The Siel System
A detailed look at Siel's new DK600 keyboard Interface, and Expander.
Siel's new DK600 synthesizer and MIDI Expander make up a crucial combination as Chris Everard discovers.
Name a six-voice polyphonic synthesiser which is a programmable preset, has a noise generator, MIDI and is TOUCH SENSITIVE that you could go out and buy for under a grand?
The Answer: The Siel DK600 Keyboard
The Italian Siel company have seen fit to make some innovative amendments/improvements to the Opera 6 keyboard, which as it stood offered comprehensive features at a very reasonable price. The most notable improvement Siel have made is to the casing and selector switches. This, together with the slightly different colour combination has in their view brought the Opera 6 right up to date with current design trends.
As far as the gubbins are concerned the re-styled keyboard features full Poly Mode on the MIDI connection(s) which enables the user to give subsequent slave keyboards each their own channel numbers, which opens the floodgates when it comes to definable multi-timbral sequencing. There is now a four-way intensity setting on the touch sensitivity side of things which can give amazing control over the ADSR and/or just the Attack of each note. And finally, the third major mode is the floating MIDI key-split function which is designed for when a slave is being used. The player can define where the split comes on the keyboard and what information is then transmitted to the slave. This means that say the top two octaves could be the Opera voicing and the remainder of the keyboard would control the slave keyboard. Thus, if you were using a six-voice slave unit, such as the JX-3P or Siel's own excellent MIDI Expander, you would have six-voice polyphony on the top and bottom of the split point — 12 voice control really makes a huge difference on long, sustained runs and gives the textures more readily associated with the DX keyboards (which are 16-note polyphonics).
At just a mere £999 inc VAT it puts other similarly priced polys in the shade.
But turning the old Opera into the DK600 isn't the only thing Siel have been involved with as they've produced a cunningly clever Computer Interface — the Siel MCI and some very good sequencer orientated software which will run (by the time you read this) with all the major home micros, including the Spectrum 48K, BBC-B, Acorn Electron and Commodore CBM64 and SX64.
Perhaps even more remarkably, the interface is only £99 inc VAT and comes free with a software package called Live Sequencer which if sold on its own should cost £22 retail.
The interface is a simple affair to set up. It has three MIDI out ports, one in, one thru and a 5-pin DIN clock in. Connection to whichever computer you're using is verified — if correct — by a small LED.
Centering on the software cassette you get with the interface first, it's basically a straightforward, menu driven Realtime sequencer program with no overdubbing facility but it does have a six-way memory and does remember patch changes and keyboard velocity information all within one track of polyphonic information.
Page one is the menu and it looks like this: 1. — Play, 2. — Playback, 3. — Load from Tape, 4. — Save on Tape, 5. — Correct time, 6. — Refrain.
As can be seen much of the functioning in this software is self-explanatory. PLAY is the menu command that you input when you put a piece of music into the memory. The CORRECT TIME mode is an auto time correct option which when poked into operation runs through the inputted information, works out the amount of memory used and sets this against the amount of time the piece of music lasts for. After doing this, it uses an equation that ultimately gives every step an allocated beat length. I know this sounds a little complicated, but in practice it works beautifully and I came across no time correction glitches that you find on many other pieces of software — even some DDM's of over a thousand pounds have auto-correction faults — and this software comes free with the interface.
The available memory space is displayed on your monitor in the form of a percentage, with 0 being nothing and 100% understandably meaning you've reached full capacity. The memory is very large and at suitable throttle a piece utilising all 100% would last about half an hour!
The REFRAIN mode is just a loop function which you punch in when you want the inputted information to loop around. I would've liked to have seen this particular function a little more versatile with maybe screen definable break points — but it's obvious that this program is designed as a composer's notepad more than anything else and I feel should be looked upon as introductory.
This is an altogether more versatile and 'professional' package whose main aim is to offer multi-layered/timbral sequencing (overdubbing) to anyone with the right gear. I had the system rigged up to a Commodore SX64 portable computer and the software was on five-and-a-quarter-inch floppy disk.
What it basically offers is a composing package with the capacity to record 9,000 notes or pauses which are divided into six channels of 1,533 steps each. The program will also remember patch changing in mid sequence. You can program each event with a different dynamic value, there are 127 different steps with 1=min and 127=max. All information has to be inputted using the QWERTY keyboard.
As far as signature allocation is concerned, just about any time group can be programmed in. A full note in 4/4 is equal to 96 — and can be divided into any length from one to 96, offering every conceivable differential. The function keys on the Commodore correspond to the following musical values: f1=2/4:48, f3 =1/4:24, f5 = 1/8:12, f7= 1/16:6.
Staccato and Legato can be easily inputted on a QWERTY keyboards using different parameter values. The tempo is variable between 40 and 210 pulses per quarter minute(!). During playback a video clock shows the length of the piece in minutes and seconds.
Similar to the Live Sequencer package, the CMP1.1 software is menu driven with the primary menu offering three modes:
C Composer, M MIDI Control, D Disk Operations.
As the software is also available in cassette form, the last section applies to cassette dump and load operations too. There are basically four major control commands; L=Load, S=Save, R=Rename and S=Scratch. As you can see, it's quite straightforward with the main commands being abbreviated.
Before going further, I feel it's important to point out that although inputting information from a computer's keyboard isn't particularly easy for many musicians after a short while the processes of calling up the channels and allocating each key on the synth's keyboard with a number and its chromatic letter gets ingrained into your brain, and I guarantee after just a short while you'll happily be banging off Czulkayzy's Basque Sonata in B minor within a few minutes.
Vince Hill — Siel's technical consultant and general trouble-shooter-come-operations consultant played a couple of demos — one of which he'd programmed in himself that left me speechless. Like all new technology if you're not willing to invest time and effort into programming you'll get nothing at the end of it. It appeared to me that if using a multi channel/multi Timbral set up, then about 15 minutes slog at the QWERTY would produce about a minute (at average tempo) of music at the other end which is very reasonable.
Returning to the primary menu; the MIDI control offers three levels of MIDI operating.
OMNI mode is for relaying information on channel one of the 16 MIDI channels, to keyboards that are unable to receive on any other such as the DX's. This means that only layering information from one or all of the composer's channels can be transmitted.
Poly Mode: is more or less the opposite of Omni mode, it allows you to give each synth module a designated MIDI channel and thus make each one correspond to one, some, or all of the sequencer channels. This is where the God given amazing multi channel/multi timbral MIDI functions come into the proceedings, enabling the user to produce incredibly complex patterns of music and/or sounds.
Mono Mode: enables the sequencer to make the most from a six voice (or any other poly) synth which has a polytimbric capability, i.e. this means you could have six mono lines each with different presets being run simultaneously from the DK600.
It's impossible to go into all the intricacies of the 'composer language', but it's all based on allocation of sequencer channel and then inputting the information by using the chromatic letter of the required note and its exact position on the keyboard is then shown by a number.
The editing functions are amazingly simple to execute and are mastered in no time at all. To help matters, there's a NEW command that completely wipes the entire memory.
Linking the system to a drum machine for synchronisation in quite simple playback mode the program sends out a sync frequency on 1/24. This is accessed via MIDI out ports on the back of the interface.
So overall the Siel system offers an unparalleled value for money and really should be checked out if you're seriously thinking of making music.
NB: Siel are offering the external updates on all existing Opera 6 keyboards on the market free of charge.
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Review by Chris Everard