Alpha Syntauri, E-mu Systems, Fairlight, PPG, Roland DG, Sequential Circuits, Simmons, Yamaha
Computers might seem a weird subject to discuss considering Frankfurt is supposed to be a musical instrument show and not a software orgy. Still, 5p will get you a bucket of sprouts that the infamous micro will be scattered the length and breadth of this year's expo — not just in the guise of music systems such as the Fairlight or PPG, but as an ungrumbling workhorse governing everything from drum machines, to sequencers, to score transcribers.
Last year's NAMM show in Chicago spelt good news for owners of the Commodore 64 since many of the American synth companies had settled on the machine as their basis for any computer link up. The Commodore has the space and the speed required for sequencing and sound storage, but in the States, at least, the overriding reason for its popularity is probably price. It's a fairly cheap micro if you're paying in dollars.
One of the firms that favours the Commodore is Sequential Circuits, and Frankfurt should explain why. Recently ads have started to appear in the American press for their Model 64 sequencer. It boasts a 4000 note storage, can memorise nine independent polyphonic sequences all of them including details such as pitch bend, velocity and modulation amounts, and will accept them in real time allowing five overdub tracks per sequence.
Song composition, sequence linking, auto correct and tape dump are all listed among its features and, perhaps most important of all, it promises to couple satisfactorily with any MIDI keyboard and ANY DRUM BOX — that's what it says, big type, too.
One small box isn't enough to do all this, of course. The 64 ties up with a Commodore, so just what Sequential mean when they quote a price of 195 dollars requires further exploration in Germany. Promising, though.
And before we leave the subject of the Commodore, the latest company to be won over to its charms is Emu Systems. The highly wonderful Drumulator will soon be able to link with this micro making a substantial leap from eight song memories to 64.
Back home, the most enlivening news recently (well I think so) has been that useful music software and hardware is finally being provided for the excellent BBC micro. Clef products in Stockport have almost perfected a five octave keyboard which they hope to market for under £400.
With the BBC in tow it supplies 32 sound generators and 32 programmable envelope generators — across an eight note polyphonic keyboard and boils down to four sounds per note. The keyboard can be split and programmed for touch sensitivity, and the sequencer functions in a similar way to a digital recorder — you play the keys in real time and the BBC stores the notes, timing and expression.
Clef reckon their system will also run on the Apple II — speaking of which... The most famed applicants of the Apple must be Alpha Syntauri. For a couple of years, now, the Syntauri corporation in California has used the Apple in conjunction with a five octave keyboard for basic digital sound creation and sequencing though not the more involved computer techniques such as acoustic sound sampling.
Recently they've perfected a new batch of software entitled the Simply Music System — catchy, eh? It's a tutorial package designed to lead you through the tribulations or learning, practising and recording a composition. There are three choices of music display — the notes can appear on the screen in the form of a moving keyboard, as a stave of music, or as coloured bars turning on and off at set screen locations — very Close Encounters.
Patient sort of a character, as well, since the program is written to wait for you. It will spiel out a pre-recorded piece as you press the appropriate keys on the keyboard, but it won't move on to the next note until you hit the correct key. You can learn in traditional two handed piano style, or start off on the easy to follow melody lines.
Frankfurt should supply further info on the Yamaha CX5 computer which links with their MIDI-ed DX synths, and to what Roland will be up to with their DG computer systems. It's already known that one of their eventual aims is to be able to strum any old nonsense on your GR700 guitar synth, and have your DG link scrawling out the perfect musical score on the X/Y plotter. Expect a lot of that scribbling type business in the next few months.
And finally, a handful of sentences on the grand-daddy of computer of computer music, the Fairlight. The latest additions to the fabulous Australian mega-brain include improved channel cards now with a claimed frequency response of 20-20,000Hz, a revised rhythm programmer (Page R to the aficionados), and a new Film Composition software package. Movie and advert soundtrack work always involves tight timings — split seconds in fact.
Next month we can expect to see... a music printing system (told you) and... ta-ra... Fairlight goes MIDI. There'll be an interface board putting out an SMPTE code for tape synchronisation, and it'll provide four MIDI sockets. There'll also be a MIDI link for the Page R rhythm programmer.
And finally, probably just to spite One Two's resident compu-lout Andy Honeybone, the chips they are a-changing. In the future, Fairlight purchasers will have the option of replacing the usual 6800 chips with 6809s in that part of the machine which pumps the numbers around the wires. Plenty more speed, señor. Go to this month's When Is A Computer to see what difference a '9' can make.