Softsynth for Atari Falcon
New Beat Productions
Programmer: Thomas Bergström
New Beat Productions has just released ACE, a new soft-synth for Atari Falcon computers. In the past, Atari has enjoyed several "chip" editors designed to take advantage of the Yamaha sound chip inside the TOS machines. While these were good for bells, whistles and squeaks, ACE takes Atari to a new level offering professional sound and ease of programming with an intuitive interface. Your Falcon will never sound the same again! ACE taps into the DSP chip of the Falcon to realize its analog synth engine. Expect fat, warm analog sound as well as clear ringing digital sound and a unique synthesis structure. I have had the privilege of being an ACE beta-tester (pun intended), giving the programmer Thomas Bergström feedback and suggestions as well as bug reports during the last few months. It has been a rewarding effort as we are completing testing of the first release.
First of all, let's take a look at the specifications:
Up to 16 voices on a standard Falcon030
Depends on system speed, replay frequency and the configuration of ACE. A standard Falcon can do 16 voices if you choose to use external effects and run the synth engine at 33 KHz output).
256 sounds in memory
It's amazing that stored in a small 50 KB file are 256 patches for ACE. You will be hard pressed to fill these slots with your original patches. You can also scroll through the banks and patches with the arrow keys making it easy to audition them. The file format allows you to share sets, banks and patches with other ACE users, so no messy SysEx to deal with. Just load the set, patch, or bank from the menu. Individual patches can be saved as well. This will come in handy if you want to modify an existing patch.
Two oscillator modes:
Sample mode: 16-bit, maximum 256 samples in memory, up to 20 MB each. Yes, this means you can load in WAV and AIFF files and use the ACE synthesis engine (filters, envelopes and modulators) to create new sounds. You can also view the samples graphically and edit the loop points. A fine tool for further synthesis.
Synth mode, two oscillators per voice: OSC1 Saw ramp up/down, noise, square. OSC2 Saw ramp up/down, square positive, square.
Three modes to mix the two oscillators: normal (sum), merge (XOR) and ring modulation (product).
The non-sample mode is where you can generate analog sounds in ACE as well as a quasi way to do cross modulation (like a Casio CZ 01, remember?) with its merge and ring modulation functions. Any of the waveforms are selectable which allows for a wide range of timbres. The tuning is quite intuitive. A right-click will bring it up one octave making it easy to create tuning settings. Tuning the oscillators to unison, then offsetting them slightly produces a rich fat analog sound. You can also tune them to intervals against each other, such as a fifth above or below the primary oscillator.
VCA (amplifier) with ADSR envelope
The bread-and-butter envelope is here which control the overall loudness contour of ACE. You can obtain long attack and release times making ACE excellent for ambient type sounds.
VCF (low-pass filter) with ADSR envelope
This is the meat of ACE, with its excellent filter section. Squeaky warm resonance and a wide cutoff frequency give ACE its sound. Small movements of the dedicated ADSR to the filters input can affect the overall sound greatly.
LFO (low frequency oscillator) with six different waveforms
Can be connected to frequency and/or filter and/or volume. Here you can create vibratos, filter sweeps, wah-wah effects and random noise.
User-defined 32-step "sequencer". Can be connected to filter and/or amplifier. Velocity curves. Separate curves for volume and filter response. This is a modulator you will not find on any other soft-synths or hardware synthesizers for that matter! Sample hold effects, vast filter sweeps, portamento, a 32-step analog sequencer and more. You will find many uses for this unique module.
Internal post processing effects
Reverb and stereo (ping-pong) delay: I remember creating echo effects using a cable and a reel-to-reel tape recorder just to add to the sound of my first analog synth, an EML 500. This has been recreated in ACE and greatly enhances the sounds, giving it more body and ambience. There is also a reverb section, with parameters for both reverb and echo, with the option to turn it off in case you can connect ACE to a mixer board with effects already in place. ACE is a stereo instrument, in that you can also place any of its sound in the stereo field via panning controls. You can save your settings so every time ACE loads you are set to go.
Ace also supports a multi-timbral mode where it is possible to have 16 sounds for each MIDI channel with 120 split points per channel. You basically set up patches for each MIDI channel, and use your external sequencer to play ACE, just like a normal synth module. Of course, the number of voices are dependent on how fast your system is. This also allows you to create "kits" using either drum samples or even different synth sounds for each key. The Kawai XD5 percussion synthesizer had this function and you can be quite creative in making layered textures spread across the keyboard. Remember you will need an external sequencer to make full use of this section. Many musicians using Atari usually have more then one machine as a back-up or to run software not compatible with 030 machines (such as Notator), so this would not be a problem. Also, the "left hand" applications such as Tunesmith, M, Music Mouse (algorithmic programs) could also be used on ACE. Another application would be running the available analog sequencer software into ACE, thus re-creating the electronic music of yesteryear. Examples include Neil Wakeling's Pulsar, Dr Ambient's AEX, Gaston Klare's Sequence and Electronic Cow's MIDI Arpegiator.
Velocity, pitch bend and modulation wheel are also supported. An excellent function of ACE is that you can assign the modulation wheel to LFO for vibrato effects or to the filter for filter sweep effects. A very real-time control feature.
A session with ACE: creating patches
1.Double-click on ACE.PRG and the program loads. The main screen comes up. I usually go to the Load section and load a set that I have been working on. It might be good practice to load the same set so you can continue to add sounds to the same set (unless all 256 slots have been filled!). Then I go to an empty slot in the last bank that was used. The patch name should be "empty".
2.Now we are ready to go. First of all, you have to think conceptually in synthesis. You are creating a sound. What kind of sound do you want? You are also dealing with analog sounds, so even though there are infinite variables, you are still limited to analog type sounds (unless you are using a sample as a basis for construction). For this example, let's create a swelling fat analog lead sound that can also be used as a pad.
3.Start with the oscillators, which is the sound source. There are two in ACE. This is not going to be a bass sound, so let's bring up the octave range on both oscillators by right-clicking once on each transpose parameter. They both should read 12. To audition the sound hit a note on your MIDI keyboard or any QWERTY key on the Falcon keyboard. You will hear a tone, but not very "phat". How do you make it "phat"? By de-tuning one oscillator against each other.
4.Turn the tune control of oscillator 2 to the right slightly. Not too much so it does not sound in tune, but enough to create a chorus effect. However, it is not "swelling". For this we go to the filter section. Bring the Res. control up to just touching the red, and still in the orange range. Audition the sound. You hear a fast attack, which is more prominent.
5.This is still not swelling yet. To achieve this effect, bring up the Attack control to about three-quarters to the right. Audition the sound. You will now hear a swelling type effect. However, the swelling comes down too suddenly. To create a smoother effect, go to the Decay control and turn it three quarters to the right (same as attack). Audition the sound. Much smoother!
5.Now let's create some more variation. Go to the LFO section (Low Frequency Oscillator) and select Osc1. We will be trying for a vibrato effect, so the Freq (or speed) of the LFO should be set to a little less than half-way. Now go the Depth control. This will tell ACE how much LFO will be affecting oscillator one. Set it to the same as Freq. Audition the sound. The vibrato effect comes in too soon! Not to worry. There is a Delay control so the vibrato comes in more smoothly. Set it to taste, auditioning as you adjust it. The same goes with Freq.
6.To get some fast action pitch-bending going, go to the Pitch bend parameter in the Ctrl section and set it to 2. You can now use your pitch bend wheel to play a Jan Hammer type lead.
7.We have now completed a sound in ACE. Click in the field where it says "empty" and use the [Esc] key on the Falcon's keyboard to clear the field (as in other Atari applications). You can now put in a 20-character name! Lots of room for something creative. Don't be shy! Try something exotic. When completed, hit [Return] and then go to the Save section and save your set (or Patch if you are using the demo version of ACE). Otherwise if you exit or turn the computer off, there goes your sound (you should know that by now!).
The ACE DEMO
There is now a demo version of ACE MIDI available. While the demo is still very workable, some functions have been removed (as in all demo programs!):
External Outputs (4 output mode for external effects)
44.1, 48 and 50 KHz modes removed
Only possible to use 1 Part (1 of 16)
Only possible to play two voices (2 of 16)
The only save option left is "SAVE PATCH" which saves one single patch (sound).This means you can start making patches even before you get the full version of the program, if you decide to register it.
While the above limitations have been imposed, you can still do quite a lot with the ACE demo. Create sounds using the synthisis sections. Import samples. Play with the delay functions and multi-section. This will be like the old mono synths of yesteryear with their 1 or 2 voice polyphony.
However to get full 16 voice polyphony, full use of the multi-timbral section as well as other functions, please register the program! Thomas has put about 2 1/2 years of his life into creating this fantastic application. Lets not disappoint him. Support Atari programmers and we will get more programs, more updates as ACE can only get better.
ACE to the future
This is only the beginning as we can look to possible updates as well as new sounds created by users of ACE. We can also expect new pieces created on ACE to be made available, as we move forward into a new future of synthesis exploration using ACE, the new soft synth for Atari Falcon, a definite milestone in Atari computer history. Atari is still alive in the new century thank you!
Per request I have started a new forum for ACE MIDI, the Softsynth for Atari Falcon. Go to : http://groups.yahoo.com/group/acemidi/
To join simply click on "Join this group?" and follow the instructions.
This is THE user group for New Beat Productions Soft Synth for the Atari Falcon called ACE MIDI. There is also ACE TRACKER which is a tracker version, now in Beta stage. Patch sharing as well as synthisis techniques can be discussed specific to using ACE MIDI.
For more information visit New Beat Productions Site
and the Ace MIDI Page page at TAMW:
DOWNLOAD the ACE DEMO. You will also find my patches I have created for ACE in Bank Format.
New Beat Productions Site
You will also find the download for ACE TRACKER. It is not MIDI but has a sequencer/Tracker interface where you can audition sounds as well as create new sounds using the newer updates of ACE MIDI.
Go here for ACE Demo tunes I have created (as well as others) to hear what ACE sounds like in action!
ACE Demo Tunes
Sound On Sound Atari Notes preview by Derek Johnson