I was finally able to put some time into making sure that the NetStep application runs using the most recent (publicly) available Silverlight runtime. I have tested this version on the Mac (pretty good performance!) and in Windows (through Parallels on my MacBook Pro). The performance in my particular setup was much better in OSX, but I have a feeling that would be different if I had a dedicated Windows machine.
NetStep is a collaborative musical step sequencer. While this isn’t an electronic music primer, I’ll give a brief overview of what NetStep actually is.
A step sequencer is an electronic music device that allows the musician to program patterns of various “samples,” or sounds. One sample may be a bass drum kick, another might be a snare hit. The musician can use a sequencer to control when these samples are played back, the tempo in which they are played, and usually what effects are applied to the samples.
NetStep is collaborative. In two-player mode, each user is given two “tracks” to work with. (A track is simply a row of “steps” where each step is tied to a sample. When a step is active, the associated sample is played when the playhead moves over that step). When a user hits the “Play” button, NetStep syncs itself with the other user’s sequence, and the two sequences are played back simultaneously. In this way, two musicians can work separately, but preview the joint composition at any time.
Currenty, NetStep only supports built-in samples. In my initial tests, it seems that not all samples are playing correctly, but I’m sure this will be worked out (most likely by a future release of Silverlight).
To get started with NetStep, click here.
**EDIT** – Patrick Hansen, my designer cohort in this NetStep affair, made an informative and attractive user manual.
1. Enter whatever username and password you’d like; this functionality is only used for identification with the other NetStep user.
2. Select single- or multi-user mode. Currently, multi-user is very very primitive. It will only work for two users at a time, and it’s a bit buggy. I hope to improve the backend in the future, or I might just set it up to run as an MSN Messenger application and use the real-time chat network for data transport…we’ll see.
3. Click on the samples in the top 3 “Sample Boxes” in order to preview them. As I said before, it seems that not all samples are playing, so click around until you find some that work.
4. When you find a sample you like, drag it onto a “step.” (The little orange buttons in the main part of the app.) The step will light up, indicating that a sample has been dropped and activated.
5. Play around with different samples, placing them on different steps. If you’re unfamiliar with step sequencers, just play around until you get the hang of how these things work.
6. When you’re ready to test your creation, hit the big orange “Play” button on the bottom. It doesn’t say “Play,” but if you don’t know what a Play button looks like, turn off your computer and pick up a shovel and kill a moose.
You’ll notice the numbers near the play button on the bottom. These represent “pages.” When you start the app, you are automatically on the first page, but the sequencer actually goes through 4 pages before it cycles back around to the beginning. Think of each page as a separate canvas, where all 4 canvases are linked together back-to-back.
I hope this brief tutorial helps the beginner get into this program. Keep in mind that this was built very quickly and is still quirky; I would call this release a Pre-Public Alpha v .2 Super Deluxe Hi-Five. So, please give me feedback; tell me what makes sense, what doesn’t…what works, what features you’d like to see (unless it’s already the most perfect piece of interactive software you’ve EVER seen).