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Computer Musician


Article from Electronics & Music Maker, November 1984

Frankie says Extract Your Digits. But should we?

One of the few advantages of the medical profession is that it makes you pretty resilient: in fact, it takes quite a lot to ruffle my feathers. Or at least, that's what I thought until picking up the September issue of Your Computer with its by-line of 'Music and Micros: Two Tribes in Harmony'. This refers to an interview with one Steve Lipson, a studio and computer engineer working at Sarm Studios on the Frankie Goes To Hollywood album under the omnipresent Trevor Horn. Now, there's nothing censorial about that - indeed, I admire the latter's skill as a producer - but what raises my gall is Mr Lipson's comments about home computer-based systems.

First, about Commodore 64s and Yamaha CX5s, he says: 'Nothing is going to happen with all that stuff. MIDI's useful but going to run out shortly.' Then, he adds some choice comments about eight-bit synthesis, the Fairlight, and the CX5 and Commodore 64 (again): 'eight-bit sounds are unusable - the Fairlight's different because it has got a graunch noise of its own. It just lowers the quality of what we're going to be hearing. Very few people have got all the gear and then everyone else with their CX5s and Commodore 64s will be struggling desperately hard with not really a hope in hell, apart from the odd genius.'

Mr Lipson, of course, uses the Sinclavier (the article's mistake, not ours, but didn't they always call Hollywood Sin City?), so perhaps he should know best. Actually, he's wrong on just about every count. MIDI won't run out shortly because people are working out ways of getting around its limitations (see this month's Rumblings, for instance). Its problem of speed is being met by a technique - 'concurrency', meaning activities that operate in parallel - that's set to be the word on the tip of many tongues in the computer music industry.

And eight-bit sounds? Well, they're as usable as any other - including the 16-bit sampling overkill of the Synclavier - but surely what counts is how they're used, whether that be in imaginative digital drum patterns, MCL sequencing, or whatever? Perhaps we should turn the table on Steve Lipson and ask him to defend the sledgehammer-cracking-a-walnut practice of using a £30,000 system to churn out slapped bass riffs at nineteen-to-the-dozen.

But what really gets my umbrage going is the suggestion that musicians using the Commodore 64 and Yamaha CX5 are wasting their time. Indeed, it worries me that people might have read the Your Computer article and gained the (misguided) impression that musical activities based around the home micro are futile. Aside from the fact that the Commodore 64 is being used for both studio and stage sequencing work, courtesy of MIDI, there's a host of software now available for making good (if not brilliant) music at home. And in the case of the CX5M, things are taken a few steps further. After all, this machine is, to all intents and purposes, multiple DX sound sources in a single unit - the poor man's TX816 if you like - and is quite capable of giving even the Synclavier a run for its money.

Which brings me to another point. Why does Mr Lipson assume that users of home computer-based music systems are out to compete in the rat-race of commercial rock? Surely the important point is that such systems give the average musician on the street the opportunity to create his or her own music rather than live perpetually off the waxings of this or that group immortalised in the over-produced and over-expensive vinyl of the media's latest darling? That, for me, is what the micro musical revolution is all about.

And anyhow, the CX5's sounds are 12-bit. So who gives a monkey's what Frankie says'?

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

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Electronics & Music Maker - Nov 1984

Computer Musician



Editorial by David Ellis

Previous article in this issue:

> Everything but the Kitchen.....

Next article in this issue:

> Rumblings

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