Sam Coupe Scrapbook

The Utilities
- Review of E-Tracker

Information provided by: Lee Willis as transcribed by Steven Pick

Excuse me for being a bit late with this review! As by some lucky fluke of chance (Hah!) Lee has sent me a load of notes about E-Tracker, and wants me to put those arkward notes into some sort of review. Ah well, here goes... Considered by many (especially ESI) as the "best 8-bit music utility yet" which I could also be as bold as to say it compares well to other 16 bit utilities I have seen, this is indeed a stiff bit of competition. This music utility is exclusively designed to use every last drop of the SAA 1099 sound chip in terms of it's love juices (ahem!). That means 2048 tones, 96 notes, 8 octaves and 6 channel sound with full control of left and right stereo speakers. The last music utility was of course, Sound Machine. Reasonably priced at 14.99, this was pretty to look at, but the disadvantage of being a bit user-friendly to any bod with a mouse, and abuser-friendly to the saps on keys. I suffered terribly from the sluggish cursor movement, but enough of my troubles! Help is here...

The utility comes in a professionally painted box, with a manual (surprisingly) in English. I know that ESI (the blokes who wrote this) are foreign, and their English in their scrollies is terrible, but I can find little wrong with this manual! A reasonable size of 20-odd pages, this talks you through the utility in a damn-spunky manner. You also get two disks - the E -Tracker and compiler disk, and a programme disk. More on these later...

The layout of the utility is exact to the Spectrum's public domain Soundtracker utility, with the exception of a few additions to fit the Coupe's huge requirements. The top half of the screen contains many functions which can be highlighted with a cursor bar. The right of the screen has a channel control, so you can switch on and off the 6 channels using the function k eys. The bottom of the screen is gridded off into six boxes, where you can easily edit music. The six boxes relate to the 6 channels(!).

First things first. After some looking over the instruction manual, we can try our luck on the Instrument editor. This is a wonder of modern music technology - instruments on E-Tracker (36 is the maximum) make up the music, and are made up themselves of 256 different elements per instrument. I won't go into too much detail, but you can control noise, tone, pitch, noise frequency and stereo with this editor to better effect than the Sound Machine. Tips can be gained from the manual, and several demo music pieces which you can nick...erm, use creatively to your heart's content.

There is another editor called the Ornament editor, which is basically a simplified version of the Instrument editor. From what it says on Lee's "review", it is basically a mixer of instruments to produce a different sound. At least, that what I think it says - Lee's handwriting is awful! Once you are done with this, you can get to writing the music. Unchanged from the Spectrum Soundtracker basic layout, this is the way to write music on E-Tracker...

E -1 2345

Simply, the letter is note "E". It is a flat E, due to the presence of a - sign (smart arses will gather that E# is a sharpE and E on it's own is normal E). The number after E is the octave number. Then, there is a brilliant combination of numbers for various functions. The numbers are Instrument, Ornament, Command and Value for that note. The first two are self-explainatory, but Command is a selection of commands you can use for the note (like echo and wave effects) and value is also used to manipulate the command. It delves much deeper in the manual.

Cutting and Pasting, or Copying huge chunks of code is more-or-less straightforward (though you will need to consult the manual, though it is a great consolation that Sound Machine editing was trecharously difficult to the newcomer) and you can manipulate this chunk to your advantage. Once complete, your masterpiece can be saved for future use, or compacted in the Compiler, then saved.

This Compiler is basically a space-saver, as well as a way to use the music in BASIC or Machine Code (same as Sound Machine!) with no hassle. The compiler has a 95% compression rate, which means in lay-mans terms that a 100K piece of music is squashed to 5K. It works on the principle of repeating pieces of music, so the Compiler may waver a little on this 95% rate, but not too much.

As a beginner, I - I mean Lee, made up some "pretty cool" tunes and ditties, which he assures me he made up with minimal hassle, and he will use in a demo pretty soon. So Lee has also scored the utility for himself! (Isn't that nice of him..!)

Graphic Ability - N/A Power - 98%
Power - 80% Lastability - 95%

Overall - 91%

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