Interesting discussion the history of an early live sequencer. It sounds a hell of a lot more live than the crap we live with today. Check out the specs:

From Leiner Media

The Zyklus MIDI PERFORMANCE SYSTEM is a MIDI equipment controller designed provide an unprecedented level of musical control. It achieves this by allowing the musician to interact with previously recorded MIDI data such as sequences so that comlex music can be build up in real time. In a typical setup, the MIDI PERFORMANCE SYSTEM would be used in conjunction with a MIDI master keyboard or keyboard synthesiser, plus up to 64 slave MIDI devices – synthesisers, expanders, drum machines, MIDI-equiped signal processors, etc.

The MIDI PERFORMANCE SYSTEM can be thought of a collection of sequencers, MIDI control boxes and MIDI effects units integrated into a single system. This system is designed so that it can be “played” like a musical instrument in its own right. At its most basic level it is rather like 12 polyphonic sequencers, each of which can be run at any transposition or set of simultaneous transpositions independently of the others, simply by pressing a not or chord on the MIDI control keyboard. 99 different sequences can be stored in each memory bank, of which any 12 can be assigned to the front panel for immediate access together with related control information. These sequences need not consist of repeating musical phrases. They could be single chords, short fast runs which end on held chords, segments of control data such as MIDI program changes, the synthesisers/drum part for an entire song, etc.
In addition to keyboard triggering, sequences can be triggered from a footswitch, an external trigger source or directly from the front panel. The panel controls consist of 40 keys mostly with LED indicator, plus a encoder wheel used for tempo control, editing functions, menu selection, etc. User information is provided by a 40 x 2 backlit LCD with externally adjustable brightness and contrast.

Here is the discussion:


Sound on Sound part II

And here a tit-bit from the sound on sound discussion.

Bill Marshall, inventor of this fascinating toy that only sold forty units.

First, the Zyklus MPS was designed by Pete Kellock and myself in the mid 1980’s at a time when personal computers were totally incapable of doing any serious music work. We wanted to build a system that was particularly suited to live performance and was built to withstand the rigours of the road. Basically, the Zyklus MPS allowed you to record up to 12 musical fragments per configuration (24 configs in total) and to be able to play any of these fragments polyphonically, ‘as-is’ or in rapid one-shot style from the keyboard. There were umpteen methods of triggering these fragments and this even extended to the point of being able to loop and trigger them on the beat (not the bar) and asynchronously if preferred, building up huge complex rhythms, transposing the lot and collapsing them back down to simpler phrases, changing the entire sound set in the process. The important thing is that this could all happen in real time as your imagination took you.

There were two drawbacks to this process. The first was that the little musical fragments needed to be prerecorded (ideally) and the second issue was that although you could get some incredible stuff happening, being able to reproduce it exactly from performance to performance was very difficult because triggering something on the beat or off the beat could give profoundly different results. I still have recordings from half a dozen people who were each given the same pre-loaded material and asked to come up with something, and this resulted in six pieces of music that were totally different, and I mean totally different.

Because of the small quantities and build quality of the Zyklus, it was too expensive, and some may say radical, for its time. Nobody seemed to see the potential in being able to trigger tracks or phrases at any time or pitch and seemed to prefer their sequencers to be electronic equivalents of tape. We were thus unable to make a living from this and the uptake of the Atari ST and the resulting music software really killed it.

I then went to work for Vangelis, designing a number of stage and studio items. During this period, I designed the functionality of the Direct sequencer along with Pete Kellock from my Zyklus days. Reading back on this and other forums regarding what Direct is and is not is quite entertaining so I will put the record straight. First of all, however, there are a couple of functions on Direct which I cannot talk about and no, nothing exists quite like these functions to this day, which is a pity.

At its most basic, Direct is a series of 8 independent synth controllers whereby Vangelis could switch any one synth (or zone) on or off without note hanging. This is incredibly more useful than it seems and it amazes me that so few people see the potential in this. You could create arpeggios live, have any of them replayed at any master tempo multiple, transpose it, change the sound, etc. all in real time. So it’s an eight channel arpeggiator whereas the Zyklus didn’t do arpeggiation at all. Well, partly, because you could also record sequences live as well and not only that but have the sequences you recorded arpeggiated as well, without ‘wrong’ notes occuring. The amazing potential came when you took the timing and other things from one replaying channel and superimposed it on one or more channels. Doesn’t sound like much but this could be done easily; that is the purpose of the knobs on Direct – there are no hidden menus here. Above all it was reproducable.

It is very difficult to describe the musical results from eight independent arpeggiators, all playing at different but synchronised rates and in one or more ways being dependent on each other. Change something on one arpeggio or sequence and you get a chain reaction… I trust you see what I am getting at. The main difference between Zyklus and Direct is that Direct addresses the shortcomings of actually recording live with an empty machine and is less likely to produce results that seem out of control. What Direct is NOT is auto-accompaniment and does not rely on prerecorded lookup tables that adapt to your playing as the Korg Karma does. The results from the Karma and Direct and Zyklus are very different. There is in fact, very little crossover of fuctionality.

I think the biggest problem in today’s music market is that we experimenters are very much a minority. I think that the Zyklus unit had a user interface problem that was addressed to a large extent with Direct, but having spoken to many many keyboard players, describing what these systems do results in a glassy stare. People work in their own ways and ultimately, one has to produce something that can adapt to these working methods and not require a total change of perspective. I don’t believe that in today’s market, an upgraded version of Zyklus/Direct would sell at any price. The main reason for replying to this forum is my attempt to guage reaction to the possibility of me releasing a software version instead. I have been toying with the idea for years and even considered producing a master keyboard controller for large synth rigs with all this instant, hands-on standard and experimental stuff built in. The technology is there. Is the market? A software version may be a good way of finding out…

I agree that the major failings of the Zyklus MPS was the price and the user interface. In fact, it was the lessons learned from this that helped shape the custom built Direct sequencer for Vangelis. Only forty Zyklus machines were sold – all said, it was overpriced and most importantly, it required musicians to work in a slightly different way. I think it is important to be able to adapt to the way musicians work and not to force them to change their fundamental working methods.

I think I will design a software version of a live performance system though initially, I will restrict it to MIDI. I will contact some other vendors to see if they are interested in perhaps distribution or incorporation into other products. However, I need to make one thing clear – I cannot simply make a copy of Direct since this was paid for by Vangelis and I must respect aspects of this design which he considers proprietary. Having said this, I don’t think there is anything in Direct now that has not been seen on other equipment albeit in a more limited way. In Direct, it was the combination and interactivity of these features which was quite unique at the time.

If you good people could take the trouble to think what would be really great features in such a software product (that is, a performance instrument that covers the ground between Zyklus and Direct) then I would be very grateful for your comments. What do you consider to be the most useful things? For example, my experience shows that the ability to switch synths/layers on and off without note hanging is invaluable in a live situation. Also, hearing 8 channels of arpeggiation or sequencing with inter-related timing is something that has to be heard to fully appreciate. Most importantly, I personally consider the most important thing to be the ability to change things (synths, zones, programs, sequences, arpeggiation, timing and so on) without delving into menus, stopping the music playback or anything that interrupts a creative flow.

If I get a design finalised, I will obviously give full credit for any suggestions used and would ask the same contributors if they would participate in the pre-release beta testing, etc. The reason I am asking for input is to ensure that working methods that are common now can be incorporated in the design. There are many many ways that people work now whereas in the 1980’s, choices were a lot more limited.


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3 Responses to “Sequencer occult: Zyklus and Direct Sequencer”

  1.   Hendrik Says:

    Now,years later,i am reading this and must confess that i am still waiting for a suitable live sequencer/arpeggiator as software…nothing really works or makes fun…contact me over myspace if you know of one that can transpose sequences in realtime and things like that…thnks…

  2.   biz Says:

    Have you tried music wonk from http://algoart.com/ ?

    Build your own. Or do the same in Reaktor, if you want.

  3.   steve Says:

    Its is 2014 now and zyklus improvisor is slowly evolving but I’m really hoping a company like bitwig or arturia can help the original developer with it. I would like to see it continue to be a standalone program but that can be seamlessly integrated into modern daws. There I think it will flourish and really change the way we make music like no other program we have, especially live.