Computer Musician - Rumblings...
A sound-sampling keyboard for £1800, and new software from Octave-Plateau, among other things.
This month's round-up of all that's new in the world of computer music.
If the rumblings on the grapevine are anything to go by, 1985 should be a pretty interesting year for musical technology. Already, pre-Frankfurt news is filtering through about a remarkable sampling (and this one really means 'sampling') keyboard from Malvern. No, not Malvern, Worcs, habitat of the Much Spotted Paul White, but Malvern, Pennsylvania. You know, Pennsylvania, home of... er, quite. Well, at least it's not yet another Californian company.
In fact, I reported on Pennsylvanian goings-on back in October's Rumblings, though on that occasion the company was Peripheral Visions Inc, and the product was a digital percussion add-on for the Apple II called the DrumKey. Since PVI and Ensoniq - the people behind the sampling keyboard - share the same address and technological inclinations, they're presumably one and the same. Anyway, what Ensoniq are now offering is a $1695 sampling keyboard called the Mirage. And what the sum gets you looks to be amazing value for money: a five-octave touch-sensitive keyboard, eight-note polyphony with split options, multiparameter control including filtering, envelopes, and modulation, an overdub-bable polyphonic sequencer, a built-in 3.5" disk drive for storage of sounds, and the sampling facility as standard. At a time when so many companies are offering user sampling as an optional, still to be released, and expensive extra, it's great to see the facility being included as standard, so hats off to Ensoniq for that.
Of course, if you've come to expect that sampling keyboards must be expensive, then all this may come as quite a shock, and you might quite reasonably wonder how Ensoniq have been able to do it. All well, m'boy, it all comes down to a little chip called the 'Q Chip' - well, it's quite a big chip actually - that the company have designed specifically for the Mirage. As it happens, Ensoniq/PVI seem incredibly hot at this sort of thing: the DrumKey uses a custom multisound ROM and DAC chip, and there are also rumours that Ensoniq are coming out with a sub-$200 digital drum machine using the same technology. All of which begs the question as to when we're going to see any of their products over here. So, nice people at Ensoniq, why not drop us a few of your units for review? Come to think of it, I could do with a Mirage or two myself... (Contact Details)
One of the problems of Computer Music Studios moving 'lock, stock and barrel' to Wales, as Newsdesk so eloquently put it last month, is that going west also increases the length of telephone cable required to interconnect one niche of western civilisation with another, and in inverse proportion, the resultant intelligibility of the British telephone system. A casualty of this unfortunate fact of life was last month's report on the demise of Syntauri Corp. True, they are demised, no more, tinkling the ivories in the sky, kicking the heavenly bucket (brigade), etc, but the company that's been formed to continue the good work is called 'Mimetics', not 'Metamatics' (well, it is similar, you must admit, especially over a phone line that positively delighted in emulating World War II data encryption techniques).
More to the point, Mimetics are doing something that Syntauri should have done ages ago - replacing the ancient MusicSystem hardware with something that's more technologically up to date. What Mimetics have come up with is some brand new, 16-channel hardware that operates three times as fast as the old system, has lots of RAM on-board for waveform table storage, and comes complete with a general purpose keyboard interface, and (possibly) MIDI. The price of the hardware is likely to be around the $650 mark, though this also includes an entirely revamped version of Syntauri's Metatrak real-time sequencing software. And since up to five of these cards can be plugged into the Apple at once, there's obviously a lot of scope for expansion if both your wallet and the Apple's 6502 can take the pace. (Contact Details)
As 1985 gets under way, there'll be some long, hard looks at what the MIDI standard has achieved over the last 12 months. My guess is that the winners will be those whose software is either cheap or allied to the use of hardware that can see beyond its Omni or Poly mode nose. At the cheap(er) end of the price spectrum, the moves that are afoot in the Yamaha CX5M camp to produce multitrack sequencing software that divides the workload between the SFG01 FM unit and MIDI keyboards look particularly promising. But equally interesting is the software that Octave-Plateau are 'about to release' for the IBM PC, at what they'd term the 'high end' of the market. Their 64-track 'digital tape recorder', as they describe it, uses the Roland MPU401 (good to see someone using it outside Roland DG themselves) linked to an IBM PC or its clonal equivalent via an Octave-Plateau interface card. Each of the 64 tracks can be independently looped, transposed, and autocorrected on either playback or record, with a total capacity of 60,000 notes. Other features include 'rehearsable' punch-in and punch-out, comprehensive editing facilities, step-time capability, cue markers, and the means for creating drum scores for use by MIDI drum machines.
Also released by Octave-Plateau is some voice editing software (again for the IBM PC) for their Voyetra 8. No doubt this will be greeted with great joy by Voyetra owners, as it has to be said that the synth's 'pages' approach to analogue programming isn't the easiest thing to master without a degree in machine management.
Retail price of the MIDI software is expected to be around $450 (not including the MPU401) when it comes out after the Frankfurt show, but the Voyetra programming software is available now for $228. So, if you're either an IBM lover or a Voyetra owner, contact (Contact Details)
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