RISC OS Music Software


MIDI sequencers

A MIDI sequencer is a tool that aids in the creation of musical compositions, by enabling the user to place MIDI control events on a timeline. These MIDI events can be entered manually via an edit window, by real time capture from a MIDI keyboard, or they can be algorithmically generated. The main characteristics of a sequencer are its operational paradigm and the number of tracks that it provides. Sequencers generally adopt one of the following three paradigms :

Pattern based
The model used by drum machines, and the structural basis of Tracker type music files. Individual patterns generally have a fixed duration and nearly always comprising of a complete number of bars.
Tape recorder
Analogous to a multi-track tape recorder – a familiar model for musicians and studio engineers. The tracks exist side-by-side, and each run from start to finish. If any sections within a track are to be repeated, they need to be duplicated, which is wasteful of memory.
Phrase based
An object-oriented hybrid of the pattern and tape recorder paradigms – consequently the most versatile. Musical phrases (patterns), which can be as short or as long as desired, are treated as objects that can be placed on a timeline. These phrases can be made use of many times within a composition, without the need to duplicate their contents. It is often also possible to apply real-time variations (eg transposition, etc) to individual instances of a phrase.

Beyond these basic characteristics, sequencers can offer a range of features :

  • different editing modes (event list, piano roll, drum pattern, stave),
  • graphical representations of continuous controllers (pitch bend, etc),
  • quantisation and/or time stretching,
  • synchronisation with other devices (audio and/or video, using MTC or SMPTE),
  • on-screen gadgets (VU type meters showing MIDI activity, mixing desk, large clock, etc.),
  • integrated sample support (which can range from simple triggering of samples to a full-blown Hard Disc Recorder),
  • the concept of virtual devices, which once set up, hides the numerical nature of MIDI channels and instrument voices, and enables the sequencer to know what features are available on each MIDI device, allowing voices etc to be selected by name.

There have been a number of commercial MIDI sequencers released for use on RISC OS, and the best of these are capable tools even if not quite in the same league as the major sequencers on the Mac or PC. Whereas the Mac and PC titles have had years of ongoing development, of the RISC OS sequencers only the, now obsolete, Studio 24 Plus was developed much beyond its initial release version. Ironically, given that last statement, Studio 24 Plus is alone in not being able to save and load standard MIDI files.

EMR's Studio 24 Plus was first to arrive. This ran under Arthur and later under RISC OS 2. It was a fairly competent sequencer that received a fair bit of development, though it was never developed into a wimp application. Consequently, as a single tasking application, it didn't integrate well with other RISC OS software. It also used its own proprietary file formats, and although a separate utility was available for converting to MIDI files (with limited success), there was no way of importing them. To my knowledge, it doesn't run on anything later than RISC OS 3.10.

Second on the scene was Pandora's Inspiration. This was released at about the same time as RISC OS 2 (along with Computer Concept's Impression). Although the release version lacked certain features (eg no drum pattern editor) and wasn't entirely stable, it showed great promise and in some respects has never been bested by any of its successors. It used the tape recorder paradigm, allowing up to 256 tracks. Up to 8 piano roll type editors could be open at any time (auto-scrolling during playback could be individually toggled on/off). Editing and adjustment of track parameters was possible during playback, and it had a sophisticated search-and-replace type event processor. MTC support was planned, though was never released. Indeed, development dried up rapidly after the initial release, and although a patch was made available allowing it to work on RISC OS 3.10, it didn't survive beyond that. A shame really.

Clare's Serenade was the first budget sequencer for RISC OS. It has a reasonably nice looking user interface though the need to keep changing modes (edit, playback, and cut & paste) makes it rather awkward to use. It is limited to 16 tracks, though tracks can contain multi-channel data and they can be merged to free up space. It lacks a drum pattern editor, though a sister package RhythmBed is available, that integrates reasonably well and can be synchronised with Serenade. Despite its budget price, it has a couple of unexpected features including the ability to synchronise to external MTC, and a rather nice guitar chord editor, though it doesn't include system exclusive support. Unfortunately, it's none too stable, having a tendancy to hang the machine when fiddling with track parameters (eg transposition) during playback, and occassionally it will corrupt data when drag-editing notes. It doesn't filter incoming AllNotesOff messages (controller 123). IMO all sequencers should remove these messages as a matter of course – they have no useful purpose in a MIDI file and can certainly cause problems. They can be filtered out, though only along with all other controller messages – hardly ideal. It doesn't issue an AllNotesOff message when stopping playback, which more often than not results in hanging notes. It's also very slow at loading MIDI files or clearing memory. However, both packages are now distributed by APDL as part of their Music Maestro CD at an even more budget price.

At its release, Oregan's MIDIWorks was all set to become the definitive sequencer for RISC OS – a well featured 64 track sequencer with a visually pleasing (if somewhat fiddly) user interface. It makes a pretense at being a phrase based sequencer though in reality it uses the tape recorder paradigm (patterns are placed into tape recorder type tracks, using the Arranger, though if you want to use a pattern more than once, you have to copy it in its entirety). It has powerful editing facilities, providing a range of different editor types (event, piano roll, and drum, but no stave editor). It has a host of features, including a number of different quantisation modes, time stretching, and has timecode and full system exclusive support. It also has a wide range of track parameters, though its main shortcoming is that these cannot be altered during playback. Indeed, none of its editing facilities are available during playback, which greatly stifles productivity. Development dried up shortly after release and then for a brief period in 2002 it was available as freeware, however Oregan had things to say about that, and it was withdrawn. A Lite version, having only 32 tracks and lacking timecode support, is also available.   [ more ]

Stephen Borrill's MelIDI, available from Liquid Silicon, is a true phrase based sequencer providing the same editor types as MidiWorks – event, piano roll, and drum. It has many of the features found in MidiWorks, though its user interface appears a little clunky in comparison. This is the only sequencer that has specific knowledge of ESP's MIDI Support, making it the most versatile in terms of routing facilities. A demo version is available.

Longman Logotron's MusicStudio32 was released at about the same time as MelIDI and MidiWorks. A 32 track sequencer that was aimed more at the education market. I believe it sunk, pretty much without a trace (the collapse of the RISC OS education market probably didn't help).

R-Comp's Anthem is the most recently released sequencer for RISC OS. I've no personal experience with this sequencer, though I gather it has similarities with MelIDI insofar as it is phrase based. From the screenshots on their web site, they appear to have struck the right balance between MidiWorks' fiddliness and MelIDI's clunkiness – it looks good. Initially it lacked system exclusive support, and although this has now been addressed, judging by the MIDI files it produces, it's implementation leaves something to be desired. Development appears to have halted, despite remaining problems – some serious apparently. Registered users of the shareware Trax sequencer by the same author can buy into Anthem at reduced cost.

I've owned all of those, apart from Anthem and MusicStudio32, in my search for a decent sequencer. Although not perfect, MelIDI is IMO the best of the bunch.

MidiWorks, MelIDI and Anthem all have limited support for audio samples, in that they can be triggered to be played from disc. From the specs, Anthem would appear to be the most capable in this respect, though I have heard that it is rather flakey when playing samples, and can even occasionally crash the machine.

Summarising them in terms of paradigm, age and OS compatability :

Sequencer Paradigm Released Oldest OS Latest OS
Studio 24 Plus tape rec Oct 1988 2.00 3.10
Inspiration tape rec Nov 1989 2.00 3.10
Serenade tape rec Mar 1993 2.00 4.37
MidiWorks ptn / tape rec Feb 1997 3.10 4.37
MelIDI phrase Mar 1997 3.10 4.37
MusicStudio32 ? Apr 1997 ? ?
Anthem phrase Jul 1999 3.10 4.37

Score editors

Sibelius is pretty much the definitive score editor – on any platform. Although it started out as a RISC OS only application, it's now available on both Macs and PCs, and indeed development of the RISC OS version has now ceased. For printing manuscript it's up there with the best, though the MIDI capabilities of the RISC OS version leave something to be desired (it saves MIDI files that are broken in a number of respects).

Oliver Linton's Rhapsody 4 is aimed at educational / non-professional users and was originally distributed by Clares though APDL took over in the latter part of 2002, dropping the price considerably. This latest version provides improved MIDI functionality, particularly regarding MIDI controllers, and whereas earlier versions required the use of a separate utility, ScoreDraw, to produce printed output, the latest version can handle this itself. Although Rhapsody 4's inbuilt printing abilities represent a significant improvement over ScoreDraw, output quality is not as good as with either Sibelius or PMS, however there is a save as PMS option, allowing high quality printed ouput to be obtained via that route. This last feature allows Rhapsody to be used as a real-time MIDI input front end to PMS. A demo copy is available from the APDL site.

Philip Hazel's PMS (Philip's Music Scribe) is a professional music type-setting package which some people prefer over Sibelius. Although capable of very high quality output, it has a very steep learning curve, as data entry is via scripts rather than via a graphical UI. It has minimal MIDI support, intended primarily for 'proof-hearing' the music you have entered. A demo version is available.

Audio sequencers

In addition to the audio capabilities of some of the above mentioned MIDI sequencers, there are two main titles that come under this category - ProSound and StudioSound, both from the same author and originally supplied by Oregan, but now available for free download. They take different approaches to the task, and although there is considerable overlap between them, there has always been a case for owning both, even before they became freeware. Both are demanding pieces of software, requiring a StrongARM based machine or better, and with good disc performance (performance will be limited if you are using the standard ADFS for example).

ProSound is an 8-track hard disc recorder. It is very demanding on hard disc space, requiring 5MB per track minute when using 16-bit 44.1kHz samples (eg a mere 10 minutes of 8 tracks would require 400MB of disc space). This is true even for periods of silence. It is also very demanding on hard disc performance, as it involves the same amount of work (data transfer) to play back 'x' tracks, whether they contain sound or silence. It provides a reasonable range of sample editing features using a plug-in scheme, though these are all destructive (ie they permanently alter the data). It also has a rather nice jog-shuttle control enabling the user to pinpoint by ear any point within a track.   [ more ]

StudioSound is a 32-track sample sequencer. It uses an approach similar to a phrase based MIDI sequencer (if you substitute 'sample' for 'phrase'). This is a lot less demanding on your hard disc than ProSound, both in terms of space required and performance, as periods of silence take up no space and don't have a processing overhead. Like ProSound, Studiosound provides a range of sample editing processes, though here they are non-destructive, being applied on-the-fly during playback. Thus the original sample data is left intact.   [ more ]

Sample editors

Computer Concepts' AudioWorks has been around for some time though is still available, now from APDL. It supports a wide range of sample file types up to 16-bit stereo. It has a nice UI and offers a range of effects processes, though is let down by the fact that it is limited to editing samples that can fit in memory.

Robert Hancox's shareware WavEdit although not as polished and feature-rich as AudioWorks, can also handle 16-bit stereo samples. It's editing abilities don't extend beyond trimming top and tail (with optional fades), however it has the distinct advantage that it can cope with samples larger than will fit in memory.

Jason Tribbeck's Sonor, now available as freeware, is only suitable for editing 8-bit mono samples and has an upper sampling rate limit of 27,777Hz, however it has a couple of unusual features, like being able to use one sample to amplitude-modulate another. It can edit a range of different 8-bit sample filetypes including Acorn's 8-bit logarithmic format, which is the format used internally. This format provides a dynamic range similar to about 12-bit linear (~72dB) – so not as good as CDs (16-bit linear, ~96dB) but a lot better than 8-bit linear (~48dB).

File players

There's one that stands above all the others, and that's Andre Timmermann's DigitalCD. This plays just about every type of music file there is – WAVs, MP3s, Trackers and CDs, as well as MIDI files. It has a powerful playlist facility, and supports visual plug-ins and fascia skins. It uses ESP's MPlay module (as used in Player) for MIDI file playback.

ESP's Player is a freebie included with various other ESP products, though was also bundled with RISC OS 4. In addition to MIDI files, it can also play WAVs. Annoyingly, playback by its MPlay MIDI playback module can be interrupted by foreground tasks (eg rendering a large Drawfile).

Nick Smith's Monolith is strictly MIDI only, and lacks the ability to fast forward or rewind within a song, though its minimalist nature makes it the player of choice on machines with limited memory. Its Ethereal MIDI playback module runs as a background task so playback isn't interrupted by foreground tasks.

Mark Scholes' PlaySound is a front end for Rick Hudson's PlayIt sample player module. PlaySound has a simpler UI than DigitalCD and thanks to PlayIt, supports most sample file types.

Soft synths

A soft synthesizer is a software emulation of a MIDI tone generator, thus enabling users to hear output from a MIDI file player or sequencer without the expense of buying any MIDI hardware.

There's not a lot of choice in RISC OS land, just three offerings, each of which use wavetables (samples) to generate their GM set of instrument voices. To my knowledge there are no true synthesis engines available for RISC OS. This is an area where RISC OS is way behind both Mac and PC platforms, where you will find a huge range of plug-in effects and instruments (using eg VST/VSTi, the Mac only AudioUnits, or the Windows only DirectX/DXi protocols, amongst others).

ESP's commercial Synth (now available from Liquid Silicon) is supplied with a GM voice set. On a StrongARM RiscPC it is capable of 64 note polyphony. It cannot of itself play MIDI files, it is just a synth engine, though it is supplied with Player, ESP's MIDI and WAV file player.

Michael Dennis Biemans' shareware ReMIDI is a development of his earlier TiMidity. ReMIDI is available for download with or without a set of samples – giving you the option of downloading alternative samples from elsewhere on the internet. As with ESP's Synth, ReMIDI will run on RISC OS 3.10 or later, though they both benefit from the presence of a StrongARM processor. Unlike Synth, ReMIDI has an integrated player with playlist facilities. ReMIDI is included on APDL's Music Maestro CD.

Henrik Pedersen's freeware HBP10GM is the most basic of the three, though it is supplied complete with C source. Henrik also wrote ProSound and StudioSound for Oregan.