C-1 and you've seen 'em all
John Renwick puts Yamaha's super-computer through it's paces
State of the art music computer or just an expensive laptop? Ian Waugh looks at Yamaha's latest MIDI micro
Imagine the scene - Monday morning in an efficient, hi-tech R&D lab. The Project Engineer walks in and says, "Today we will design a music computer." A think tank assembles and discussion begins.
What shall we base it around? What's currently the most popular computer format? Undoubtedly the IBM PC; why else should so many companies produce so many PC clones. "Industry standard" (even if all machines are not always 100% compatible) is guaranteed to sway the potential buyer.
Have we an industry music standard? Of course - MIDI - so let's give it lots of MIDI sockets. What about eight OUTs, two mergable INs and a MIDI THRU?
And what about synchronisation? It must be able to link to professional audio/visual equipment so let's make it compatible with the professional SMPTE/EBU time code protocol. And let's include some software - a Sequencer and some utility programs - so users can start using the machine straight away.
We'll need lots of memory, too, to store all that music information so let's give it a standard 640K DOS memory plus 512K in extended memory. It would be useful if this could be expanded, too, say to 2 Meg. And let's add a 20 Meg hard disk to store all this data on - as well as a 3½" 720K floppy disk drive.
Why not make it portable, too, so musicians can carry it from studio to studio or from gig to gig. They'll be able to use it at home and in hotel rooms, too...
Well, you can almost imagine such a scene taking place during the conception of a new musical instrument/computer. And the result of this deliberation is the Yamaha C-1.
As you will have gathered from this preamble, the C-1 is aimed quite squarely at the professional musician - or the well-heeled amateur - and few concessions have been sacrificed on the altar of expense.
The full specs are impressive. The C-1 is an AT-compatible machine featuring an 80286 processor with the option to take an 80287 coprocessor. The clock is 10/8 MHz switchable and the machine also contains a dedicated timer to handle the music data which is channelled through the MIDI ports. The timer treats the eight MIDI OUTs entirely separate from each other, almost like eight separate Sequencers, thus minimising the possibility of MIDI data clog.
Other sockets include two RS-232C sockets, a parallel (centronics) interface and a CRT EXT socket which allows connection to an external monitor. The C-1 has a built-in 640 x 400 dot LCD backlit screen which defaults to a CGA mono display although most music application programs use the higher resolution.
The LCD, I feel, is one of the unit's weakest areas. Although it is ideal for use in a dim studio or on a dark stage, even a moderate amount of ambient light can make viewing difficult. If you want to use it in the office - forget it - but remember the monitor option. Speaking of which, I wonder why there is no provision for EGA. And while in querulous mood one could also suggest that the display should have been VGA, as well.
Another problem is the slew rate on the LCD which makes the pointer whizz around the display like a car on an oil slick. Small, gentle movements are the order of the day and mouse-o-philes will have to adjust to the sensitivity. (If you do lose the pointer - and you will during early use - you can centre it by pressing both buttons together.) Also packed onto the unit is a useful 80 Watt lead-through mains socket so you can plug in another piece of equipment such as a monitor. Very handy for the muso on the move.
The keyboard has music symbols on the keys for use during music entry and at the side are two sliders which are used to enter data in the music programs.
Rather strangely, for a portable it doesn't have a handle although a carrying case is available for it as an optional extra.
The optional 1½ Meg EMB-15 Extension Memory board boosts the memory to 2 Meg and will be an essential extra for serious applications. It should be possible to add hard disks and EGA cards to the Extended Memory slot. Although, as yet, the potential for expansion hasn't been fully explored, Yamaha is looking at the possibility of increasing the hard drive to 30 or even 40 Meg.
The C-1 package contains bundled music software which includes the CSQ-1 Sequencer, a MIDI Monitor, MIDI Bulk Manager and MS-DOS 3.3. Before we explore the C-1's music potential, it's worth remembering that it can be used as a PC lap top - which it is - to run business packages and applications.
Let's look at the utilities first. The MIDI Monitor lets you examine incoming MIDI messages so you can check that your equipment is transmitting what you think it is - sometimes it doesn't, you know. It stores the last 16K of data received in a buffer for later examination at your leisure and incoming data can be filtered. Messages can be viewed in hex and ASCII and the keyboard and sliders can be used to transmit MIDI data.
The MIDI Bulk Manager is also a useful utility but it could do with a few additions to its user-interface. Actually, it could do with a user interface - the only information you see on screen is the name of the program. You really need a knowledge of DOS to use this, but once mastered, it allows you to store and retrieve MIDI Bulk data (patch information and so on) to and from disk.
The CSQ-1 was written by Yamaha especially for the C-1 to take advantage of the eight MIDI OUTs. It can be installed on the hard disk but one of the floppies containing the program must be present during loading.
The Sequencer uses the now-traditional tape-recorder method of operation but it has an astounding 400 tracks and a capacity of 39,000 notes (or 193,000 with the memory board). Opinions differ over whether or not such a large number of tracks is actually useful - or indeed useable - but it allows you to record and compare several 'takes'. With eight MIDI OUTs you could, theoretically, send data on up to 128 different channels and that could quickly eat up tracks - even 400 of them! The internal clock has a resolution of 480 ppqn (Pulses Per Quarter Note).
Songs can constructed in pattern fashion, too, in a similar way to the creation of a complete rhythm track from individual drum patterns.
The program is basically mouse-driven although there are some quick keyboard commands. Operation is centered around four windows. The Recorder window is where the recording is done - natch - and some track editing takes place here, too, although the Bar Graph window offers a grid display for note editing.
For more detailed editing you use the Numeric window which gives information about all the events in a track. The Edit and Operational menus offer a wide range of editing facilities including the creation of tremolo, trills and arpeggios.
Tempo is controlled from the Master Track window and can be altered - and recorded! - during playback using the computer's sliders.
Control over the program is by way of a number of Blocks. For example, the Position Control Block is used to specify the part of the track recording or playback starts from and to set up loops.
The Status Block shows incoming data arriving at the MIDI ports and the Master Track Block sets the overall timing. The Track Control Block is used to select the tracks for recording, playback and editing. This is where you allocate the MIDI OUT sockets and set MIDI channels.
Information about each track is shown, naturally enough, in the Track Data Block. You can toggle between four displays. Track data gives a graphic representation of the amount of data on a track while Velocity uses horizontal bars to indicate velocity levels during playback. Calling up Comment allows you to enter a short note next to the track and Attribute is used to alter the timing offset and transposition.
A particularly interesting function is MIDI Chase. If you start playback some way into a piece, MIDI Chase will scan backwards and apply any MIDI controller information it finds.
The Sequencer is geared towards real-time input and the Recorder Control Block controls synchronisation sources (internal, external, SMPTE and so on) and lets you repeat the song and select overdub mode.
In step-time recording durations can be selected using a graphic note display or the note symbols on the keys. Pitch is input from a MIDI keyboard or the computer. Velocity and On Time can be adjusted, too.
The MIDI numbers of the notes are shown in the display area but these are in hex. This is just one feature which highlights the numeric nature of the program. Much PC music software is highly numeric in nature and it's a shame Yamaha didn't take this opportunity to produce a simpler, more graphic user-interface. This is a personal preference, however, and I accept that many users will be quite happy with a numeric interface.
But whatever your preference, the CSQ-1 is certainly a powerful piece of software and one you won't come to terms with in a day. The manual is a hefty 200 pages in length and it will help if you read it carefully. It is, however, quite comprehensive and well illustrated.
As you will have gathered, in order to take full advantage of the C-1's facilities, software must be specially written or adapted for it. Third party software support, however, is much in evidence with between 30 and 40 independent software houses currently engaged in development work.
There are already over 20 music programs available for the C-1 including the popular Voyetra Sequencer Plus which was specially converted. Coda's Finale has been converted, too - this was previously only available for the Apple Mac - along with Passport Design's MasterTracks Pro and Roger Powell's Texture Sequencer. Other software includes Sample Vision, a sample editing program from Turtle Beach Software, and programs from Dr. T, Bacchus and Opcode.
Some of this software runs under the Microsoft Window environment - far friendlier than DOS and with distinct advantages over GEM.
So having decided that you want a C-1, what's to stop you buying one? I'd suggest simply the price. It will appeal to a wide sector of the music market - and to many in that sector its cost will merely be a deductible expense.
Even if you're not in that position - yet! - but you are looking for a computer to handle music as well as business applications, the C-1 is worth checking out. When you add together the cost of its component parts - a PC lap top, 20 Meg hard disk, MIDI interfaces, SMPTE and bundled software - you will be able to put its price in perspective with its facilities.
If you enjoy going to live concerts watch out for the C-1 - it won't be long before it appears on stage. And keep your eyes on the square box in the corner of your room because it can't be long before you see one sitting in a musician's rack next to other state-of-the-art musical equipment.
The C-1 is currently only available from three sources: Yamaha Music Pulse ((Contact Details)), Soho Sound House ((Contact Details)) and Computer Music Systems ((Contact Details)). For more information contact Jim Corbett at Yamaha-Kemble.
Product: Yamaha C-1/20
Price: RRP £2999.00 inc VAT
Supplier: Yamaha-Kemble Music (UK) Ltd., (Contact Details).