Review: Steinberg Sequel Recording and Performing Software
Pages: 1, 2

Playing full chords on the keyboard while both the Chorder and Arpeggiator are active can produce some seriously cool musical phrases. Too bad Sequel records the notes you play before feeding them into the Event Effects. It would be really neat if you could also record the MIDI output of the Chorder/Arpeggiator combo. That would allow you to edit the phrases and possibly use them as the basis for your own loops.



Here are some examples of Sequel's Event Effects. Note that all I did was play an Fmin7 chord; Sequel did all the musical grunt work.

Speaking of custom phrases, adding your own audio or MIDI instrument loops to Sequel's library is, yet again, just a drag-and-drop away. Drag the clip from the Arrange Zone to the Media Bay, and up pops a dialog box for categorizing your new loops. Once categorized, your loops become an integral part of Sequel's library and can be searched and used just like the content that ships with Sequel.

But that brings me to two more items for the "unfortunately" list. First, playing MIDI into Sequel is a one-way street, as the software does not support MIDI output. In other words, you cannot play back your tunes via an external sound module. Even worse, the same holds true for Standard MIDI Files: importing them works just fine, but, alas, you cannot export MIDI instrument tracks recorded in Sequel to a file.

Second, recording a MIDI instrument track in Sequel does require that an external MIDI keyboard be connected to your computer, because, unlike GarageBand, Sequel does not offer any alternative ways to play notes on your computer. (Well, sure, there's the piano roll editor, but I said "playing" notes, not "helplessly scribbling notes.") This, to me, is the only major disappointment with this software, because with so much content to play with, Sequel is the perfect creative toy for long plane or train rides. The lack of a way to quickly record your own tunes when inspiration strike (unless you dare sing into your laptop's mic in a crowded plane cabin and make many new "friends" in the process) seriously limits what you can do with Sequel while away from your trusty ivories.

Arrange Mode: Sequel Comes Alive

I hope that Steinberg will put "virtual keyboard" high up on the list of things to add in the next release. But Sequel does offer another standout performance control: Arrange mode.

Following in the footsteps of Ableton Live, this mode lets your arrange your own songs in real time. First, separate your song into segments by drawing in the special Arranger Track with the mouse. Clicking the "pad" in the Multi Zone's Arranger page (or typing the assigned letter) will then queue the corresponding song segment for playback at the next rhythmic division—bar, beat, or instantaneous transition. You can also input a sequence of segments (verse 1, verse 2, chorus, solo, etc.) and queue up a whole song:

Sequel Arranger Page

The "trigger pads" on the Arranger page call up musical phrases. (Click to enlarge.)

I have to admit that I never expected this kind of "playing" a song to be so much fun, and I'm sure that the clean UI of the Arranger window plays a big role in that.

Conclusions

With its cornucopia of excellently produced loops and software instruments, high-quality effects, live arrange mode, beginner-friendly user interface, solid performance, and shockingly low price, there isn't much not to like about Sequel.

Of course, it's a closed system (although you can use Sequel's media content and song files in Steinberg Cubase) and in serious need of an on-screen keyboard. Also, this being a 1.x release, it still has a few bugs. For example, when I loaded a project that had master volume automation, the automation failed. And when I hid and un-hid the automation tracks, there suddenly were two volume automation tracks, but only one of them actually worked.

These minor limitations aside, Sequel is an enticing option if you're looking for an affordable, easy, fun, and chock-full-of-music production tool, regardless of how much experience you have with computer music production. To illustrate, here's a short song that materialized out of thin air when I stumbled upon a Sequel loop family that mimicked the laid-back, groovy feel of the Emotions' "Best of My Love." With the exception of the synth solo and the corny synth hook in the chorus, which I played with the "Fusion Oddy" and "Jaipur Accent" instruments, respectively, everything you hear is loops from Sequel's stock library with no additional sound processing.

If you have Sequel, you can download my original song file (120KB) and see how I did it. For more on Sequel, including audio demos, video tutorials, and a users' forum, visit www.sequel-music.net.

Jochen Wolters is a telco engineer who enjoys sharing his passion for technology by writing about it. His favorite topics include the Apple Macintosh, user interface design, and just about any kind of creative software.


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