ProTracker 2

Price £20: 2 disks and sheet of keyboard hot-keys (manual to follow)

There aren't that many ways to make good music on the Sam. Until the recent MOD revolution, the only major music utilities were Sound Machine and ETracker. The former looked absolutely lovely, but was none too powerful or versatile. The latter was a much more successful production, combining the flexibility of an Access card, with a screen that looked about as flat as one. BUT now we've got another, and it's beutifully flexible. Hurrah!

As soon as you see the title you'll know that ProTracker2 is a similar program to ETracker, or at least more so than to the Sound Machine. Your music is organized as a series of up to 64 patterns - a block of notes which is 64 beats long - these can be played and repeated in any order. Every note is played with one of 32 definable samples, which controls the variation of volume and pitch with time. In addition, each note may be overlaid with one of the 256 definable ornaments, which shifts the pitch in semitones. Every note is also given a command.

This is the main area in which ProTracker2 scores over ETarcker; wheras ETracker only has 6 commands, PreTracker lays claim to well over twice that number! Vibrato, Tremolo, Portamentos etc are easily set without having to define seperate instruments - and all with variable speed, amplitude etc. Even the trick of making chords by rapidly swapping between notes, which in ETracker could only be acheived using an ornament, is given its own command. This is quite simply the most versatile music creation program the Sam has ever seen, partly because the commands are based on those used for Amiga and PC MOD files. (A handy program is included to convert MODs for use in this program.)

The editor is similarly good, with a staggering number of keyboard shortcuts (of which ETracker had hardly any) which makes entering your music faster and easier. One of the few minor niggles is that although pointer driven, the program does not accept mouse control. This and other points are, however, to be raised with the author, and a revised version made available in future. It must also be pointed out that, being of foreign tongues, those at Persona have not found it easy to get instructions from the author; a manual is still in the process of being written, though a handy list of the keyboard shortcuts is provided.

The one major fault is the lack of a decent compiler - a program which takes the editor's large file as argument, and produces executable code which can be used in your demo or whatever. There are two varieties of ETracker compiler: the standard one provided with the program which produces the smallest possible files; and the various so-called "fast-players" which so not increase the tempo of the music, rather the code exeutes more quickly leaving the processor free to do other things. (The cost is that the files are much larger.) ProTracker currently has neither of these - a basic program reduces the size of the editor file by only a few K, and this still needs a 5K playing file which is also very slow to execute. Fortunately this is the sort of extra program which can be "bolted on" via an update disk, it does not need to be built into the system, and I expect that such a program will be written in the near future by some top programmer or another.

So, all in all, this will be the best music package available for your SAM just as soon as the extra bits are released, but buy it now! You don't need the compiler while you write the music, and by the time you've written your PC beating tunes one will almost certainly have been released. And if you're in any doubt about the quality of the music which can be created with the package, just buy "The Best of KASPA" for £1.50 and revel in the magnificence of the menu music... a masterpiece of the digital age!

Overall: 94%

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