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Pictures of
Vintage MIDI Sequencers


The history behind today's marvelous music technology

by Tweak

vintage computers

The origins of popular midi sequencers go back go back to the 1st wave of home computers in the 1980s.  This was right around the time the Commodore 64 was released, shortly followed by the very first Macintoshes, and of course the venerable Atari ST.   Sure you can look at some of these and make fun of them from the vantage point of modern sequencers, but you would be missing a fundamental point.   These early programs were stocked with incredible features that no longer exist on the modern platforms. The code behind these sequencer had to fit into as little as a 1 meg machine, and you can bet the programmers squeezed every bit out their bandwidth. Finally, many of them are easy to use and don't have the massive learning curve that modern programs do.  Every sequencer has its own perspective on music making, and in the early days they often took extreme, experimental approaches to music making. 

Did you know you can run old Atari MIDI programs on your PC?  Complete with MIDI i/o?  You can by installing the Atari Emulator STEEM on your PC.  It's a free download and many of the programs you see can be downloaded legally as well. While Notator and Cubase are not available (and please don't ask me about them), you can try your hand on Dr. T's KCS, TuneSmith, Master Tracks Pro and many more!   STEEM works very well, even in Windows XP.  You can find out all the details on Tim's Atari Site.  If you really want to try your hand on a vintage sequencer this is the ticket.  Find out why some European artists still use their Ataris as the midi platform of choice.

Atari Cubase (ancestor to Cubase VST/SX)

This is the ancestor of Cubase VST32.  It ran on the Atari ST, TT and Falcon series and was one of the only sequencers to successfully record and playback audio tracks on the platform.  Steinberg claims it was the 1st sequencer maker to have the graphical arrange window as you see below.  Today, all the major sequencers have this horizontal arrangement for constructing songs. 

Cubase main
screenshot courtesy of Tim's Atari Midi World :

Atari Notator (ancestor to Logic)

This is the program the Tweak and many others cut his teeth on.  It is the ancestor of Logic Audio Platinum. Notator was basically a pattern based sequencer.  You built your pattern in the center if the screen and linked them in the arrange screen to the left.  Simple and effective

read about the history of Logic here

Download an mp3 of one of my early Notator Industrial tunes City Rails

Cakewalk Professional 4.0 (ancestor to Sonar)

screenshot courtesy of the Cakewalk and Sonar Users website

Cakewalk started as a DOS program, one of the earliest MIDI programs. There's more Cakewalk screens at the above URL so go check them out. 

M Interactive Composition program

Click to enlarge

One of the better algorithmic editors of the 80's.  You used the mouse to paint the lines in the Cyclic Editor.  Even today, we don't have one of these built into our top flight sequencer.   This program was fun to use.  I used to just sit back and let M play my MIDI system.



Rich's zZounds Software Store


screenshot courtesy of Tim's Atari Midi World :

Dr. T's Tunesmith Algorithmic Phrase Generator

One of my early favorites, as it generated melodies and harmonies to many exotic scales.  The cool thing was that you never knew what Tunesmith was going to come up with.  While the interface text-based and required quite a bit of reading to get up to speed, once you did there were many musical mysteries. 

 Dr. T's Keyboard Controlled Sequencer. 

Click to enlarge

This was the arrange page of an early sequencer.  Where's the grid?  It was in your imagination.  I don't have a Commodore screenshot unfortunately, but it looked much like the one above.  The Keyboard controlled sequencer is called that because you pressed keys on your computer keyboard to trigger the sequences, and the program remembered your moves.  It took quite a bit of thinking to figure out KCS.  The songs I made with it were quite intense. 

Click to enlarge


This is a shot of Protezoa, an editor librarian for the Emu Proteus series modules.  Before XoR, which later became Unisyn, and before Sound Surfer (which became SoundDiver) there were individual editor librarians for popular synths and modules.  Protezoa was one of the best of these, and if you find a master disk of one someday note that there are 64 early patch creations by your resident TweakMeister bundled in the directory. 


Excellent resources on Vintage Sequencers!

Like these screenshots?  There's tons more at Tim's Atari Page

large product image

Moog "Old School"

Other Articles on Sequencers by Tweak

Sequencers and DAWS Index
Review of Cubase 5
Logic Studio 9
Pro Tools LE 8.1
Logic Studio 8
Review of Sonar
Review of Reason
Reason (1st review)
Ableton Live
Logic Pro 7
Logic Pro 6
Logic Platinum 6
Logic Platinum 5
Digital Performer
Sony's Acid
Vintage Sequencers
Early History of Logic
Mac vs PC for Music?
Project 5
Sequencer City!
Cubase SX (original)
Cubase SX3
Using a Mac Pro as your DAW
Using Notebooks as your DAW
Which Sequencer is Best?
MIDI Time Code and Sync Issues
Custom Bank Select Methods in Logic
Write a Sonar Instrument Definition File
Sequencers Price List
zZounds Sequencer Store


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