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A Profusion Of Dreams


Trade shows often make the best stage for unveiling new equipment - did this year's Frankfurt show witness any revolutions? Simon Trask brings the news from Germany.


NOBODY WHO ATTENDS the annual Frankfurt Music Fair can doubt how big an event it is, not only in terms of its size but also its importance to the musical instrument industry. At this year's Fair, held towards the end of March, there was a record total of 1077 exhibitors (an increase of 130 on last year) showing their wares on 80,000 square metres of exhibition space. Bearing in mind the momentous changes which have been taking place in Eastern Europe recently, 20 of those 1077 exhibitors were from eastern bloc countries. That Frankfurt is an event of international importance is clear from the fact that a total of 597 companies from 36 countries abroad were exhibiting, while, on the first trade day alone, visitors from 70 countries registered - almost double last year's figure.

Enough of the statistics - what about the gear? New synths from Roland, Korg, Peavey and Ensoniq were making their European debut. Anyone who played them can hardly have failed to notice that synths are sounding more and more alike these days. Or maybe it's just the presets which give that impression.

Peavey finally launched their DPM3 synth in Europe (it's been available in the States for a while) with a suggested selling price of £1899. DPM stands for Digital Phase Modulation, but don't let that put you off. In practice the DPM3 is modelled on a traditional subtractive synthesis architecture, with two oscillators, two DCAs and a filter, an LFO, a dedicated amplitude envelope and three assignable envelopes - all accessible from dedicated front-panel buttons. As has become the norm since the D50 and then the M1 came on the scene, it's the breadth of source samples available for the oscillators which provides the basis for the synth's sonic versatility.

The DPM3 has a 61-note velocity- and channel aftertouch-sensitive keyboard and is 16-voice polyphonic, 16-part multitimbral with dynamic voice allocation across the parts, and has 16-bit sample quality. Its front panel looks very chic but at the same time has been designed with accessibility and ease of use in mind. In addition to its synthesis capabilities the synth has all the paraphernalia of the workstation - onboard nine-track sequencer with 20,000-note capacity, programmable drumkits, built-in 3.5" floppy disk drive, and sophisticated digital effects with 24-bit processing and up to four simultaneous effects - but Peavey have opted for the description "Composition Centre" instead. A notable feature of the DPM3 is its onboard 64K sample RAM (expandable to 512K) which allows new waveforms to be loaded off disk or via MIDI: the RAM is battery-backed, which means that your samples don't disappear when you switch the DPM3 off.

Peavey are keen to point out that the DPM3 is totally software-based, by which they mean that it implements all its sound generation in software using DSP chips, rather than making use of specially-developed chips tailored to a specific synthesis system. Consequently, the argument goes, the DPM3 brings to the synthesiser the same concept of software upgradability which we take for granted with computer-based sequencers these days. The company claim that they could, for instance, introduce FM synthesis alongside the DPM3's existing synthesis capabilities. But for the moment the existing DPM3 offers plenty to be going on with, thank you very much.

Roland's new flagship synth, the D70 Super LA Synthesiser (£1799), builds on the D50 concept by introducing multisampled 'complete' sounds alongside the attack samples and loops, and two ROM card slots which provide access to a further library of samples - new dedicated cards and U110 series cards. The D70 is 30-voice polyphonic and six-part multitimbral, and includes a drumkit section which can be played as part six, while the inevitable signal processing offers a range of reverb, delay, chorus and flanging effects.

D70 patches utilise up to four Tones, each of which is routed through a TVF and TVA after being mangled by Roland's new Differential Loop Modulation processing, which allows you to define the start point and loop length of the sample and then process it with loop modulation. By allowing you to substantially alter a sample before you reach the filtering stage, the D70 introduces a new degree of flexibility into the traditional subtractive synthesis model.

The D70 has a 76-note weighted synth keyboard which provides attack and release velocity and channel aftertouch (the synth can also respond to poly aftertouch via MIDI). Roland have taken an encouraging step in the direction of old-style synth front panels with the inclusion of four sliders and associated buttons. These allow you to balance the levels of the four Tones and to switch them in/out when you're in play mode, while in edit mode they provide equal editing access to all four Tones for the currently-selected parameter.

Korg's new synth, the 32-voice polyphonic WaveStation (£1575), ditches such workstation accoutrements as the onboard sequencer and dedicated drumkit section, and sees the company getting back to the idea of a synth as an instrument which allows you to be creative rather than re-creative with sound. Each Patch can have up to four oscillators, each of which can be routed through its own filter and amplifier and modified by two assignable LFOs and an envelope. Each oscillator can draw on one of 365 internal waves or further waves on a plug-in ROM card. Alternatively an oscillator can be assigned one of 32 preset or 96 user-programmable wave sequences of up to 256 steps: each step can be assigned pitch and duration values, allowing you to create melodies and rhythms, while crossfades between steps allow you to move smoothly from one waveform to another. Wave sequences can be referenced to an incoming MIDI clock.

The four sounds per Patch can then be mixed dynamically in time using a front-panel joystick or a four-point mix envelope, a feature which has its roots in the vector synthesis of Sequential's Prophet VS synth; this is hardly surprising, as some of the old Sequential design team were responsible for the WaveStation.

Up to eight Patches can be combined to create a Performance. Each Patch has its own key and velocity range settings, allowing you to create all manner of keyboard textures; additionally, as each Patch can be set to transmit on its own MIDI channel, you can "echo" the WS texture on external MIDI instruments, making the WS a sophisticated MIDI controller keyboard.

The WS also introduces matrix modulation-type facilities, with 13 modulation sources assignable to five destinations (amp level, filter cutoff, oscillator pitch and mixer x-axis and y-axis), while the built-in stereo digital multi-effects can now have selected parameters controlled in real time from a further 12 modulation sources. All in all, the WS looks as if it has plenty of potential to offer to the adventurous programmer.

Frankfurt also witnessed the debut, at last, of Korg's 16-bit S3 Rhythm Machine (£899), which has several interesting aspects to it. For a start, the attack and decay components of the drum and percussion sounds have been stored as separate data, which means that not only can you combine the attack of one instrument with the decay of another, you can also tune the decay portion of a sound but not its attack portion, which can give a more natural response.

The sequencer song section (8,000 notes internal, 16,000 notes with the addition of a RAM card, 96ppqn resolution) has eight tracks: four pattern-based and four continuous, making it easy to overdub extended percussion workouts over pattern-based accompaniments. The S3 is also equipped with SMPTE in/out, making an additional synchroniser unnecessary when syncing to tape or video, and can interface with MIDI Time Code. Unusually for a drum machine, the S3 has two built-in stereo multi-effects units, which can be used in serial or parallel configurations. The rear panel offers MIDI In and two MIDI Outs, plus L/R stereo audio outputs and four individual polyphonic outs.

Ensoniq have a new synth in the form of the SQ1 (£1189) which fits into the workstation category. Basically it simplifies the VFX's synth section and front panel while retaining much of the onboard sequencing sophistication of the VFX SD; it doesn't have the SD's onboard disk drive, but patches and sequences can be saved to a RAM card. The SQ1 has built-in digital effects and an increased selection of drum and percussion sounds, while its 61-note keyboard is velocity- but not aftertouch-sensitive (channel and polyphonic aftertouch are responsive over MIDI, however). The onboard sequencer doesn't restrict you to recording single-patch musical parts: for instance, with bass and piano sounds assigned to tracks one and two and given appropriate keyboard ranges, you can quickly summon up a bass/piano split and record two musical parts together by clicking and double-clicking on the relevant dedicated Track buttons in familiar Ensoniq fashion.

Meanwhile, the VFX and VFX SD are getting the software update treatment with the addition of a distortion effect algorithm and, for the SD's sequencer, multiple track recording and step entry of mixdown information.

The new Yamaha synth range - SY77, SY55, SY22 and TG55 - has already been covered in MT, and there were no additions at Frankfurt. Neither Kawai or Casio had anything new in the way of synths, samplers or drum machines, both companies seemingly concentrating their efforts on the home keyboard market. However, Kawai did reveal that this year's BMF would see the launch of a synth called the KL1, which will cost around £400 and have a 61-note velocity-sensitive keyboard, 16-bit sound quality, editable sounds, built-in rhythms and plugin sound cards, and will represent a step on from the K1 technology. The company will also be launching a new drum machine to replace the R50E, though no further details were available.

Frankfurt did see the launch of three new audio units from Kawai, the EQ8 1U-high 19" rack-mount eight-channel parametric equaliser (£199) with level and frequency range and slope settings for each channel, the PM802 2 x 10 watt powered speakers (£139) complete with mixer offering two music and two hi-fi inputs, and the compact MX16 16:2 mixer (£599) which offers three effects sends/returns (mono/stereo) with separately adjustable return levels, separate master and record outs, built-in dynamic noise reduction, and switchable mic/line input gain, treble and bass, pan and three effect send level controls per input channel.

Kawai are also trying their hand at budget computer music in the form of the FunLab system. In fact this is a three-way collaboration between Kawai, Commodore and Steinberg, providing an integrated system of Amiga 500 computer, Steinberg software and Kawai keyboard and a MIDI interface (In, Thru and two Outs) and accessory speakers. The software gives you a five-track sequencer, a synth editor, a "jukebox" for playing pre-recorded contemporary and classical music, realtime graphic indication of played notes, and computer-aided programming of various keyboard functions.

Back in the early '80s Roland were involved in computer-based music systems through their Amdek range. More recently as part of their Desk Top Music System they've developed the CM range of computer music sound modules and peripherals, and now they've introduced Tentrax, their own Atari ST-based ten-track sequencing software which has been optimised for playing and controlling the CM range: the 49-key, velocity-sensitive PC200 MIDI Keyboard Controller for use in conjunction with the modules via the ST and Tentrax; and the CP40 Pitch-to-MIDI converter.

Other new items from Roland include the M12E 12-channel rack-mount mixer, U220 rack-mount version of the U20 sample player. SN550 Digital Noise Eliminator, MC50 MicroComposer, MV30 Studio M (a combined sequencer and multitimbral sound source), and SPD8 Total Percussion Pad (£399).

At the other end of the price scale, the company were finally showing their answer to Akai's S1000 sampler, the S770 linear 16-bit stereo sampler. The S770 has 16-bit ADCs, 20-bit DACs and 24-bit internal processing, comes with 2Mb of sample RAM fitted as standard, upgradable to 16Mb, and offers a choice of 22.05kHz, 24kHz, 44.1kHz and 48kHz sample rates: the standard memory offers 22.5 seconds of mono sampling time at 44.1kHz, while with the fully-expanded memory this increases to 181.8 seconds. A built-in 40Mb hard disk allows 2Mb of data to be loaded in 3.5 seconds; a 3.5" floppy disk drive has also been included. Monochrome and digital RGB monitor outputs can be utilised as an alternative to the onboard LCD screen.

Sample data can be transferred via MIDI in Sample Dump Standard format. Coaxial and optical digital audio connections conforming to the AES/EBU standard allow direct digital transfer of audio data between the S770 and a DAT machine, direct digital sampling off CD, and signal output to effects units with digital I/O connections, such as Roland's R880 digital reverb and E660 digital EQ. Analogue audio connections are catered for by L/R stereo outs and six individual polyphonic outs, while a SCSI connection allows you to hook up further hard disks. Roland's CD5 CD ROM player and their new M07 Magnetic Optical Disk Unit.

The S770 is 24-voice polyphonic, 32-part multitimbral and responds on 16 MIDI channels at once. Digital TVF, TVA and LFO processing is included, and a re-sampling function which combines two samples into one of six selected algorithms to create a new sample; these algorithms include TVF, TVA and a Ring Modulator for added synthesis capabilities.

Sophisticated high-end samplers like the S770 and the S1000 are blurring the distinctions between musical instrument and digital recorder. In fact, Roland will be entering the digital recording market with the DM80 four-track hard disk-based recording system, which wasn't on public show at the Fair.

Not to be outdone, Korg announced their intention to enter this potentially highly lucrative market by displaying the Digital Audio Workstation, an eight-track hard-disk recorder packaged in a dedicated mixing desk format. I say "intention to enter" because the recorder wasn't so much as winking an LED at passers-by, nor were Korg saying when it might pass the intentional stage and become actual.

One hard-disk recording system which is very much actual - in fact, already well-established - is Hybrid Arts stereo ADAPII for the Mega 4 ST. The system has been available since May '89, and Hybrid Arts have sold over 300 worldwide. It's being used by major film companies such as Todd AO/Glen Glenn, Twentieth Century Fox and Paramount to edit music, design and spot sound effects, and edit dialogue, and was most recently used for post-production work on Honey, I Shrunk The Kids and Born on the Fourth of July.

ADAP II comes in four rack-mounting modules: Analogue Audio, CPU, DSP and Hard Disk, but allows you to hook up a maximum of seven drives, each of which can have a capacity of from 170Mb to 760Mb, giving you from approximately 12 minutes to 48 minutes per disk at 44.1kHz. New ADAP II features include an extended Play List with manual and MIDI triggering of events, crossfade editing with user-programmable length and type, scrub editing (which simulates tape reel-rocking to ease location of editing points), a MIDI performance page which allows you to play samples via MIDI using four stereo or eight mono voices, optical connectors supporting AES/EBU and S/PDIF formats at rates up to 48kHz, and an erasable optical disk drive option for archiving. The company have also recently announced the release of the TIME Page, a software program for ADAP II which performs time compression and expansion ±50% on recordings.

At the other end of the price scale, Hybrid Arts have developed software which allows you to play and edit the sounds of the budget FM Melody Maker cartridge for the Atari ST (reviewed MT, December '89) from within their EZTrack Plus entry-level sequencer: the Melmak software comes free with the sequencer. Meanwhile, the company's GenEdit generic patch editor/librarian software for the ST has been given M.ROS and Softlink compatibility, allowing it to run with Steinberg and C-Lab software respectively. GenEdit is also now available for the Mac.

A new British company, Lynett Systems Ltd of Cambridge, are entering the digital recording fray with ADAC-SE, a £499 sampling card which allows the Mac SE with at least 1Mb of memory to be used for 16-bit stereo direct-to-disk recording and playback. Utilising a 25MHz DSP with 32-bit processing, 16-bit ADCs with variable sampling rate up to 48kHz and eight 16-bit audio outputs, ADAC-SE allows non destructive editing of recordings, graphic editing with X and Y direction zoom, waveform drawing and amplitude enveloping. The ADAC-SE software (which effectively comes free with the board) also allows you to assemble cue lists of hard disk files which can be synced to an external time source via MIDI Time Code if required; sensible software allows inserting and deleting of cue sheet events with automatic time adjustment of subsequent events. ADAC-SE can also be used as a multitimbral MIDI sampler (16-part) with dynamic voice allocation, velocity and aftertouch responsiveness, pitch wheel control and keyboard splits.

Steinberg unveiled TOPAZ, their hard disk-based digital recording system for the Mac II range, together with the Mac version of Cubase, while Cubase on the ST has now reached v2.0 and includes the intriguing Interactive Phrase Synthesiser page, which processes notes rather than sounds through a synthesiser-like architecture, along with enhanced scorewriting features. The new Cubeat appears to be a scaled-down version of Cubase, not dedicated rhythm-programming software as its name might lead you to think. The program is compatible with M.ROS and with Cubase, Pro24 and Standard MIDI Files sequences, and comes with a free universal SysEx desk accessory, Satellite, which allows macro editing of Synthworks sound banks. Cubeat runs on any ST with at least 1Mb of RAM.

Amiga owners who've been feeling left out in the cold will soon be able to check out Pro24 Amiga, which is more than just a straightforward adaptation of Pro24 III on the ST, and can take advantage of Steinberg's own Amiga MIDI interface. The company's impressive Synthworks range of patch editors is augmented with an editor for Yamaha's SY77 flagship synth which includes the ability to convert DX7 patches into SY77 equivalents. Users of Avalon, Steinberg's generic sample editing software, will be pleased to know that the company have developed a 16-bit D/A board which allows you to listen to samples edited in the computer before transferring them out to your sampler(s). Finally, Cubase owners who require more MIDI Ins and Outs but don't want to buy an SMP24 for the privilege can now invest in MIDEX or MIDEX+ instead. MIDEX combines four MIDI Outs and two MIDI Ins with a key expander offering four slots, while MIDEX+ adds SMPTE/EBU timecode synchronisation facilities.

The integration of hard-disk recording and MIDI sequencing looks set to be one of the most significant developments of the early '90s. Digidesign, developers of the Sound Tools stereo hard disk-based recording system for the Mac SE30 and II, have decided to go the route of co-operating with established sequencer developers. They've got together with fellow US software house Opcode Systems to produce Sound Tools + Digital AudioVision, an integrated MIDI sequencing and digital audio recording system which combines Sound Tools with Opcode's Vision sequencing software for the Mac. Expected to be available in May, the system will allow independent recording, editing and playback of two digital audio tracks, simultaneous editing of MIDI and digital audio data, nondestructive graphic-based editing, and automated mixing with dynamic control over volume and panning.

Atari owners needn't feel left out, as Digidesign have also developed an Atari version of Sound Tools (though you'll need a Mega 2 or Mega 4 to run it) and are currently in discussion with C-Lab about integrating Sound Tools and Creator/Notator.

C-Lab introduced new software for the Atari ST in the form of The Education System, a collection of three software programs: Notator Alpha (which concentrates on the notation aspect of Notator), Aura (ear-training and rhythm-training software) and MIDIA (MIDI education and analysing software). All three programs can operate simultaneously under C-Lab's Softlink multitasking operating system, providing you have a Mega 2 or Mega 4, or a 1040ST upgraded to 2MB.

Polyframe is the name C-Lab have given to a new modular system which allows patch editor/librarian software to co-exist in an integrated environment: programs so far available for the Polyframe environment are PM-SY, PM-VFX, PM-T (the latter for Korg's T Series synths).

Cheetah introduced the Master Series 770 (£849.95), a polyphonic aftertouch keyboard version of the Series 7P which retains the latter's well-balanced feel: the MD16 drum machine and a rack-mount version, the MD16R (still not quite finished, but tantalisingly near: £299.95 and £349.95); expander and five-octave keyboard versions of the SX16 sampler (ditto, £799.95 and £1199.95); and the three-piece Pod electronic drum kit (£159.95).

The most interesting new development from Akai, technologically speaking anyway, is the DD1000 optical disk recorder (estimated cost under £10,000), the first digital system to record to and play back from optical disk rather than use it for archiving. The S1100 sampler (around £3499) is essentially an enhanced version of the S1000, offering improved s/n and dynamic range, real-time digital effects, SMPTE reader/generator and cue list programming, and RAM expandability up to 32Mb.

Other new items from Akai are the EWI3000 electric woodwind instrument and EWI3000M sound module (£699 together), the DIF1200 AES/EBU Digital Interface (£1399 excluding VAT), Klotz AFC1, 12 Format Converter (£1499 excl VAT), the PG55 digital piano (£3750) and the XR10 16-bit digital drum machine (£369).

Last but not least, the name that was on many people's lips: the enigmatic Zoom Corporation who, as subcontractors, have had a hand in some of Japan's most successful musical equipment. Now they're stepping out in their own right with two digital effects units, the Walkman-sized 9002 (£349) multi-effects processor which offers 11 16-bit guitar effects yet can fasten to your belt or a guitar strap. The 1U-high 19" 9010 (£1299) offers 22 16-bit effects and the option to access more off ROM card, and provides four effects configurations including four truly parallel effects. TSC have picked up the UK distribution. The company are planning to follow up the 9010 and 9002 with a couple of synthesisers. Zoom are going to make a splash, for sure.

And that's all folks - until the British Music Fair, at least...

Previous Article in this issue

International Rescue

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The Pioneer

Music Technology - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Music Technology - May 1990

Show Report by Simon Trask

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