $30 US to register, and you need to register it before you save any of your sequences.
MIDI Station Sequencer does not use IBM's standard installer. It uses a simple text install routine that updates the desktop with the appropriate icons and puts the files in the chosen directory. Early versions of this release had an install script error that would cause the install to fail, sending an "error in line 61" message to the end user, but a fix has since been posted on the authors home page that solves this problem. You don't actually need to install the program to use it, however -- all you need to do is run the executable after you've unzipped it.
Trying to evaluate the ease of installation for this program is a bit difficult because it depends on RTMIDI to function properly, and not all sound cards use RTMIDI. For example, Creative Labs sound cards are not RTMIDI compatible -- and they're the "industry standard!" Crystal Semiconductor-based sound cards are the best for RTMIDI, but even they are not problem free. Case in point, I use a Crystal TidalWave 128 card, which is supposed to be RTMIDI compatible. While it works fine now, it didn't originally -- I don't know why. I messed around with it so much my system became very unstable and I destroyed my multimedia support. I eventually wound up re-installing OS/2 without any multimedia support at all, installing the latest Crystal drivers, then installing MMOS/2. While that worked, I found it something of an extreme solution to the problem.
The program documentation is reasonable but not encyclopedic. The troubleshooting section dealing with RTMIDI problems was especially sparse, but that may be simply because in most cases either it works or it doesn't, and there's not really a lot you can do if it doesn't. The documentation also assumes you have at least some knowledge of MIDI sequencing, which is a shame since out of the OS/2 sequencing programs I've reviewed it's the easiest to use, and the most potentially user-friendly for beginners.
Of the programs I've reviewed, MIDI Station Sequencer is the most "traditional" in terms of how its laid out. While it is of course much simpler in terms of features and scope, it roughly resembles Cakewalk's layout. In fact, the more I used the program the more I thought how, with work, MIDI Station Sequencer could be OS/2's Cakewalk. It's main interface (.GIF, 32K) looks a lot like the instrument configuration region of Cakewalk 4.5 (the last version that will run in a Win-OS/2 session). It also has a "bars view" (.GIF, 18K) that gives you a semi-graphical representation of when instruments are and are not being used that is very similar in concept to Cakewalk's "bars view" region.
This traditional UI approach is a good idea, it makes using the application a lot more intuitive for people who have had some experience with sequencing software in the past. Still, there are some areas where I felt widgets could have been implemented a little more logically. For example, on the dialog box that configures your patches, I felt it would have been useful if I could have simply typed in an instrument number instead of using the up & down arrows to scroll through them.
MIDI Station Sequencer has all the basic features you'd expect in a traditional sequencing program. You can define instruments by setting up the appropriate channel, bank and program # you want MIDI Station Sequencer to activate, and can name it whatever you wish. I was disappointed that the program didn't include presets for the 127 standard MIDI instruments -- I thought that would have been quite a time saver in some instances.
MIDI Station Sequencer allows you to record your tunes on the fly: you configure your instruments, hit record, and play until you're ready to stop, then hit the "stop" button at the top of the main screen. The most recent release of MIDI Station Sequencer supports MIDI-thru, which allows you to hear what you're playing while you're recording it. This is a significant enhancement to the program -- before that you wouldn't be able to hear what you were recording until after you'd finished!
MIDI Station Sequencer provides a quantize tool to help you "clean up" your tracks by moving the notes to the closest note you define (quarter notes, sixteenth notes, etc), and it allows you to step record your tunes (go through the sequence step by step, adding notes one at a time). However, there doesn't really seem to be a "piano roll" function that allows you to easily modify, bit by bit, the work you're already done. (Note to Chris: use cakewalk01.tif for an illustration of Cakewalk's ability to do this). This seems to be the next logical step in the application's development: the ability to modify the music you've recorded through a point-and-click interface.
One of the niftier additions to MIDI Station Sequencer is a mixer utility (.GIF, 16K) for your MIDI tracks. With this utility, you can preset the volume and pan for each instrument easily. There are also tools that let you change the tempo and rhythm of the piece by inserting tempo and time signature changes (.GIF, 4K) in the piece itself. You could, for example, take a piece of music playing at 100 beats per minute in 4/4 and transform it into a 150 beats per minute piece of music in 3/4 time as soon as it reaches measure 88.
One of the things this program will not do, that most of the newer versions of Cakewalk will, is allow you to record audio tracks as well as MIDI tracks. The author has mentioned that he's considering it for a future release, but for the moment this is a MIDI only application.
The only really big problem I had with MIDI Station Sequencer was that it didn't seem to respect the instrument choices made by MIDI files created in other programs. I created a sample MIDI file in Cakewalk 4.5 to test on all the programs, and MIDI Station Sequencer lost the instrument settings. No amount of adjusting afterwards would bring them back. In fact, in order for the song to sound right I had to manually preset my Yamaha MU-50 (the tone generator I use for all my MIDI instrument sounds).
MIDI Station Sequencer is a very capable program with a lot of promise. Of the programs I've reviewed, this one shows the most ability to fill in as a sequencing program for people weaned on Cakewalk. While you won't find all the bells and whistles that comes with the standard for PC MIDI sequencing, you will be pleasantly surprised at the bells and whistles you do find, and can look forward to more interesting enhancements in the future.
However -- and this is very important -- you need to ensure that your hardware supports RTMIDI before committing to this program. If your sound card cannot support the RTMIDI drivers, this application will be unusable.
|Copyright © 1998 - Falcon Networking||ISSN 1203-5696|