Atari Sound & Graphics: A Self-Teaching Guide
Herb Moore, Judy Lower, Bob Albrecht
John Wiley & Sons
'Sound and Graphics' is ideal for those interested in producing some kind of visual display to accompany their music, or in finding visual aids to musical composition. Primarily intended for the Atari 400 and 800 computers, which are capable of producing some extremely sophisticated and almost 3-dimensional graphic displays, it should be possible for the imaginative programmer to modify the details of its Atari Basic programs to Sinclair Basic or TRS 80 Basic if necessary; on the other hand, the book is also intended to be suitable for the absolute beginner to micros as well, in which case it would be best to follow the examples on one of the Atari machines mentioned.
The first chapter introduces 'Please Note', a smiling little musical character who helpfully serves to deliver summaries of whole sections, and to give occasional reminders of important basics - like remembering to use the 'Return' key to make the computer carry out a command. The 'Sound' command and procedures for correcting errors in instructions are introduced.
Sounds on the Atari are described by the four parameters V,N,T,L. The computer can sound four voices simultaneously, 'just like a barbershop quartet', using any one of 256 Notes numbered, in ascending order from 255 to 0. Not all of these numbers relate to notes on the Western scale, so a diagram relating numbers to keyboard notes is provided. There are eight different Tones available, from fairly pure musical sounds to buzzes and scratches useful in inventing sound effects for games programs. There are sixteen different levels of loudness, and note length is decided within the individual program by initiating a counting loop, during which the note is sustained.
Chapter Two introduces the Graphics mode, representing a point on the screen by a pair of co-ordinates, a colour, and a graphics mode number indicating the total number of points in the matrix. The commands PLOT and DRAWTO allow simple figures to be drawn, and in a later chapter the more complex SET-COLOUR command and higher resolution graphics modes allow more colourful figures, with lines and sharp edges apparently transformed into curves and smooth planes, to be produced.
The next important step is to introduce the use of programs rather than individual commands, so that the computer will play a series of notes or join a series of points. The instruction here is very clear and easy to follow, and quickly leads onto combined programs which can give some kind of visual indication when a note is played.
Each section of the book is concluded by a Self-Test with solutions given underneath, and a Challenge which allows more creative thought and should let the imaginative programmer head off in directions of his own. No conventional musical knowledge is needed, although there is a brief appendix relating program parameters to musical intervals; whether this is a good thing or not is open to question, as it's often best to have an equal understanding of a QWERTY keyboard and a piano keyboard in your computer composition! However, the book certainly does its job of opening up and integrating the worlds of graphics and sound programming, and does it in an exceptionally clear and enjoyable manner.
The Complete Guide to Synthesisers
Published by Prentice/Hall International
The problem facing the author of an intended guide to synthesisers, as opposed to one for guitars or drums, lies in being general enough to cover all the instruments on the market while at the same time being specific enough to be of use to the individual owner who wants to get the best out of his Moog, Korg, Roland or whatever. There's an added problem here because the book is American, and has references to standards, equipment and addresses which simply don't apply elsewhere.
Having said that, the cryptically named Devarahi, who teaches electronic music at Lane College, Eugene, Oregon, and gives synthesiser lectures and seminars throughout Europe and the USA, has done a good job of smoothing out a lot of these problems. Back cover endorsements from the likes of Jan Hammer and Craig Anderton of Contemporary Keyboard stress the clarity and educational value of the book, while making the point that it largely confines itself to analog synthesisers.
The book places much emphasis, quite rightly, on practical work, and prints in capital letters at intervals a total of 99 exercises to carry out on whatever synthesiser you have available. The initial exercises simply concentrate on making each 'module' work in turn, and should help produce an appreciation of, for instance, the sound of a given basic waveshape or of that waveshape with a given amount of filtering.
Chapter 2 differentiates audio signals from voltage control signals, but attempts to refer each scientific idea to an artistic or musical purpose in turn. A lot of the examples, for instance on harmonics, refer to the ARP 2600, and while this is an ideal synth to learn patching and other techniques, it appears quite likely that the author had some kind of interest in ARP at the time of writing. This needn't matter, as the examples could be carried out on most other synths, although footnotes have had to be added to cover Korg synths which operate on a logarithmic rather than a linear voltage control scale.
The American preoccupation with size and expense shows through occasionally, however. The 'Basic Synthesiser Modules' discussed in Chapter 3 are represented by Aries, Polyfusion, E-Mu and Moog Studio System, not many of which would be seen in this country! The basic treatment is again clear and precise, however, and there's a good explanation of different types of trigger pulse.
The section on sequencers and guitar synthesisers is slightly out of date now, as more and more keyboards (such as the Elka Synthex and Yamaha Polyphonics) have built-in sequencers. The 'Synthesiser Overview' contains some fascinating pictures, but can hardly hope to be comprehensive in a field which is so fast-moving. The Jupiter 8 is there but the Juno 6 isn't; where can you still buy an Oberheim 4-voice expander? And who's got a Wavemaker 6 modular system? Impecunious synthesists are advised to glue these pages together, as repeated viewing can bring on severe attacks of envy.
There's a good overview of digital keyboards which wisely doesn't attempt to go into technical details, followed by a series of Appendices. The first is on the ARP 2600 in detail (suspicions confirmed) and the second is a list of manufacturers, which is very useful for US companies with no UK distributor but not so good for WASP (EDP, now liquidated) for ARP (now under Rhodes) PAIA (now with a European distribution outlet) Fairlight (who have a London distributor) and so on.
The glossary lists all the technical terms used in the book with reasonable definitions which almost (but not quite) escape from the effects of the American love of jargon. Did you know that an A B comparison was a comparison of two things that are generally similar, but have some differences?
Along with the general index and list of experiments, there's a discography divided into various sections by style. It's possible to have hours of fun with this section by disagreeing with the categories (Mythos' 'Quasar' is a great album but it's definitely not an example of 'Symphonic Pop') and by laughing at the funny American spellings (John Anderson, Orchestral Manuevers, Traveloge, Klaus Shultze, Rubicon etc. etc.). Still, it's a useful list, particularly in the areas of jazz, funk and the 'underground network' for those who are always trying to expand their tastes.
Finally, there's a bibliography of books and periodicals with very helpful comments on the degree of technical (or musical) knowledge required for a reasonable appreciation of each one. This section is a must for those synthesists who feel they're working in a vacuum (apart from contact with E&MM, of course). If you can afford £10.45 for a well-produced, large format paperback which will contain a lot you don't know however experienced a synthesist you may be, this book is for you.
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