Thursday, December 04, 2008


I'm kickin' it old-school. Or rather, I came very close to kicking it very old school and rehabilitating my Amiga 500 computer and putting it in my modern edit suite next to my dual quad-core Mac.

But I didn't.

This is how the story goes:

Sometime back in the mid-late 1980's I bought the cheapest sequencer system I could get which would sync to tape. There were a number of sequencers on the market at the time but the least expensive (including computer) which could actually sync to tape was the Commodore - 64 based "Keyboard Controlled Sequencer" (KCS) by Dr. T's Music Software.

I was warned by the salesman "that program is hard to use" and blah blah blah. But it was about $500 - $1000 cheaper than the next least expensive system which could sync to tape. So I bought the software, the hardware, and the computer, and started reading the manual.

Yes, KCS is complicated at first because it's so open. I mean, get a load of the editing screen. You're looking at data there boy! But it's also simple and to me it just sorta makes sense. It was perfect for the way I like to work and the way I compose. Maybe I learned to work and compose from KCS?

Don't get me wrong, KCS was a bare-bones interface and it worked with a totally different paradigm than the "tracks" based sequencers which everyone else uses (with the notable exception of Ableton's Live).

So it's somewhat hostile perhaps but once you figure it out it becomes amazing and clear and powerful. It's fast, too.

The fact is that KCS was hands down the best sequencer ever made. And when they updated it to the Commodore Amiga I bought an Amiga 500 and now I could chase to anywhere on the multitrack tape (and use 3 1/2" floppy discs! Much more high-tech!) It was fast too, it could hit a position with SMPTE - striped tape better than anybody.

For a while there I was a sequencing god. Seriously, I sequenced MIDI tracks practically every day for many years. I got good at it. I was quick and precise.


I kept using my Amiga into this century. (Man, what a good computer that was. All that time it had three processors! I mean, I only got a quad-core PC last year!) In any case, the Amiga was just getting too long in the tooth and I finally had to retire it. Unfortunately, I didn't have a good sequencer but I sorta relied on an old version of Cakewalk and actually used the sequencer in Samplitude (which tells you a lot about how desperate I was.) But for the last several years I haven't done that much MIDI sequencing so it hasn't really mattered all that much. I even composed the score to Solar Vengeance mostly on electric guitar...

But there comes a time when I really need to be able to do some detailed work -- where I play something into a sequencer, then I modify the data (because I'm not a keyboard player anyway, much less the really good keyboard player I pretend my computer is) and play different sounds with that data back onto a computer.

And I hate all the other sequencers that are out there. I don't want "tracks" I want to record sequences and then modify the data. And sometimes I want a sequence to modify another sequence and so forth. (Not so much anymore, but if I want to do that I want to do that.)

I want to do retrograde inversions. I want control. I want the sequencer not to send a dang patch change message at the beginning of the piece! I want it to do what I tell it dag nab it!

I want Keyboard Controlled Sequencer back.

So a couple days ago I fired up my old Amiga 500 and... bleh. It no longer boots. Probably the power supply, I recall those being troublesome back in the day. I don't know what to do. Should I buy another used Amiga off of eBay? Should I buy an Atari ST off eBay? (KCS was also made for the Atari). Should I try to get an emulator to work? What should I do? I got nuthin'. I need to do some electronic scoring.

I was so frustrated that I wrote to Emile Tobenfeld, the founder of Dr. T's Music Software, and... he wrote me back!

Well it turns out that this brilliant dude actually released KCS as shareware.

Oh man. That made my day.

It's available from Atari Users as the "Omega" version of KCS for the Atari. And it works on the PC with full MIDI implementation with STEem Engine Atari emulator. It was very easy to set up my quad-core Gateway computer with STEem and KCS. (It took an additional 5 hours to sort out various problems with my monitor and with the silly ASIO drivers on my Apogee mini-Me on my old dual-core Dell, but those issues had nothing to do with the sequencer, just my general computer frustration level.)

So I'm going to Pay-Pal Mr. Tobenfeld for his fantastic shareware. I've already worked on some tracks for Alien Uprising with it - complex multi-percussion stuff for the firefight scene.

And my computer looks really funny with that old looking OS and interface. ;-)


Chance Shirley said...

Fun! I hope I get to see this setup the next time I'm in town.

Andrew Bellware said...

You realize that a tied up Dita Von Teese is not part of my setup right? Not yet...

Anonymous said...

Well, you can buy a new Amgia 1200

Andrew Bellware said...

Yes, I could get a 1200, but isn't the hardware different? I have a vague memory that they reversed the ports from male to female or some such thing - it would make me fear that my Phantom hardware wouldn't work.