History of Cubase

Many of today's popular pieces of software originated on older and much less powerful machines than we are used to today. As an example, Microsoft's ubiquitous Office suite originated on DOS based PC's, with the first windowed version appearing on Apple's 128K Macintosh computer in 1985. Indeed, Windows itself was first announced as a windowing extension to the PC version of Office, before becoming a shell for DOS. In fact, many sequencers on the Macintosh and Windows have links to software released on machines that pre-date the Microsoft dominated era of computing, and this is what we are going to look at with this series. Well, I have to do something now that the synth series has finished ;-)

For this installment, I'm going to cover the sequencers that I first become productive on, Steinberg's Pro 24 and Cubase.

The origins of Pro 24 pre date even the Atari ST, when Karl Steinberg and Manfred Rürup developed and launched a MIDI sequencer for the Commodore 64 home computer. As the Commodore machine had no built in MIDI interface, one had to be bundled with the software, which also acted as an effective copy protection device. After all, with no interface, the software was pretty much useless. However this was 1984 and the beginning of the MIDI revolution, but the Commodore 64's lack of memory showed and a keyboard controlled interface could make things pretty complex when editing, but it worked and could be used for complex MIDI sequencing.

Then at a trade show, they saw the Atari ST, which came with built in MIDI ports and a mouse controlled interface, suddenly the possibility of making a professional product that could be used everywhere without additional interfaces was possible. If the computer sold to musicians, they would need software, and if they were there at the beginning, there was more chance of being a success.

Steinberg Pro 24 version IIIPro 24 took the basic principles of Pro16, but allowed more tracks than there were MIDI channels by allowing tracks to share channels, introduced a number of editing screens including list edit and drum edit. Pro 24 also took advantage of the ST's high resolution monochrome mode, though it could also be used in medium resolution if you were prepared to put up with the garishly coloured and cramped interface.

Each of the 24 tracks could have its own settings for MIDI channel, voice, volume, pan and global settings to alter velocity on each note by a certain amount. While it took the principles of Pro 16 that bit further, it wasn't the easiest of systems to master, but users who upgraded from Pro 16 felt right at home with the new software. Subsequent upgrades provided additional features and streamlined the interface. Basic score editing was introduced in version 2 and improved in version 3, and it was also possible to edit system exclusive data and load raw system exclusive files (Something which vanished from Pro 24's successor).

Steinberg TwelveSteinberg also offered a cut down version of Pro 24 called Twelve, which had 12 tracks and only a single editing option in the form of a cut down list editor. The basic interface remained the same and the software retained the MIDI activity bars along the bottom of the screen, something which became synonymous with Steinberg's software.

The layout did change a little, but in terms of features, part from the lack of tracks it was almost the same as Pro 24 version 1 when it was released, though by this time Pro 24 was on version 3, and also the successor to the sequencer crown was being rumored, and it was quite a departure from what had gone before.

Steinberg finally announced Cubit Pro 24's successor, to the world in 1989 and started showing the new interface. Later versions of Pro 24 had aSteinberg Cubitallowed an external interface from Steinberg to be used to allow SMTP synchronisation and also the use of the devices additional MIDI interface. Cubit also introduced a new multi-tasking extension to the ST's operating system called MROS, which would allow Cubit to work alongside sound editors for synthesizers and also allow easy addition of external MIDI interfaces by adding the driver to the MROS folder.

The new interface was a complete departure from the interface of Pro 24, allowing you to see each part on each track and move them around easily with the mouse. Right clicking brought up a toolbox which allowed you to change the primary function of the mouse, from simple pointer and dragging, to erasing or 'Gluing' parts on the same track together. While Pro 24 introduced ghost parts that took up no additional memory, Cubit allowed you to see the difference between a normal part and a ghost part as ghost parts were lighter gray. New editing options included the Interactive Phraze Synthesizer (I.P.S.) and new quantizing options.

There was a cloud on the horizon though, someone already owned the rights to the Cubit name, and if some stories circulating at the time are to be believed, Cubit was also a rude word in french. Whatever the truth, the name was changed just before launch and Cubit became Cubase.

Even so, not all was smooth going, many users complained that that MIDI activity bars from Pro 24 were missing, and while Steinberg initially said that they were not really necessary, they later promised to add them into version 2 of the software, but as version updates are usually paid for, users were still not happy. As this was starting to get mention in the musical press, and some users were saying they would stick with Pro24, Steinberg added the MIDI activity bars in one of the updates to Cubase version 1.

Steinberg CubaseBy version 3, Cubase had become a mature and powerful sequencer, and had started the transition to other hardware platforms. The Apple Macintosh and Windows PC's now had versions of Cubase, which could read Atari files and the Atari could read files transferred from the Mac or PC. Version 3 also introduced the idea of making the various editors modular, so the MIDI Mixer, System Exclucive editor, Interactive Phraze Synthesizer and other modules could be activated and loaded separately, or removed if memory was tight.

Version 3 was also the basis for Cubase Audio, which was available for both the regular Atari ST/TT series and a version dedicated to the Atari Falcon, which could do hard disk recording and advanced audio processing with its onboard advanced sound subsystem. On the Atari ST/TT, Cubase audio needed an external recorder such as the Yamaha CBX series. This was also carried over to the Apple Macintosh, and as the systems improved in performance, recording could be done by the computer, much the same as the Falcon, but it was 1995, 3 years after the demise of the Atari Falcon before the PC version of Cubase could reliably handle audio recording.

Cubase LiteBut back to 1991 and Steinberg repeat what they did with Pro 24 and release a cut down version of Cubase, called Cubase Lite. While this had more tracks available to it than Steinberg's Twelve, it was in many ways more limited, which even by this time seemed crazy as you could buy fully featured sequencers for a similar price, though none of them had that 'Steinberg Cubase' quality to the interface. If you wanted that, you either had to put up with the compromise or part with the cach. Cubase Lite still sold however, and was later made available as freeware on the cover of a German music magazine in the late 1990's. Cubase itself has never been made freeware, in part because to stop piracy of its flagship product, Steinberg implemented a dongle based copy protection system, which was embedded quite deep into Cubase's code. While cracks were available, they generally had stability issues and could cause erratic operation.

Cubase continues with a similar interface long after the Atari versions stopped being supported, the first re-arrangement arrived towards the end of 2000 with the release of Cubase VST 5. This still apparently included some legacy code dating back to the Atari days, though all this changed in 2002 with the release of Cubase SX, which dropped all legacy code from the Cubase line, and was the first true departure from the established Cubase interface that first arrived on the ST.

Cubase is still available and being developed by Steinberg, information on this is available at steinberg.net. Cubase for Atari is still available from this site & via sites such as ebay or from keychange music services.