More thoughts on the Acorn music system reviewed on pi02.
You know, it takes a lot of guts to do what Acorn Computers have done with their Music 500 system (see exclusive review in this month's CM). I really take my hat off to them. A major company with a multi-million pound turnover producing a serious digital synth add-on for their flagship computer... Well, it's just been unheard of up until now, and it's going to be fascinating to see what effect Acorn's move has on other (less imaginative) companies.
It's worth noting that the only micro that's even vaguely on the horizon with as deep a concern for things musical is the one being developed by the Amega Corporation in the States. Aside from having a truly remarkable 4096 colours in any graphics mode - courtesy of a custom graphics coprocessor - this machine also has sampled-sound capabilities that owe their existence to a further custom chip and the involvement of Sequential Circuits, or so I was told by SCI's John Bowen a few months back. But bearing in mind that Commodore have just purchased the Amega Corporation, and that Atari has sued Amega claiming that the sale to Commodore violates agreements between Amega and Atari over the licensing of the machine, the emergence of this 'under $1500' computer now seems a somewhat remote prospect. Which makes you all the more grateful for home-grown developments.
So, why have computer manufacturers been so resistant in the past to giving serious space to music? Take Apple Computers, for instance. They're zooming up the stock market, launching all manner of new and enterprising machines, but can't see beyond their collective noses when it comes to the sound specs of their machines.
You'd have thought that the Macintosh would have had a decent custom sound chip, wouldn't you? But no. Instead, that beautiful 68000 processor (the same as that used by the Kurzweil 250) is made to give up as much as 30% of its processing just for the sake of synthesising four channels of not-that-inspiring sound. And if you want to do that at the same time as using graphics... well, forget it.
Actually, I guess the real reason for this recalcitrance is quite simply that most people just don't know what to do with the facilities when they've got them.
It's all very well having this or that structured BASIC, but musical activities are easier said than done, especially when the language is doing its best to confuse the issue and makes scoring a piece of music an inelegant mass of DATA statements and convoluted GOSUBs.
No, for the music side of micros to really take off, a special language is needed that meets music's essentially multitasking requirements. Which is where the AMPLE side of Acorn's Music 500 steps into the picture or, at least, where there's a potential for it to step into the spotlight of public appraisal. To be honest, when the designers of this Advanced Music Production LanguagE first suggested to me that they were looking for its general acceptance as a music programming language, my first reaction was pretty sceptical. Well, arrogance has that effect on me. But I'm beginning to see their point.
Perhaps the right software is the way to drag hardware designs into the next century, even if it's reluctantly and by the scruff of their necks.
Really, it's up to you, the musical consumer, and what you do with a language that offers flexibility and expandability on a plate. So cogitate gently, send us your AMPLE-scored pieces for publication, and let us know what you think.
Editorial by David Ellis
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