Blandford Press £4.95
With this book Ray Hammond sets out to banish once and for all the myths surrounding computers and expel the idea that computers are unfriendly beasts. He does this in a straightforward and appealing way by discussing the role computers are playing in modern music production. The book is divided into ten chapters, each concentrating on a specific area of computer music making.
Chapter 1 gives an excellent explanation of the functioning of a microprocessor translating the jargon into simple terms that any layman should be able to understand. The demystification process continues in chapter 2 with an informative look at how the home computer can be used to produce music. The ZX81, Sharp MZ-80K and Apple II machines are all discussed, with detailed explanation of some of the available add-on music systems such as the Mountain, Passport and Alpha Syntauri packages. These help to give a good indication of the future possibilities for computer-aided music, with the increasing trend being towards fully 'soft' instruments — modifying the software increases the performance flexibility of the machine, thus overcoming the problem of obsolescence that currently affects computers.
Chapter 3 takes a fascinating look at computer applications in the modern recording studio, tracing their development from simple control units for tape transport mechanisms to the all-digital DSP mixing console from Neve, currently installed at BBC Television Centre. Digital recording techniques and the lack of a standard sampling rate are mentioned, and Martin Rushent reveals his recording methods as used on the Human League's records. The effects of computerisation even extend to studio design, as control rooms increase in size to accommodate musicians who now set up their equipment next to the mixing desk rather than in the recording area. The trend towards 'isolationism' that computers are causing is mentioned; the musician can compose everything from home, with little need to venture outside — but no discussion is offered of the social problems this may bring!
The fourth chapter discusses the micro as a music teaching aid. The author predicts that a few years will see the introduction of a small micro-based keyboard with enough memory capacity to house an exhaustive program, capable of taking a person through every musical step, from beginner to accomplished player!
Further chapters are included on computer percussion instruments and the performance applications of computers — automated lighting and mixing desks for example. A review is included of the Prophet 5, as an example of a programmable performance machine.
Chapter 7 highlights the different approaches manufacturers have taken in computer instrument design, using the Emulator, Synergy and Prism as examples. Sequencer operation and programming are examined in the next chapter and detailed reviews are included of the Roland MC-8 and Oberheim DSX devices.
Chapter 9 is the conclusion of all that has gone before, being concerned with the dedicated music computers such as the Fairlight CMI. It commences with a short explanation of machine code, assembly language and user languages, specifically the 'menu-driven' software, where the user is presented with a list of possible choices and asked to select an instruction. The major part of this chapter, however, deals in some detail with the Fairlight, presenting a comprehensive analysis of hard/software and system operation. Operation techniques are discussed and mention is made of the proposed Fairlight system updates and how they will advance its present capabilities.
Mr Hammond sees the Fairlight as an important pioneer, capable of changing the public's taste for music, and helping them to accept unconventional sounds as the building blocks for future music, rather than relying on a handful of conventional instrument textures as the basis of the music. This fascinating chapter terminates with a look at several other computer instruments such as the Crumar GDS and PPG Waveterm. The Synclavier, unfortunately, only merits a brief mention.
The final chapter, 'The Musician and the Micro', is one of the most appealing, based on interviews with Warren Cann, John Lewis, Hans Zimmer and Peter Gabriel. Each artist gives their views on computers in general and on their own specific use of them. It is an enlightening chapter, packed with revealing facts and well worth inclusion.
The complete book is captivating reading, well written and punctuated by several black and white photo graphs. A handy glossary of terms is included near the back for further reference. It is a surprisingly easy book to read and never gets overloaded with technical detail. As an indicator of the present state of computer-based instruments, it brings together a large amount of useful information in a highly readable form.
Review by Ian Gilby
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