Dr. T’s KCS Keyboard Controlled Sequencer

Dr. T’s KCS Keyboard Controlled Sequencer

The first software I ever used to create music was Dr. T’s KCS. I used it on an Atari 1040ST. The software was strictly to control external hardware midi devices. Hard discEmile Tobenfeld recording and virtual instruments were years away from hitting the mainstream. A guy named Emile Tobenfeld (see photo) was the man behind Dr. T’s and KCS and he created this software in 1984.

Take a look at the screen shot above of the “Track Mode”. You see those 48 “clip slots”? Each one would play back a midi part. You could mute and un-mute parts to try different musical ideas. You could also record midi into any part. Sound familiar? It’s an early version of Ableton Live’s session view! Amazing no?

Atari 1040ST

KCS also had an “Edit Mode” where you could transform parts. You could do quiet a lot with your midi data including change the pitch, velocity, controllers, pitch bends, compress and expand length, reverse, and much more. I have strong memories of using the “Step Time Track” feature to make drum patterns.Dr. T’s KCS Packaging

The “Step-Time Track” is used to enter notes one at a time. You specify the value of the note, (half-note, quarter note, etc.) and its length, and then play the note on your MIDI keyboard. Velocity can be recorded from the keyboard, or it can be preset. Step-time tracks can be appended to existing tracks. – myatari.net

We have come an amazingly long way from those days. Yet we were still able to create some good music. It’s really not what you use but how you use it!

photo credit: tweakheadz.com, myatari.net and DrewVigal

12 Comments

  1. After KCS on Atari I moved on to:

    Cubase Atari
    Cubase VST/32 on a Mac clone (PowerComputer Powercenter Pro210)
    Cubase SX on a Powermac G4 Dual 500 Tower

    and today:

    Ableton Live 7 on a Intel Mac

    Reply

    1. i must thanks dr T for this sofware which were my sequencer long years ago, before to come to pc. with it,with its philosophy I learned all is need for understand well midi protocles.
      i ask if young people , today, who buid midi music with the new sequencers with ergonomic and graphic interface can understand as well we done the midi events

      Reply

  2. KCS was a fantastic sequencer. I used it on the Amiga for several years. It’s author Emile Tobenfeld is nothing short of a genius. He was also extremely helpful and always happy to answer emails. He even posted me a cassette of his own music which was lovely of him.

    After KCS, I used Cubase for a while before moving onto Logic. In the last couple of years I’ve been mostly using Ableton Live whose session view seems to have been inspired by KCS. Though there are still some things that KCS was better at even than Live, such as clips that could launch other clips.

    Reply

    1. kcs was my first midi sequencer on amiga, between 87 and 91. after, bars and pipes took the place. now playing with cubase5, i never retreive the philosophy and the possibilities of those sequencer in any sofware on PC

      Reply

      1. Ableton’s Session View brings a lot of what I liked about KCS to me.

        Reply

        1. I have floppy discs of sequences we composed and or edited. Purchased thru Dr T’s and edited thru KCS. I dont’ have any of the software for my computer anymore. Would you happen to have any idea what software might access these files today?

          ANy help would be much appreciated.

          Thank you!

          Reply

  3. mister_allmine March 28, 2008 at 9:36 am

    I purchased 2 Atari STs almost 10 yrs ago, came with a box of software including KCS and Tiger, but I have never got around to using it, beacuse I never had the space to leave my kit set up long-term. We finally bought or own home, and tho it is almost 2010, I still plan to use KCS. I picked up 2 1040s, 1 color and 1 mono monitor, 1 ext harddrive and 1 floppydrive, printer and 2 mice with boxes of floppys for $50! I think it was fate. Aside from a few Korg syths, most of my stuff is 80s era anyway, so I’ll be keeping w tradition.

    Reply

  4. Hi mister_allmine… Take some photos or a video of KCS in action. There’s nothing on YouTube… I would love to see it running again!

    Reply

    1. I’ve been thinking of posting a video for the curious kiddies whom I love and have much respect for! I don’t bother with the ST and just use the C64 which I think sounds better. True, the ST omega version has PVG but I do fine with KCS/TIGER. I’ve tried Cubase and Logic which I thought were ok but like KCS. Who knows, maybe as mentioned here the reason I like Ableton is how it reminds me of KCS. Why should I pay lots of money and have to worry about keeping up with updates and buying a new computer every few years. There are too many other musical toys out there to have to put all my hard earned dollars into the latest tech fetish to worry about that.
      A computer is a computer is a computer no matter what fancy new dress it wears. American engineers like Dave Smith, Yannes, and others put more attention to the quality of chips. To make costs affordable while not skimping on quality they merely stripped machines down by eliminating knobs and faders in favor of a keypad, all which serve the same purpose. With a hundred dollar bcr2000 and any place to dump memory and save patches, anyone can have access to the potential to what a real synth does.

      Reply

  5. actually I still primarily use dr t’s kcs. I like the atari st but to use prefer the c64 version with full SCI synth and drums setup. For under $500 I still have yet to see anything today that beats this hardware/software setup. Ableton is cool but softsynths VSTs and DAWs are overrated and overpriced, less fun to use, make users lazy and less creative. Seems more people today have the keeping up with the jones tech fetish. just me opinion

    Reply

    1. That’s great you still use KCS! I should get an old ST off eBay and try and get a KCS set up going. I agree on the softsynth part but since I record a lot of vocals I need a modern DAW.

      Reply

      1. That’s cool. I’ve never found I needed a modern DAW to do anything besides mastering the pure sound good equipment offers me. I have 8, 12, 16, and 24 bit gear and seems to work for me. Even though it is more work extensive, I just prefer the creative process and having creative control over what I do.

        Reply

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