Julian Woodford takes us across the sea to bring us a report on the state of MIDI in Canada
Julian Woodford of Your Amiga, tours the Canadian Amiga-Midi air waves.
Toronto is a happening Amiga place. It's also a happening music place. But are the two happening together?
To do that you've got to dig deep into the music havens of this central-east Canadian city. Down in the clubs there's more thrash and less technology where the bands are based in basic rockin' Garage bands, middle of the road, country, blues. But only in the fringe areas of prep money, university, high-end musician or off the edgers, do we begin to get anything like sampling or a whiff of a MIDI package. When it is being used it's only apparent to the cognoscenti, and as I'm as tone deaf as a brick I've got no choice but to drag along an extra pair of ears.
When that doesn't work clip on the Groucho Marx nose, the iron giraffe horns and boogie till you puke. If you remember anything when you wake up the next evening it's bound to be a subliminal lashing of car fenders, tastefully sampled, being mashed into a chrome soup somewhere off the Trans-Canada highway.
Maybe that's where they all were because I didn't see or hear hide nor hair not whistle nor grunt of any ST or Mac work let alone any Amiga action.
Down to Earth where there does seem to be some action, is in the retail stores and software companies. Toronto's premiere music tech store is Saved By Technology - in fact, probably the only store. They have everything in the way of samplers, mixers, sequencers, synths, modules, and expanders. The store's high profile is evidenced by their presentation of Canada's first MIDI Trade show on the weekend of November 11th and 12th.
Among the exhibitors were several MIDI manufacturers presenting new products. These included Roland Canada with some freshly baked keyboards (????? Which ones ?????) C-Lab presented a new multi-tasking operating system. Sound Tools showed off their new developments for a Mac based digital audio production system and Digi Design presented their new digital interface for DATS and CD players, DAT 1.0.
The rest of the weekend featured introductions to MIDI for the uninitiated, a demo of Intelligent Music's range of software (Upbeat 2, Ovaltune, Diablo), and an all MIDI band.
The event, seminal in Canada, typified the North American dexterity in promotion and marketing. Consensus implies strength so by drawing together the various elements under the umbrella of a show the companies and the public were able to come to grips with each other more readily.
Although the show was small that was part of its attractiveness. The big computer shows in North America, like World of Commodore (Toronto) or the American Computer Show (Vegas) are unwieldy if not leviathan. The trend to personal suite receptions by companies for clients hasn't been nearly so much as it has in Britain.
Saved By Technology themselves are distinguished by a warehouse appeal with a 'you name it we've got it' MIDI response. With them as far as the Amiga is concerned it's the same as it is in Britain: lagging a not so distant third behind the Mac and the Atari ST. Here the selling angles are weighted on them. The MIDI show didn't have an Amiga whimper to it. When asked why, the reply was, "Well, there's not a lot of software being written for it. It's a powerful machine but apart from Music X, Mastertracks Pro, and Dr .T there isn't much around."
There's little new work being done for the Amiga over here. But it is such a powerful machine, with four internal voices, and therefore hard to ignore.
Much of the feeling I got was that it's not so much waiting to take off over here but waiting to be taken out of the hanger. It's good to go with what blows in market forces but somebody has got to do some heavy persuading and promoting up a Commodore if music's a way to go for the Amiga. More likely, and it's one in which Commodore U.S. seem very interested in, is the multi-media angle on the Amiga. Here there is obviously the potential for musical integration but specific development is dubious.
Gold Disk, a Toronto software company, well known for its word processing and drawing packages on the Amiga are branching out into Multi-media heaven with their ShowMaker - due for release in the new year. As an integrated package it will stress both visual and aural aspects but should provide a key for the Amiga voices.
On a smaller scale is Gold Disc's Appetiser which is being given away free with every Amiga sold in the run up to Christmas in the U.S., Sweden, and Spain, to name a few. The U.K. is excepted from this which is a pity as it features a good music intro which while it will not give you professional results it will give the Amiga Starter something to go from. Chris Moulios, programmer on New Wave's Dynamic Drums and Dynamic Studion has written in at least one new function - the ability to alter the key signature.
In the states Commodore and Gold Disc plan on shipping out about 50,000 of them this Christmas (i.e. one with each new Amiga 500 sold). What this means for the Amiga in music terms is almost indecipherable. The A500 is being sold primarily as a games machine and the Appetiser package is only a low key bundling of alternatives one of which happens to be music. In the future it's certainly not going to change the face of MIDI computer interfacing but it could provide a groundswell of interest in the Amiga as a home music machine. It would be optimistic to stretch this into professional realms but on a world wide scale as this package is then it should have a positive press and a word of mouth feedback.
At the moment the Amiga is a high profile low-end graphics computer with a definite multi-media bias that doesn't necessarily preclude it from becoming a more refined music tool. However, it is presently frozen solid with only the odd smattering of a pro' interest to provide any warmth. The Atari ST was a disaster as a computer games machine west of the Atlantic, the Amiga is close to becoming the same for music.
Feature by Julian Woodford