BankStep Overview

BankStep is a software emulation of hardware bank sequencers found in the big analog synthesizers, that produce control for the sound but not the sound itself. Instead of analog control voltages, BankStep produces MIDI (and can make standard MIDI music files). Otherwise, BankStep functionally emulates a complete hardware bank of sequencers and control modules just as it might sit on top of a analog synthesizer - or your softsynth, MIDI module or sound card.

How to Use BankStep

Like the hardware sequencers it emulates, BankStep is modular in concept but it is not modular in the sense that you create modules as part of the composing process, as you would with our other MIDI composing software, SoftStep and ArtWonk.

While you are free to create your own module Layouts, this should not be part of your composing process, just as specifying the modules of a hardware modular synthesizer is separate from the use of the modules in creating the music. This is less flexible than SoftStep or ArtWonk, but it is far easier to get started with; and because you likely will use the same layout over and over, you become familiar with it.

With BankStep, you are not creating an algorithmic music composition so much as you are creating music with a stack of sequencers, just as you would if you had a stack of hardware sequencers. But with BankStep, you can have a lot more of them to work with!

Quick Tour

The main module in BankStep is the Bank module, which is a 3 or 4 bank knob sequencer of any number of columns up to 48. The Bank module is a "smart" module, with the ability to set sequence start and end points, and to automatically switch direction when the end points are reversed.

Just as hardware analog sequencers have two types of signals - control voltages and on/off gates - BankStep also has the digital equivalent. For control voltages, BankStep has Values. These may range from -9999 to 9999, but as MIDI is limited to 0-127, this is the Value range you will use most of the time. For on/off switches, BankStep has Logical or Boolean values. These have two states only, On or True, and Off or False.

Value inputs and Logical inputs are distinguished by different color buttons. While you are free to specify your own color scheme, here Value inputs are blue and Logical inputs are red.

Use Knobs to directly set the Bank stage values. To change knob values, use an up/down click and drag for large changes, and a left/right click and drag for small changes. There is also a pop up menu of functions - available by clicking on the little green button in the upper left - to automatically fill, modify and save bank stage values.

There are no dangling patchcords in BankStep. Instead, module inputs (the red and blue buttons) connect to outputs by selecting them from a popup menu of all available outputs. When an input is connected to an output, the input button label indicates the connection. For example:

The two support modules above, Negate and Add, are being used to subtract the output of Bank Sequencer C, Row 1 (Bnk C 1, shown above) from the output of Bank Sequencer B, Row 1 (Bnk B 1, not shown). The Negate module (Neg A) receives the output from Bnk C 1 and negates it. The Add module (Add A) Receives (apparently) a value of 37 from Bnk B 1, plus a value of -12 from Neg A (you see -12 in the right top output box), plus 0 from the unconnected input; and it produces the sum, 25, as its output.

Making it Go

Logical values are used mainly to control timing and routing. They may be either Gates or Triggers. Gates are On for the duration, triggers are On for only one tick (a "tick" is one calculation cycle defined by MIDI as of 1/24th of a quarter note). Triggers and Gates that are On for some number of ticks then go Off, are collectively referred to as "pulses." For example the output of a Clock module, which is a gate that cycles between some number of ticks On then some number of ticks Off, is called a clock pulse.

The basic (if simplified) chain of events is: Bank sequencers are stepped by clock pulses; the values from the Bank Sequencer may be combined and modified in innumerable ways, and eventually they end up going to the MIDI module as Note, Velocity, etc., values. The clock pulses that stepped the sequencers are used as timing events to trigger the MIDI Notes.

Clock pulses are created by Clock modules, as well as other modules that can generate Logical gate and trigger outputs such as the Bank and Gate Sequencers. Clock modules have 4 outputs: regular clock, plus clock/2, /3 and /4 (you can see the LED for each output flash as the Clock module ticks).

Out to MIDI

The MIDI module combines 4 channels in one module. When you click on the MIDI button you will see a very large field of connection buttons set up in 4 columns, one column for each MIDI channel (or for each note in Drum mode).

At first the only inputs you will need to set are Clock, and Note. Other values are either preset to default values, or may be ignored until you have a specific need to change them. Volume defaults to 127, Velocity defaults to 112. You will see these levels on the MIDI module as little bar meters. Blue for Velocity, Green for Volume.

The MIDI module has a number of cool features you will want to become familiar with eventually, such as the ability to set delay-on for each note, automatic volume fade in and fade out, and micro tone tunings using Pitch Bend. For a complete description of these and other features, see the MIDI Module page.

BankStep can make standard MIDI files that can either be used directly such as a web page MIDI file, or imported into a composition program for further modification. See the Composer page for information on making MIDI files.

Saving Your Work

Individual patches are always saved as a Snapshot, available on the toolbar as a camera icon. Whatever patch is showing in the Snapshot will be the one that gets the changes, and you do not have to worry about loosing a snapshot - it is always saved. When you create a new Snapshot (camera icon), whatever snapshot patch you are working on is copied to the a new snap at the top of the list. The delete snap button removes this last snap.

Files can be saved and loaded in the normal Windows manner; also the current state of BankStep is automatically saved on exit and loaded again on startup. You can force this unnamed quick save anytime with the menu File/Quick Save or with the toolbar Quick Save (disk icon) button. Conversely, you can reload a Quick Save with the File/Revert menu command.

Layouts are separate files that define the module layout. Layouts are saved with the files but may be created separately. Use the Layout menu to create your own layouts that may contain any combination of modules.

First Sound

BankStep produces no sound by itself. Instead, it generates MIDI data to control your choice of synthesizers, soft synths or sound cards. This is the same MIDI you hear when you play a MIDI file, but inBankStep the MIDI data is being created in real time, and you hear the changes you make as you make them. But before you can hear any sound at all, you need to be sure your computer is set up for MIDI sound play, and to tell BankStep which MIDI device to use.

When BankStep runs for the first time, an Options menu will pop up so you can set the default MIDI Out Driver on MIDI Port A, the first tab. One of the first choices is the default Microsoft MIDI Mapper. This is probably your best choice to get started with.

After you have set the MIDI Out Driver, Bank Step will most likely start playing a simple melody line right away. If it does not, the easiest way to tell if your computer is set up to play MIDI is to find a MIDI file (anything with the extension .mid), and double click on it. Do this when BankStep is not running. Media Player, or whatever your default MIDI player is, should pop up and start playing the MIDI file. If it does not, you need to figure out what it will take to play a MIDI file with the default Windows MIDI player.

Once you have MIDI sound, exit all your other MIDI software, such as Media Player or any MIDI sequencer programs that may be running, and start up BankStep. BankStep can co exist with just about any other MIDI or audio or soft synth program, but keep it simple at first.

Listening to the Example Patches

BankStep comes with several example patches, many of which have been composed by BankStep users. Most (but not all) patches are set up as a composition of several Snapshots. You can play either individual Snapshots or the entire composition. To play the composition, click on the Composer button in the Toolbar. To play individual Snapshots, select one from the drop down Snapshot menu, then click on the Run/Stop button.

Computer System Requirements

BankStep runs on all Windows operating systems from Windows 95 on. This includes Windows 95, 98, ME, XP, 2000, and NT4. While there are no hard limitations on CPU speed, we recommend 300 MHz or faster for best results. You also need a MIDI compatible sound card or interface. A graphics display of at least 800x600 High Color (16-bit) or True Color is recommended. For best results, system memory should be at least the minimum recommended for your version of Windows.

Software Synthesizer Compatibility

BankStep has been tested extensively for compatibility with popular software synthesizers such as Reaktor, VAZ2, ABox, GigaSampler/GigaStudio, and Pulsar. When using BankStep to control a softsynth, we recommend a minimum CPU speed of 500 MHz, and at least 64 MB of system memory.

Most soft synths do not have their own MIDI drivers, and therefor require a program called a MIDI Loop Back in order to run them with BankStep or any other MIDI generator. This gives you a set of virtual patch cords, where you can send the output of BankStep to a Loop Back input, then connect your soft synth to the same Loop Back output. These programs are available as free downloads, they are easy to install, and once installed they are trouble free. BankStep works very well with any of the several free MIDI Loop Back drivers, such as Hubi's MidiLoopBack (Win 95/98), MidiYoke (Win98/2K/XP), Maple MIDI Tools (Win98/2K/XP), or Sonic Foundry's Virtual Midi Router (Win98/2K/XP).

BankStep is Copyright © 2001-2004 by John Dunn and Algorithmic Arts. All Rights Reserved.