Author Topic: Opcode Vision 2.0.3 (1994)  (Read 730 times)

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Offline chrisNova777

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Opcode Vision 2.0.3 (1994)
« on: August 25, 2017, 10:43:43 AM »
https://web.archive.org/web/20150623050431/http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/1994_articles/jun94/opcodevision.html

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My favourite Mac MIDI sequencer has always been Mark of the Unicorn's Performer, but for the last six months or so I have been using Opcode's Vision almost exclusively, for a number of reasons. Vision's excellent Strip Chart, for example, allows me to quickly draw in Volume and Pan controller information (which is then colour-coded to aid visual identification), and its use of colour overall is subtle but effective. With earlier versions of Vision, I had particularly disliked the fact that there was no 'overview' editor and no comments feature, although I particularly appreciated Vision's non-destructive quantise and note-shift features, and its integration with the Galaxy sound editors.

Vision's Tracks window was called the Sequence window, and its edit windows had the strangely-named 'Mogrify' pop-up window -- which I always felt a little ambivalent about. After using Performer or Mastertracks Pro, both of which are very logically laid-out, I had always felt rather disorientated whenever I used Vision. With version 2, however, I found everything laid out much more logically, and felt just about as 'at home' with Vision as I do with Performer. Moreover, I found features like the Strip Chart so useful compared with any of the other sequencers that I am going to find it very difficult to go back to using Performer unless MOTU get their act together with the graphical aspects of their software. Vision is now leagues ahead in this department!

New features present in v2 include Groove Quantisation, the Track Overview editor I had been craving, Notation Editing and Printing, and MIDI Machine Control support (MMC) -- see panel for fuller details of new features.

NEW FEATURES

When I opened up Vision 2 for the first time, I felt immediately familiar with the new layout of the program on screen, with transport controls at the top, Tracks window underneath, and Overview Editor to the right of the tracks. The layout is now much more like that of Performer or Mastertracks Pro, and has some similarities to Notator Logic and Cubase. A Comments section has been added to the Tracks window, similar to Performer's, but even simpler to use. A click in this section inserts a text cursor ready for you to type your comment, where Performer would present you with a dialogue box, which is a little clumsier to use.

• OVERVIEW EDITOR

This new feature is just great. You can set it to display tracks as rectangular blocks running the length of the recorded sequence, or as small blocks containing several bars at a time, or to display 'phrases'. I find the latter the most useful -- you can see where any musical phrase or section starts and finishes, and within the phrase blocks, you can see a visual representation of the type of music in the sequence. For instance, a hi-hat playing 16ths would appear as a series of short, evenly-spaced lines which you could easily guess was the hi-hat. A melody line would appear as a contoured line, again giving you instant feedback about the kind of musical data in that track, chords would be obvious as stacked lines, octaves as parallel lines, and so forth. Notator Logic was the first Mac sequencer to offer this feature, and Notator's version is even more powerful, in that it allows you to zoom out while increasing the level of detail, almost to the point where it starts to become actual musical notation. Nevertheless, the level of detail Vision offers is sufficient to allow a quick check on the type of musical data in the track; I found it particularly useful.

• MENU/WINDOWS RATIONALISATION

The Mogrify icon has gone! This was a quirky feature in the previous versions of Vision, which gave you a pop-up menu containing shortcuts to various features which were accessible from other menus. Now a more discreet-looking and conventional pop-up menu icon is available on all the editing windows. Speaking of shortcuts, you can use lots of the Mac keyboard's commands to control Vision. For example, just hold down the command and option keys and click anywhere on the screen to get a pop-up selector which toggles between the currently-open windows. Command-Option-Shift brings up a question mark cursor; you can point and click this at just about anything and up will come a help screen, explaining what the feature is and how to use it. This is just brilliant, and shows how hard Opcode are working to make their sequencer as friendly as possible for musicians.

• NOTATION EDITING & PRINTING

A Notation edit window has been added to Vision. It is possible to print out the notation, and this works well enough, but don't make the mistake of confusing this capability with the facilities of a proper score-writer, like Encore or Finale, which will let you prepare music for printing out as a score or as parts to a professional standard. The notation in Vision is very clear to read, and can be zoomed out to a fairly large size so that you can read it off the screen even from a few feet away -- which is exactly what you want while you are overdubbing other parts from your master keyboard and want to read the chord changes, for instance.

To cope with a situation where you have played, say, eighth notes, but have not yet quantised, and you want to view your part in notation (to decide whether to apply eighth note or eighth note triplet quantisation for instance), Vision lets you choose a display resolution for the notation, from whole notes down to 32nd notes. If you display the unquantised (but fairly-accurately played) eighth notes with 32nd note resolution, you will see lots of rests between 32nd note values, indicating note positions which do not correspond to quantised positions within the bar. This can be confusing when all you want to check is whether you have played triplet values instead of straight notes somewhere, so that you can apply the correct quantisation. If you choose to display as eighths, you will see just eighth notes or eighth triplets, so you can check the note values without worrying about the exact positioning at quantised locations. The consequence of this is that for accurate editing of note positions, you will really need to view the Graphic or Event List editing windows. You can edit pitches, note lengths and positions in the Notation window by dragging notes around, and this works well for some types of edits, such as selecting a couple of bars and dragging all the pitches up by a third, for example. But when it comes to detailed editing of individual note lengths and positions, you are much better off in the Graphic or List edit windows.

These other edit windows both have a neat pop-up selector, which lets you quickly switch to view any other track directly from within any open edit window, but this feature is missing from the notation window. I got used to the convenience of these pop-up selectors in the other edit windows right away, and felt quite annoyed when I had to go back to the Tracks window and select another track before opening its Notation window. I also started to run out of screen space very quickly with just a couple of Notation windows open, and with lots of tracks visible in my tracks window. A 21-inch screen is strongly recommended, and a second monitor definitely would not be overkill with a program like Vision. These days, the same is true of all the other top Macintosh MIDI sequencers though, and especially of Notator Logic!

Vision has pretty powerful, yet easy and intuitive, edit selection features. You can quickly choose options to split notes out from any track, or to delete any double notes. But the Select By Rule option allows you to apply the most complex selection criteria -- and still in a very straightforward and intuitive manner. This is one area where Vision scores highly over programs like Cubase -- which also offers powerful edit selection criteria via its Logical Editor, but which forces you to use much less intuitive methods to choose these criteria.

Vision does allow you to set 'playback parameters', as they are called in some sequencers, and you can set these parameters independently for each track. You select any track, then go to the bottom of the Tracks window and choose a value for quantisation of note attacks, or note durations, or set a shift value in clocks between plus and minus 480 ticks. Vision offers a timing resolution of 480 tick or clock values per quarter note, which is the same as Performer's and which I find to be as accurate as I have ever needed in practice. Some other sequencers, such as Notator Logic, offer higher resolutions, which may be of use for some specialised applications. Setting Vision's playback parameters allows you to experiment to find the values which work for you, without affecting the original data in the tracks. Once you are sure about which values to use, you can go ahead and make these values permanent using the standard Quantise Track, Modify Durations and Move Events commands. The quantising options are pretty comprehensive and you can apply quantisation as you input your parts, as with most drum machines, if you like. You can choose a sensitivity, strength, shift value, swing value, or smear value, and quantise durations to any value you specify.

• GROOVE QUANTISE

In common with Cubase and Notator Logic, you can now use groove quantisation in Vision. A selection of 50 different DNA Groove Templates and a comprehensive set of MPC60 grooves are provided, which you access from within the Quantise window. You can even make your own groove templates from any track containing a 'feel' that you would like to use to quantise other tracks to, and you can also edit (or even create) tracks to use as groove templates, using the Graphic or List edit windows, with key velocities displayed in the Strip Chart.

By way of comparison, Cubase contains just 15 DNA groove templates, although Cubase also has two excellent quantise modes not available in other sequencers -- Over Quantise and Analytic Quantise. Over Quantise detects whether you consistently play behind or in front of the beat, and lets you keep this feel when you quantise, while correcting errors. It also tidies up sloppily-played chords, adjusting their start points and durations till all the notes in a chord sound together. Analytic Quantise anayses complex parts containing mixed straight notes and triplets, or glissandos, and corrects timing errors. Notator Logic also offers quantisation of mixed straight and triplet note value, but not of glissandos. Neither does it have any pre-programmed grooves, although it does feature Realtime Groove Design, where you just select any track, and choose 'Make Groove Template'.

OLDIES BUT GOODIES

There are some features of Vision, which, while not new, certainly deserve mention. Instruments and Names are two such features, which warrant some explanation.

As long as you have defined all the MIDI instruments in your rig using OMS, Vision can list all these instruments in the Instruments window. You can then set up transpositions, limit the key ranges, and so forth, for each instrument listed in this window. This is one of the best features of Vision, offering a host of useful functions for 'live' performance --- all laid out in an extremely clear and logical way. There's very little possibility for confusion here, especially compared to Notator Logic's potentially confusing MIDI Environment feature.

Once the Instruments window has been set up, you can allocate any of these instruments to any track, from a pop-up menu adjacent to each track. And thanks to OMS and Galaxy, you can even access the names of the synth patches from your Galaxy files directly from within Vision. Galaxy is undoubtedly the best synthesizer editor available for the Mac, and has librarians for most popular synths, with editor modules for all the more important ones. If you use Galaxy to 'suck out' all the patches which are currently residing in the memories of all the synths in your rig via SysEx, you can then get the names of these Programs (to use Vision's jargon) into Vision, so that you can select actual patch names rather than program change numbers when you want a particular sound. If you don't have a Galaxy module for a particular synth, you can type in the patch names manually, although this is very laborious. A 'Note Names' feature is also provided, so that if you are using a drum machine or a sampler, you can actually name the sounds which correspond to the MIDI notes -- a bass drum on C1, for instance, or a door-slam sound effect on C3. But there's more yet -- you can even name any specialised MIDI Controllers you are using, although all the standard ones are already named for you. The logic of all this is immediately obvious, and Vision scores yet more points over its competitors.

Vision is much more than a straightforward track-based sequencer, as it may at first appear to be. Subsequences and Generated Sequences open up new horizons of flexibility and possibilities for experimentation. Once you have recorded a sequence containing one or more tracks, you can place this sequence into another track within another sequence, where it will appear as a 'subsequence' event. This way you can string several sequences together to form an arrangement of your music built from these various 'subsequences'. Another application is to create a sequence which has a loop that begins and ends in the middle of a sequence. You can also create nested subsequences, play subsequences simultaneously, and edit or transpose subsequences in a variety of extremely flexible ways. So you can use Vision as a pattern-based sequencer rather than as the track-based sequencer it appears to be at first glance. The power of this feature puts Vision on a par with the best of the competition.

Vision can also generate new sequences based on performances you have previously recorded. Rather than allowing you too many possibilities to explore, Vision (sensibly, in my opinion) provides you with a restricted, but very useable, set of algorithms to let you generate new material from your original MIDI data. When you create a new Generated Sequence in the Sequences window, you are presented with various options. The Note Track of a generated sequence stores the notes, chords, and subsequences which Vision will use to create a new sequence, while the Rhythm Track stores rhythm data, from which you can make your Generated Sequence. The Attack Mode lets you choose whether the timing information in the generated sequence is taken from the Rhythm Track or Note Track, kept Constant, or generated Randomly. You can also allow the velocities of the notes in the Rhythm Track to affect the velocities of the Note Track notes as they are played -- by an amount which depends on a percentage value you can set. The Duration Mode determines how Vision generates durations for a sequence, and also has a very comprehensive range of options to choose from. Using the Order pop-up, you can choose the order in which the Note Track and Rhythm Track will play their contents. Once everything is set up the way you want it, Vision will use the Attack and Duration Modes together, with the Order information, to generate a new sequence based on existing notes and/or rhythms you have provided. Once you have created your new sequence, you can edit it to make it fit in with your music better; many of the options on offer are standard 'tricks of the trade', commonly used by composers, such as reversing a sequence of notes. Rather than taking you away from creating music by forcing you into mathematical ways of thinking, as some other software does, Vision again makes it as easy as possible for musicians to do the kind of things they often want to do.

VISION IN ACTION

I loaded up a MIDI file which had been created originally in Mastertracks Pro on another musician's rig. The track names immediately showed up in the Tracks window, and the data was displayed in colour in the Overview part of the window. The next step was to assign suitable instruments from my MIDI rig -- this was extremely easy, thanks to OMS. I had previously set up an OMS Studio Document, where I defined every instrument in my MIDI rig connected to my Opcode Studio 4 and MOTU MIDI TimePiece interfaces. The Studio 4 is fully compatible with the MTP, and you can link them together to provide a 16 x 16 matrix of MIDI ports. Each MIDI port can handle a set of 16 MIDI channels in its own right, so I could have one port capable of sending data on any of up to 16 MIDI channels to my Akai S1100 for instance, and still have masses of channels left to deal with my other, mostly multitimbral, synths. I have recently added a Digidesign SampleCell II card to my Mac, and this appears in my OMS setup also. OMS automatically made the instruments I had previously defined in my OMS setup available for direct selection within Vision, with no more ado!

I also use Opcode's Galaxy librarian and editor software. OMS works with Galaxy and Vision and the Mac operating system to allow the program or patch names from each synth to be 'published' by Galaxy and 'subscribed to' by Vision. This takes just a couple of simple moves to set up, and then the program and patch names are also available in Vision for direct selection. A pop-up menu on the control bar allows me to select a patch from whatever synth is selected in the pop-up menu of instruments, which you can 'thru' connect your master keyboard to.

I did run into a problem with my D110 and DX7II synths, though. When I chose Patches for the D110 or Performances for the DX7II, everything worked OK, and I could select the Patch or Performance I wanted from the pop-up menu on the control bar. Unfortunately, when I switched to Timbres for the D110 or Voices for the DX7II, although the pop-up menu listed the Timbres or Voices correctly, the synths still played the Patches or Performances as before.

But on the whole Vision 2.0.3 was a joy to use, and I was able to set up the tracks to communicate effectively with my MIDI rig much more easily than with any other Mac sequencer. Other sequencers, like Mastertracks Pro, might be more suitable for entry-level, or even intermediate-level users, but for professionals with large MIDI rigs, Vision 2 with an Opcode Studio interface, and a range of complementary software like Galaxy, has to be just about the best choice you can make.

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CONCLUSION

I think that Opcode could still learn some tricks from the other sequencers, like Performer and Notator Logic, but if I had to choose just one MIDI sequencer to be marooned with on a desert island it would now almost certainly have to be Vision 2. Congratulations are certainly due to Opcode for producing such an excellent upgrade. During the week I was reviewing Vision, I attended an excellent demonstration of the software at UK distributor TSC/MCM's demo room, given by Keith Borman, Opcode's Director of Sales, who came over from the States to help launch the new version. Later that week, Opcode's Marketing Director, Paul De Benedictis, came over to London so that he could run through the features informally, and explain some of the finer points. Paul stressed that Opcode's central aim was to make their software 'musician-friendly'. I believe that they have achieved their aim very effectively, thanks to the close integration with Galaxy, and with the Macintosh in general. Both of these guys impressed me with their efforts to cater for UK users, and professional musicians can certainly rest assured that their interests are being well looked after. Vision is one of the most well-behaved, and 'bullet-proof', pieces of MIDI software available for the Macintosh, and sets a standard which others will now find very hard to beat!

 

DNA GROOVE TEMPLATES

Quantised music can sound pretty lifeless, and doesn't make good use of the high resolutions available in current sequencers. Musicians may play certain notes before the beat, or after the beat, in consistent ways. Groove Templates will allow you to quantise your music to values available in preset or user-defined templates. DNA have researched this area very thoroughly, by analysing existing recordings of musical performances, for instance, and supply a selection of groove templates for use with Vision 2. You can order more templates directly from DNA or through your dealer.

DNA Groove Templates capture live performances by great musicians. These templates are provided automatically in Vision to allow powerful rhythmic processing of MIDI sequences. DNA breaks down audio material into its rhythmic components. The relationship between the notes is captured and translated into a two-bar Vision Groove Template. Groove Templates can then be edited, modified and saved to disk. This means that you can create a library of feels, in the same way you create a library of sounds for synths and samplers. Vision's Grooves contain 50 different DNA Groove Templates, broken down into five sets of ten grooves. The grooves automatically load into the Groove Quantise function of Vision once the Vision Grooves file is at the same directory level as Vision.

Shuffles are among the most pleasing feels in popular music, and many Rock, Motown and Dance hits are shuffles. There are Soft, Medium and Hard shuffles in the DNA Groove selection, and variations 7 and 8 are Mixed Shuffles, where the first half of each bar has a different strength. If you want to propel notes ahead of quantise points, the Pushing Feels templates work very well, especially for hard driving Rock, Jazz, Country, Latin or Fusion. The Laid Back kind of feel is typical of Motown, Soul, Dance and Ballads. As all the above templates are 16th-note based, a Triplet set is also provided, which is based around an 8th-note triplet feel.

DNA also provide variations that manipulate the template in different ways. Each variation acts on certain points within the template/bar -- some are meant to simulate a nervously early snare, while others handle 32nd-note runs, and so on. This allows for very fast rhythmic placement of notes in your sequence. As a result, your music takes on a distinct feel, with each instrument having its own subtle variation. Never before has rhythmic feel been as easy to control on a computer!

DNA Groove templates also encode a Velocity map with the timing template. This contains velocity information for classic and exotic dynamic feels that can transform your music. Vision allows you to control the balance between your dynamics and that of the template.

All the DNA Groove Templates were created by Ray Williams & Ernest Cholakis. For more information contact WC Music Research, PO Box 1275, Station K, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. M4P 3E5. Tel: 0101 416 444-6644. Fax: 0101 416 496-2884.

 

NEW FEATURES IN BRIEF

• Improved interface, including full-colour windows and buttons, unlimited sequences per file and improved window control.

• New notation editing and printing features.

• The Tracks window significantly enhanced, with features such as movable tracks, track locking and, most importantly, the new track Overview features, which include a graphic view of subsequences.

• Global editing. You can now select multiple tracks and set Global edit points in any editing window.

• Groove Quantise.

• Menu/windows updates. The File window is now called the Sequences window; the Sequences window is now called the Tracks window; the Program & Note Names window is now the Names window; Players & Queue is now a separate window. The Mogrify menus have been replaced with windows pop-ups or the windows sub-menu in the 'Do' menu.

• Drum-machine style recording now available. You can quantise on input and enter a series of 16th notes by choosing 16th note quantise, then holding down a note on your MIDI keyboard for as long as you want 16th notes entered.

 

RAM REQUIREMENTS

Vision requires a Macintosh running System 7 (or later) with four or more megabytes of RAM. If you wish to view or edit more than 12 tracks of notation at once, you will need to increase Vision's memory allocation by getting info (in Finder) and setting the Current Size to 3Mb or more. You may well want to use various other music programs in conjunction with Vision. Opcode's Galaxy offers synthesizer librarian and editing, Sound Designer II offers sample recording and editing for a range of samplers (from the Akai S1100 to the SampleCell card), Infinity offers advanced looping tools for Sound Designer II files, Time Bandit features advanced time-stretching for your SDII files, and SampleCell editor software lets you playback SDII files using a Digidesign 32-note polyphonic sample playback card which you can install in your Mac. All of these programs need fairly significant amounts of RAM, and I reckon that 24Mb would be a good amount to start with if you are intending to run several programs together under System 7 -- and you could double this amount without going over the top!

 

OPCODE VISION £528

PROS
• Mature software, solid in operation.
• Useful notation facilities.
• Intuitive and attractive interface.

CONS
• Notation facilities not as full featured as those in Cubase or Notator.

SUMMARY
Vision 2 offers probably the best integrated MIDI system currently availble for the Mac, in conjunction with OMS, Galaxy and MTP-compatible interfaces, and its graphic controller editing beats the other contenders hands down. Nobody ever got sacked for buying Vision!