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Atari Notes

Article from Sound On Sound, August 1993

Martin Russ reflects on the thoroughly European Falcon and offers encouragement on getting visual with your ST.

Last month I talked about technology's moving goalposts; one notable one I missed is the amount of RAM you need to run programs. The Atari Falcon is still being advertised with a 1MB RAM version, even though you can apparently only buy 4MB versions, and 2MB is probably the minimum RAM you will need to run anything useful. And with the announcement of the incredibly cheap STFM (only £159), prospective Atari purchasers now have the option of low-cost 'yesterday' technology. ST owners wanting to move to a Falcon may find that low priced new STs make the task of getting-rid of their own ST even harder — see the June '93 Atari column for some ideas on a better way to use an 'old' ST. With some ongoing doubts about the Falcon's ST compatibility, keeping your ST looks like a wise decision.

The ST has always been very popular in Germany, and Atari seem to be taking on more of an EC flavour all the time — the Falcon is definitely a European product. According to press reports, it was designed in Israel — which is apparently in Europe, at least according to the Eurovision Song Contest. But back to the Falcon: Europe seems to be Atari's main market for the Falcon — and buying one should have been eased by Atari's new distribution centre in Holland. With easy movement of goods between EC countries, this should ease the supply problems which often impede the computer business in general, and Atari at Christmas! It may even mean lower prices for the Falcon soon — there are rumours of an imminent price cut, and the long awaited new casing may appear as well. Perhaps we may eventually see a 25 or 33MHz version too. (That's probably enough speculation for one month!) Holland is a good choice for a distribution centre because of its proximity to international transport facilities (the port of Rotterdam, Schipol Airport, canals to the rest of Europe) and especially Germany — for many years the major market for Atari products.

Germany's dominance is very noticeable, with lots of ST/Falcon software becoming available, but a European flavour seems to have developed. Last year saw increased availability of French software (programs like MPI's Feeling Partnerreviewed in SOS April 1992) and this year's MIDI and Electronic Music Show at Wembley saw demonstrations of the intriguingly named John the Composer program from Finland, which is part of a much larger interactive music project. The UK continues to be very active in producing MIDI Files, including some which use them for backing tracks rather than pre-packaged complete songs. Atari have said they expect to sell at least 150,000 Falcons in the UK alone this year. This should be more than enough for the entire music business and still leave some room for other serious users.

On the opposite side of the coin (or should that be Atlantic?) the story seems to be different. Double-Click Software, innovators of a wide range of ST add-ons, and with a few useful MIDI-related accessories in their catalogue, have gone out of business. Buying a Falcon is reportedly none too easy in the US, and I have seen one report which mentioned a figure of only 150 in the whole of the States — and this despite a glowing preview in Byte magazine. Perhaps Atari UK could export some!


ST programmers started with sequencers, then moved on to editor/librarians, which were superseded by universal/generic editor/librarians with searching, categorising, randomisation and so on. Jeff Minter broke the mould early on by releasing the Trip-a-Tron program, which offered you the opportunity to create wildly busy, bright and bouncy rave/techno/ambient/cyber graphics using just your ST — but five years too early! Popular after that were sequencers with built in universal editor/librarians, and these were quickly followed by every programming house worth the name releasing some sort of algorithmic music creation program. After a brief foray into home-organesque auto-accompaniment programs, programmers returned to mathematics with a host of music generating programs based on the Mandelbrot set and other fractal objects. They now seem to have moved on to direct-to-disk recording systems. Somewhere on this route, someone hit on the idea of having a program create music and pictures!

Of course, you don't get a sort of 'computer age' Rolf Harris — after all, most real-time ST generated images are sophisticated escapees from the attics of 1970s Spirograph owners, with lots of geometric shapes and primary colours (or even black and white!). But what really makes anything like this is the almost magical way in which a combination of sound and pictures can seem to work together. As a child I can remember my brother and I listening to Hawkwind LPs whilst watching the television with the TV sound turned down — and you would be amazed at how good the synchronisation between two unrelated things can be once your mind gets to work on them. When the two are genuinely related, then you get an experience which can be hypnotic, riveting and certainly eye-catching. As a diversion, in the short term at least, it could be a low-cost alternative to TV soap operas. The acting and plot are certainly better than (deleted in the public interest — Ed.)

There are quite a few Public Domain (PD) examples of ST programs which produce synchronised (and pseudo-synchronised) music and pictures (M&P) — often as so-called 'demos', but sometimes offering some control over what happens. Newtronic distribute a commercial M&P program called Music Mandala.

You could use a 'multi-media' program like HiSoft/Microdeal/AVR's Video Master to take your own music and add a video, which means that you need to get busy with a camcorder, or else use one of the many graphics programs to produce your own pictures. There are loads of PD paint and pattern generation programs, including my own Ripples program, which got a very high rating in a popular computer magazine. None of this will cost anything like as much as a real video, but you may well be surprised at the way the results 'gell'. Happy syncing!


Under some circumstances, the Atari ST can read disks from the IBM PC and compatibles — it depends on the version of BIOS in the PC, and the Operating System in the ST, amongst other variables. Once you have sorted things out for the ST, it is usually quick and relatively painless to transfer to and fro. Equally, disks from many of the Yamaha equipment range can be read on the PC — I produced a disk for the V50 with the help of a friend's PC and my ST. Yamaha use the space character in filenames, but as long as you avoid this, then you can read the file directories. For a Mac, things are more involved. You need a SuperDrive (introduced in the Mac IIs and present in all current machines) and some software: something like Apple File Exchange or PC Exchange will do.

However, these three facts do not necessarily combine to produce what you might expect. In fact, reading disks from Yamaha equipment is not always possible with an ST — but you can duplicate them with a bit copier program, and even format them, which is usually lots quicker on the ST (or a PC). Yamaha's CX5 music computer used the MSX-DOS disk format, which is again usually readable by ST or PC. The Mac does not like Yamaha or MSX disks, and usually reports that they are empty! PC disks are OK on the Mac, although if you write to them you can find that reading and writing can take a long time afterwards.

What often goes wrong is writing to a disk from another type of machine, and creating a folder/directory is sometimes very dangerous; you will need to make test disks to verify just what is happening before you try it on any real data! Of course, files from any of these machines are probably not usable on anything else, with the exception of text and MIDI Files. Most virus programs will also be rendered harmless if they arrive on the wrong type of machine, so you do gain something! It all goes to show that when a computer person says 'compatible', they mean something rather different to what you might imagine.


MUSIC MANDALA: Distributed by Newtronic, (Contact Details)

VIDEOMASTER: Microdeal, (Contact Details)


Martin Russ is the SOS equivalent of the 'fifth Beatle', having written for the magazine from its inception in 1985. He has been a staunch member of the DX Owners' Club, and now regularly contributes to the UK MIDI Association's newsletter. By day he works hard in British Telecom's R&D labs; by night he composes electronic music and scours the world's bulletin boards, programmes all manner of computers, solves complicated MIDI problems and still finds time for his family and playing the Bodhran at weekends!

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Publisher: Sound On Sound - SOS Publications Ltd.
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Sound On Sound - Aug 1993



Feature by Martin Russ

Previous article in this issue:

> Technics KN2000 Workstation

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> Apple Notes

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