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Amiga Notes

This month, as something of a prelude to a forthcoming full review of Bars & Pipes Professional 2, I'm going to be taking a close look at its optional 'extra', SuperJam! 1.1 (£129.95, Meridian Software Distribution). For those who've not encountered SuperJam! before, the package is basically the Amiga's very own version of Band In A Box, with a few unique refinements thrown in for good measure.

The idea of the software is that it provides a 5-piece backing band which you can then orchestrate via a selection of styles. Your role is to simply select the aforementioned style and a suitable chord progression for your automated counterparts to literally jam along with. In theory, no matter how many repeats are made over the same passage, the aforesaid fab five will always come up with an original interpretation — and believe it or not, 99.9% of the time that's exactly what happens.

This access to infinite variety is personified in the Section Design window, an area that's invariably the next stop on the creative road after setting up instrument patches and experimented with a few styles. Once safely entrenched in this window you're presented with the selected number of bars complete with all the virtual musicians mapped above. You then simply punch in or out the various players and assign your preferred chord changes via a pop-up requester which offers almost every chord imaginable — and if by some miracle the chord you require isn't on hand you can create your own in seconds.

When you've finished the chord setup the sequence can be played and more importantly saved by the programs snapshot function. Due to SuperJam!'s tendency to jam over every playback the snapshot option is essential to preserve your favourite version of each bar.

Once active, the snapshot holds the last playback for each instrument in each bar. If the bar is then locked the playback will always repeat the selected variation. Consequently it's easy to build the best section possible by simply auditioning the section bar by bar, building the best possible verse, chorus or whatever...

However it's not always been plain sailing, and if we put the program's potential aside it's safe to say that even the creators of SuperJam! would admit that the initial release of the package wasn't exactly what you'd call bug free. Although the old faults weren't exactly terminal, they did cause the odd headache — not least of which was a severe case of stage fright on the part of one of the members of the band, resulting in a flat refusal to play any part in the proceedings. No matter how much tinkering you tried, the infamous fifth man simply refused to join in — thankfully that particular bug is now long gone.

In addition, the much hyped Turbo sounds and samples which claimed to offer a stereo SuperJam! voice direct from the Amiga sound chip flatly refused to work as promised. Fortunately this again has been revised and now both Turbosound — alias FM synthesis sounds — and Turbo Samples both work perfectly in stereo.


Perhaps the most dramatic improvement of the new version is four grooves within each style which in effect means a song in a specific style can build and vary within itself before the various players add their own embellishments.

Thankfully Blue Ribbon have also added patch storing within each style, so now if you create a selection of patches that are ideal for that particular style they remain resident every time you apply it in the future — saving literally hours of irritation and re-selection for regular users.

Another pleasant touch is the option to select between two octaves when making chord changes, a feature which in effect means much improved user control over the virtual musicians. In a similar user friendly vein the program also boasts the option to load and save chord lists, which can prove a real time saver when the pressure is on and instant results are essential.

For the musically disabled an embarrassingly simple system entitled the Eas-O-Matic MusicMaker has been included, which means the software not only jams around the supplied chords but also generates the chords themselves. Even solos can be added by the software with the only input from the user being a selection of the progression factor, and of course the timing of the note changes.

In addition, the output side of the software has also improved, with direct support for General MIDI instruments and The One Stop Music Shop — Blue Ribbon's new internal sound module. Panning has also finally arrived via an excellent Volume And Pan Grid window, which applies the desired effect by simply monitoring each musician's icon within a small matrix — up and down for volume, left and right for pan. Simple but effective.

Add to the above the option for WB2's double width and double height screen display and you're looking at a major update that could prove invaluable tool to the busy commercial musician.


Obviously the styles mentioned briefly at the beginning are at the heart of the package, and although a reasonable selection come as standard adding at least some of the growing band of add-on style disks is essential for really flexible commercial application.

Thankfully Blue Ribbon aren't slow when it comes to supporting their products and this is reflected in the variety of style disks already on offer. Recent essential additions include Movie Soundtracks, World Music, Dance Mix, Pop/Rock, Classical and Cutting edge. Armed with these styles, and of course those shipped as standard, any exercise in 'lift music' generation whether it be commercial or maybe just for the local amateur dramatics mob is slashed from a few days work to perhaps just a few minutes.

Admittedly some of the styles don't inspire confidence straight away, but with the right patch, some sensible editing of both the sections and the musicians astonishingly good results are possible — and if time is money, SuperJam! could easily pay for itself almost as soon as it emerges form its box.

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Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.


Sound On Sound - May 1993



Feature by Paul Austin

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