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Computer Musician - Rumblings


Sharply Digital



An almost too-good-to-be-true digital tape recorder has recently been demonstrated in prototype form by Sharp at an AES exhibition in the States. This CX-3 Digital Audio Processor uses a standard compact cassette format, with the normal speed and playing time of conventional analogue recording. However, Sharp claimed to have squashed the mind-boggling number of 18 tracks onto the 1/8" tape, including 16 for digital audio, one for control purposes, and one that's doing nothing in particular. Audio input is digitised at the compact disc standard rate of 44.1kHz, and then apportioned to a cassette track at the rate of 70.6 Kbits per inch. This means that the CX-3 stores 1.4 gigabytes of data on a single C-90 cassette! Quite how Sharp get around the horrendous problem of drop-outs on such narrow tape is beyond me, but you can bet your bottom dollar that there's some hard-working error correction circuitry involved somewhere. So far, there's no indication when the CX-3 is to be launched on the unsuspecting world, but we're keeping our ears' glued to the grapevine...

Kurzweil Keyboard



Readers will have seen the Kurzweil 250 digital keyboard mentioned in the NAMM show report in the August '83 issue of E&MM, and the tag attached to it was 'the most exciting new keyboard'. From what I've heard since, I don't think that's any exaggeration. The point about the 250 is that it takes a really significant leap forward in terms of current sound sampling techniques. Any fool can design a system that'll sample away for all it's worth into a chunk of memory, but anyone who's been following the speech synthesis story will know that digitisation techniques don't fit that happily into a world where only limited amounts of RAM are available for sound storage. What's commonly used, then, is some form of data compression technique. The current favourite is linear-predictive coding (LPC), a process whereby the formant bands of speech are coded, speech event by speech event, so as to provide instructions to a digital filter that then reconstructs those formants when the stored speech data is decoded.

So, why not do the same with the harmonic (or otherwise) components of musical sounds? Well, the main problem is speed - both as regards the wider bandwidth of sound in a musical context, and the complexity of timbral changes encountered over the range of the average acoustic or electronic instrument. What Kurzweil have done is to use principles of Artificial Intelligence, incorporated in the earlier Kurzweil Reading Machine, to capture the changing timbre of an instrument for the entire duration of a note, in all registers, and at all loudness. According to their publicity info, the 'sound complexity' captured by the 250 is 'at least 200 times greater than that of most other digital keyboard instruments'. That's what they call 'Contoured Sound Modelling', and I reckon that they must have some sort of musical equivalent of LPC working for their greater glory if those claims are actually borne out in practice.

One of the most boasted about features of the 250 is that it's able to 'perfectly recreate the sound of any acoustic instrument', including the duplication of the feel and response of a piano keyboard. Well, be that as it may (and until units are available for hands-on experience, that's a rather large 'may'!), Kurzweil do seem to have made an effort to extend their rigorous approach to other areas, particularly when it comes to the usability of the thing. Rather than adding on something like an MCL as an afterthought, Kurzweil have developed a special language called 'KMS Language' which they claim allows the creation, storing, editing, and use of the most complex sequences; the creation, modification, and combination of even hundreds of waveforms, amplitude, and filter envelopes; the use of the 250 to sample and analyse sounds, and the real-time transcription of keyboard performances onto a VDU screen.

One welcome aspect of the 250 is that it uses a host personal micro for most of the display side of things as well as some of the input and output of sequencing. The micro that's receiving most attention from Kurzweil is the Apple IIe (surprise, surprise), but no doubt the Commodore 64 and IBM PC will also figure somewhere in the story. The likely price of the 250 is something of a floating voter, but 'under $10,000 and delivery in early 1984' is what Kurzweil are hoping for. So far, a UK dealer hasn't been decided upon, but, for more info, Kurzweil Music Systems can be reached at (Contact Details).

Simply Syntauri



Syntauri have never been a firm to hide their light under a bushel, and, on the front cover of their latest brochure, they serve up a generous dollop of hype ('alphaSyntauri - A new age in music / infinitely simple to use / Simply infinite in capability / Limitless as the future'). Heavy stuff! I wonder whether they've ever heard of the Trade Descriptions Act over in the sunny climes of California?

Still, Syntauri do seem to have something interesting to offer as regards their recently released 'Simply Music' software. Twee title apart, the idea seems to be to provide the user with a visually interactive way of learning to play a keyboard. Aside from the usual thing of being able to record and play back pieces with different instrumentation, two methods of display are also offered: one with a display of a keyboard and the other with more-or-less conventional musical notation. So as to make the best use of these options, a variety of learning methods are available, including what Syntauri call 'Quick Play', 'Traditional Piano', and 'Improvisation'. Sounds a good idea, really. We'll take a look at this when we get around to reviewing their multitracking Metatrak software.

On a rather more bizarre front, Syntauri are also plugging their 'Dolphin Dialogue', a curious piece of software for the Apple II and Mountain Music System cards that 'lets you experiment with sounds very much like those dolphins use to communicate with each other (and someday, we hope, with humans!)'. If I were a dolphin, I think I'd forget about leaping in the air for fish and tell Syntauri where to get off...

For more information, contact Syntauri Co., (Contact Details), or their UK agent, Computer Music Studios, at (Contact Details).

Time



Technology in Music Education is a group that has been set up by Joe Telford and Alan Smith with a view to 'the collation and dissemination of software, schemes, and hardware relating to music education'. TIME stems from a conference that was held in Southampton in April 1983 when various speakers discussed software and hardware developments that might form the basis of a future and more systematic use of micros in music education. One idea that's being voiced is the circulation of 'recommended' software amongst schools and colleges, and TIME is actively seeking suitable CAMI programs. So, anyone interested in any aspect of TIME is invited to contact either Alan Smith, at (Contact Details), or Joe Telford, at Cleveland Education Computer Centre, (Contact Details).

More MIDI



Yet another MIDI program of Germanic origin (ve haf vays of making you sequence... ) has arrived on this Computer Musician's doorstep. This goes by the name of ARTEC, runs on the 48K Spectrum, and comes from a firm called Heart based in Dusseldorf. Good name for a firm with a program that beats away relentlessly... Basically, ARTEC is a 16-channel sequencer program aimed at both the non-real-time and real-time side of musical life. It's encouraging to see that the software seems to be well-designed as far as idiot-proofness is concerned. For instance, it provides instant feedback of entered notes, enters and calculates bars automatically, signals the input of incorrect note values, and generally (to quote from an information sheet full of wonderful mis-translations à la Japanese) 'esteemes faultless scores'. Don't we all... ARTEC also displays these scores in conventional notation and will print them out singly or en masse if that's what takes your fancy.

Various interface options are available for ARTEC. Firstly, there's the MIDI version, which provides up to 16 channels, 1 analogue I/O, 1 sync-to-tape, and 2 trigger channels. Next, there's the A interface, which gives 8 analogue (CV) channels, 4 trigger channels, and a sync-to-tape. Lastly, there's the option of the P interface, a 2 channel 8-bit parallel interface for those synths (the Chroma Polaris with the Triad interface, for instance) that let you get to the heart of the matter.

ARTEC is being imported by Ultra Design at (Contact Details), though don't expect instant deliveries, as Heart are still gearing-up their production line. Also, no UK price has been decided upon as yet. Heart themselves can be reached at (Contact Details), and the retail price (in Germany) that's being quoted for the system is 1,680 DM (around £420). If that seems a mite expensive for a MIDI interface and software, bear in mind that the hardware comes in a stage-proof, artist-designed plexiglass box, and includes such extras to the basic MIDI interface as a Z80A, RAM (for sequence storage away from the Spectrum), EPROMs loaded with software (meaning that ARTEC is always ready and waiting to do its owner's bidding), some timers, and space for future expansion and addition of other interfaces. Not surprisingly, we're itching to get our hands on one for review purposes.



Previous Article in this issue

Hawkwind

Next article in this issue

Soundchaser


Electronics & Music Maker - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

 

Electronics & Music Maker - Jan 1984

Donated & scanned by: Stewart Lawler

Computer Musician

News by David Ellis

Previous article in this issue:

> Hawkwind

Next article in this issue:

> Soundchaser


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