[ Advert ]

> Home







> Issue 10







DSP Mega Power!


Tip of the day




How to build a Lego Atari mouse




The Atari XL PBI -
Part 3





aMail 1.27b


KCS Omega



Dr T's keyboard controlled sequencer

Ross MacIver takes a look at a powerful MIDI package


Many MIDI sequencers on the market today are graphically based. Most of the functions of the program are controlled with the mouse. This provides an easy, intuitive method of working.

With more complex programs, however, the amount of information that is needed on the computer screen increases. This leads to crowded work areas filled with tiny icons that are less intuitive to use.

Enter KCS Omega from Dr. T. The "Keyboard Controlled Sequencer" is one of the most powerful MIDI sequencers ever developed on any platform. It provides the user with a combination of graphics and text screens. The graphics interface is easy to use and covers the MIDI recording and playback operations. For advanced editing features you switch over to a text based editing screen, which is more difficult to learn, but offers flexibility and power.

KCS is made up of two basic work areas. "Track Mode" operates like a standard tape recorder, with Record, Stop, Pause buttons, and various other functions that are activated by clicking with the mouse. "Open Mode" is where you rearrange your tracks in a more generalized way, independently looping up to 128 separate sequences.

KCS Omega Track Mode Record Screen

 Screen shot of KCS Omega

When you boot the program, you are presented with the track mode record screen. As soon as you play a note on your keyboard, KCS will start recording. There are 48 tracks available, and tracks can be merged for a limitless recording ability (dependant, of course, on internal memory). Also on the Track screen are switches for recording continuous controllers and after-touch. If these switches are not highlighted, the corresponding data will not be recorded, thus saving memory.

Start off by recording a track in Track mode. Simply click on the record button and start playing music. The sequencer will start with the first note played on your keyboard. If you make a mistake, the track can be erased and you can re-record it. If there are only one or two wrong notes, you can use the punch option to correct them. You indicate where the mistake has occurred, and on playback, recording will automatically start when the track reaches that point. This allows you to re-record that section as many times as you like, with each new take placed on a different track. The best take can then be chosen, and the rest of the takes will be erased.

KCS Omega Track Mode Edit Screen

Screen shot of KCS Omega

Record as many tracks as you need before switching over to the edit screen. The edit screen is similar in both Open Mode and Track Mode. Half of the screen is taken up by an event list, which indicates the notes, their velocity, duration, and position. The other half of the screen is a menu of editing options.

Selecting "Transform" presents you with a menu where you can transpose pitches, velocities, duration, controllers and pitch bends. These (and all) edits can affect all the notes in a track, or a selected range. Pitch, velocity, and duration can be either transposed (changed by a constant amount), or inverted (causing high values to become low, and low values to become high). All these edits (except pitch) can also be scaled between two values or by percentage. If you scale velocity between 66 and 127 (for example), the notes will gradually have a higher velocity.

Also in "Transform" is a standard "Quantize" feature with the ability to quantize note duration independently. If your playing was a little bit sloppy, and some notes fall a little bit off the beat, Quantize will place them exactly where they should be.

Copying a track, reversing the copy, and playing the original and the copy at the same time can create some great contrapuntal lines.

"Compress/Expand" will allow you to fit a track into a specified time frame by slowing down or speeding up the music. "Time Reverse" causes the notes in a track to be played backward. Copying a track, reversing the copy, and playing the original and the copy at the same time can create some great contrapuntal lines. Finally, "Channel Assign" will change the MIDI channel of any selected group of notes. You can specify one MIDI channel that all notes will be transposed to, or you can specify two MIDI channels, say 2 and 6, and the notes will cycle consecutively through channels 2 to 6. The first note will be on channel 2, the second on channel 3, the third on channel 4, etc.

On the right side of the screen is a standard group of editing tools. Cut, copy, paste and paste options allow you to remove any section of a track, paste it to a different place in the same or different track, or to delete it entirely. After cutting or copying a section, it is transferred to a paste buffer, where you have the option of performing any of the "Transform" functions on the data before pasting it back.

The text option allows you make up to 16 lines of comments on the current song. This can be useful for describing how your synthesizers are set up, or recording comments about a piece. "Map" allows you to see all current tracks and sequences, their names and comments, their MIDI channel, and length. When you are working with several different takes of different tracks and sequences, this feature can help you organize the whole set-up.

The "Step-Time Track" is used to enter notes one at a time. You specify the value of the note, (half-note, quarter note, etc.) and its length, and then play the note on your MIDI keyboard. Velocity can be recorded from the keyboard, or it can be preset. Step-time tracks can be appended to existing tracks.

Other options include "Split" to create two tracks split by MIDI note number; utilities to allow you to transfer data from one mode to another; "Merge", to mix two tracks or sequences together; "Full Environment", which give you control over all the "hidden" aspects of the sequencer, such as the number of steps per MIDI clock; number of steps per measure (for different time signatures); MIDI clock out, for syncing external devices such as drum machines; and many more features. The user can set all aspects of KCS, and any changes are saved automatically with a piece.

Open Mode is the true innovation of KCS. The data is recorded in "sequences", as opposed to "tracks". Sequences can contain note data, controller data, system-exclusive data, commands to start and stop other sequences, tempo changes, muting commands, pitch transposition, velocity transposition, or just about any other manipulation of data that you can think of. Any sequence can be called from any other sequence. You could have sequence 1 triggering sequence 2, which will trigger sequence 3.

This is very powerful stuff, and can be used to create extremely complex music. But if you're not into music à la John Cage, there are still plenty of uses here for "mainstream" music. Create a series of drum tracks, each slightly different from the others. Now make a control sequence that will call the different tracks at random. Do the same thing with your bass tracks, and even the melody line. Your piece will never play in exactly the same way twice, but always with subtle differences.

On both the Open Mode and Track Mode edit screens, there is an option labelled "PVG" which stands for "Programmable Variations Generator". This is an algorithmic editor that can change the data in your sequence or track in any conceivable or inconceivable way. PVG allows you to specify what kind of changes you want to make, the amount of chance that will be inherent in making those changes, and how those changes will affect other changes.

KCS Omega PVG Changes Screen

Screen shot of KCS Omega

Clicking on PVG brings you to the "Changes" screen. This screen allows you to change the data of your current track or sequence in a number of predetermined or random ways. Supposing you want to change the velocity values of a given track to create more dynamic range in the music. You would specify the number of changes you want to make and the amount of those changes. You can specify whether the velocity changes will be a positive value or a negative value or both. You can specify which notes of the scale you want the changes to occur on, or a range of notes to change. The amount of change can be averaged from the given values.

The changes that we made to velocity values, can also, at the same time, be applied to pitch, duration, time, intervals, and time shifts. Each of these factors can be changed independently of the others.

"Changes" is but one screen out of 11 in PVG. Each handles changes to the data in specific ways, from splitting the data according to predetermined criteria, (such as a combination of pitch range and duration), to adding new notes in the track as "ornaments".

Are you getting an idea of the complexity of PVG? Now consider the fact that each of these 11 screens can be combined in any way possible in the "Macro" screen. Suppose you want to vary the durations of the notes at the beginning of a track, and raise by an octave the pitches of notes with a velocity over 100, while adding ornaments to the notes within the middle octave, but only those notes on MIDI channels 8 and 12. Just set up a macro and away you go.

No problem, right? Except that PVG is incredibly complex and difficult to learn. The manual contains detailed descriptions of each screen, but the mathematical concepts behind PVG can be intimidating, to say the least. The best way to understand it is to work with one screen at a time, preferably with a simple reference sequence, and experiment to see what happens to your data.

KCS Omega is the core of a musical environment called MPE or Multi Program Environment. Many other programs such as the patch editors in the Caged Artist series, Fingers, Song Editor, TIGER (a graphical music editor), and Quick Score can all be loaded into the computer and called from KCS. Data from one song can be easily transferred to another program, manipulated and sent back to KCS. Or you can tweak a patch in one of your synthesizers and hear the change immediately in the context of the song you are working on.

Thanks to Tim Conrardy for all the screen shots used.




KCS Omega


Dr T (Emile Tobenfeld)


See 'Availability' box below


See 'Availability' box below



  • Extremely powerful and flexible
  • Well written manual
  • Provides a complete musical environment with MPE


  • Difficult to learn in detail, though basic operations are quite intuitive




Dr T (Emile Tobenfeld) has agreed to release KCS Omega Version 4.0 as SHAREWARE. No registration required. No support provided. Shareware fee is US$30, and (US only) comes with one of Dr T's videos.

Send US funds to:
Alpha Channel Productions
15 Frances Road
Lexington MA 02421

To upgrade to version 5.0, which includes PVG, Master Edit as well as many more MPE modules, please contact Emile Tobenfeld.

Dr T still has the Complete Omega II package for Atari Available. Prices are $159.00 with manual in WORD format. $199.00 with a manual in Xerox. This is the Latest Revision 5.11. Upgrades from Version 5.0 are $39.00. Upgrades from previous versions are $109.00 with a manual in WORD format, $149.00 for Xerox manual. Contact Dr T at


Useful links

MyAtari magazine - Review #2, August 2001 

 [ Top of page ]



Copyright 2001 MyAtari magazine