Author Topic: iconix MIDI sequencer by Tigress Designs (article, 1987)  (Read 2207 times)

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iconix MIDI sequencer by Tigress Designs (article, 1987)
« on: June 18, 2017, 10:25:06 PM »

Iconix MIDI Sequencer
Software for the Atari ST

by Martin Russ

This is the first British pro music software to be released for the Atari ST range of computers, and the first to really make full use of the Atari's GEM graphics operating system, according to the manufacturer. Martin Russ checks out their claims.

Iconix, the manufacturers claim, provides complete facilities for recording, editing and arranging your music on an Atari ST computer and is the first such program to fully exploit the ST's GEM graphics system. Martin Russ finds out if they are right...

The day began badly: the car decided it wanted the day off; the taxi driver was obsessed with the fortunes of the local football team; the Cashpoint had run out of money; and the train was late arriving in London - you get the picture? Anyway, having arrived at a South London tube station, I stepped out into a pleasant spring day - things were looking better! I then made another mistake - I asked a newspaper man where to find

"It's down there - about five minutes..." Fifteen minutes later I stopped at an estate agents. A very helpful young lady leafed through their well-thumbed A-Z: "Oh no dear - he's sent you in the wrong direction. You want to be over here..." (You really do get days when nothing goes right.) I eventually swallowed my pride and phoned Tigress, who came and picked me up in a delightful Spitfire (the Triumph car, that is - I hadn't walked that far!).

And so I arrived at Tigress Designs, who are marketing the Iconix sequencing software. After the obligatory cup of 'real' coffee, they showed me the Iconix system in action. Once they were sure I could be trusted with such a young and impressionable piece of software, I was released with a review copy to take home and play with. Which brings us to the whole point of this introduction: the review!


Until very recently, the only computer a musician could buy offering ease of use, a large program base and power of application was the Apple Macintosh. Unfortunately, Macs are expensive - and this has tended to keep them firmly in the province of the richer studio. The release of the very much more affordable Atari ST computer has made a Mac type of user interface available to everyone (I liked the Atari ST so much I bought one!). There has been a gradual increase in the quantity and quality of ST software, resulting in the current situation where the Atari software is often on a par with Mac software. In fact, the Atari software market seems to be exploding - I showed my Atari ST to five of my friends and they each went out and bought one the following week!

The ST has all the features you would expect of a modern 16-bit computer - a high resolution screen for displaying detailed icon-based graphics, a mouse to enable easy control of the programs, robust 3.5 inch disks for data/program storage, a pull-down menu system, and friendly operating environment. It is a Mac without the price! Much of the initial music software for the ST has been disappointing, over-priced and foreign - so it is nice to see some impressive UK produced software at last.

Iconix has been written by a new UK software house called System Exclusive, specifically by two musicians/programmers: Steve Colwill, an interface design technologist and technical author; and Martin Young, an electronics engineer who has previously worked on MIDI software for the Commodore C64. Iconix has been written in Megamax C and occupies about 300K of source code, representing about 18 months of hard work. It is designed to exploit the monochrome/high resolution mode on the Atari, as reflected in the accompanying screen dumps...


Iconix currently comes on one single-sided 3.5 inch disk, with a plug-in cartridge for the Atari's cartridge port containing some routines in ROM (so the program does not need to be copy-protected - and no hassles with 'protected' master disks dying!). You also receive a comprehensive manual (the partially finished drafts they loaned me were about 50 pages worth...) and some example songs on the disk.

Most importantly, you have bought yourself an evolving system. Unlike hardware-based dedicated sequencers, a software sequencer can be improved immeasurably as new versions of the program are released. Southworth's 'Total Music' for the Mac is a good example of this - the first version promised a lot and delivered most of it, but the updates quickly improved on all of the promises, and the program is still being upgraded.

So, with your Iconix software you become part of a user group, where your feedback will directly influence future updates - and System Exclusive are based in this country - ever tried ringing the States?


Most dedicated and software-based sequencers function more or less like tape recorders, mainly because the manufacturers think most users will be familiar with how a tape machine works. Now although a serial device like a tape machine is fine for some aspects of creating music, it is not so good at others. What Iconix does is use the tape emulation for those parts best suited to it, but uses a graphical system for dealing with the higher, more structured, parts.


The basic compositional unit Iconix uses is called a Group. A Group can be a single note, a bar or number of bars, or a complete song - the decision is left entirely up to you. Inside the Group there are 16 Segments - one per MIDI channel. So, as far as a Group is concerned, you get a 'record onto one Segment at a time' 16-track tape recorder look-alike.

All the features you would expect, like automatic drop in and out of record at specified points (or in realtime), overdubbing, monitoring of any of the tracks, etc, are all provided. There is instant rewind and fast forward, as well as easy to set up repeats of sections for when you want to doodle over the top... When you record a new section, there is also an opportunity to hear the playback before and after the edit, so you can then choose which version you want to commit to the memory - a very useful feature.

Once you have your Group recorded, you give it a name and store it in a Group Directory. You can then build up Chains of Groups, just as you do with patterns on a drum machine. The on-screen tape recorder controls now act on the Chain - so you can rewind to the beginning, or go to the end easily. You can have a Chain inside a Chain if you want - you just move the icons representing the Groups into the order you wish them to be played, and off they go. The structure of the Chain is immediately obvious from glancing at the screen display and thus easy to change.

Up to eight Chains may be played back simultaneously. Iconix now looks like an 8-track recorder, except that each Chain contains Groups which can utilise all 16 MIDI channels. The flexibility this gives you is extraordinary. Suppose you have a simple 8-note polysynth with MIDI Mono Mode capability (a Casio CZ-101 for example). You could record single monophonic lines onto Segments in Groups for the intro, verse and chorus parts of a song, chain them together into four parallel parts, and then play them as a complete song. You could then edit, transpose, quantise, or add notes to any individual part of any Segment, all because of the detail and control Iconix gives you. Alternatively, you could overdub the complete song in real-time, onto a single Segment in one Group.


The flexibility of how you use the structure of Iconix is very powerful. When you start to use large numbers of MIDI instruments it is very easy to get lost on some sequencers - Iconix enables you to structure your sequencer so that it reflects the underlying structure of your song: an under-pinning sequencer-based composer, for instance, would probably use two Chains for the stereo sequence, consisting of many repetitions of the same few bars, with various chords and lead line bars scattered around the other Chains. A Eurovision Song Contest composer, on the other hand, would probably use more of a verse-chorus-verse based structure, with a Group representing whole sections of the song. There is even a special record mode for several channels at once for use with guitar synths etc. It is entirely up to you how you use Iconix. Full marks to System Exclusive - I will certainly be using Iconix as my sequencer!

Once you have all the Segments, Groups and Chains in the order you want, you can store the finished piece as a named Song. The Monitor icon enables you to follow the progress of the Chains as they play through the Groups.

There is a final level of structure in Iconix, which will be made available in the first software update - you can chain together Songs to make a Playlist. This is simply a list of the Songs in order of playback, which is eminently suited to live performance. Loading up Songs from disk only takes a few tens of seconds, although the playback may take considerably longer (and a good thing too!).

(article incomplete - visit link above for full article)


The beauty of Iconix is that it does not force you to use a specific way of working (unlike most hardware-based sequencers which invariably do!). It is flexible enough to suit a wide range of recording styles, since it can be adapted to your own requirements. The GEM-based operating environment is well-thought out, friendly, and very easy to use. It is readily apparent that a great deal of thought has gone into making Iconix a very usable product. Initially, it takes a few minutes of thought to drag yourself away from the ingrained conventions of multitrack tape recording, but it is well worth it! In a world full of look-alike sequencers, it is very refreshing to find one that displays an intelligent approach.

Iconix will be available initially via mailorder from Tigress Designs Ltd at (Contact Details)
Archive content - contact details are old and likely out-dated. Click to read anyway.
. The VAT inclusive price will be £249.95.