The annual pilgrimage to Europe's largest music fair is over for another year. Vic Lennard brings hot news of the latest hi-tech developments, innovations, launches, lunches...
Like some works outing, the annual Frankfurt fair sees the hordes of the music industry pack their bags to spend a few days away from home. Here's what we did this year...
The Frankfurt Musik Messe is currently the world's largest music show, with over 1150 stands from 40 countries including Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Sweden, Hungary and Turkey. This augurs well for the impending open European Market and, perhaps, will prove to the American and Japanese manufacturers that life exists off their own shores. To be fair, many of the American companies at this year's NAMM Show were also present at Frankfurt, showing their wares in the European marketplace.
Perhaps the least expected new synth in Germany was the Waldorf Wave. This is intended to be the ultimate in wave synthesis and in order to accommodate the most demanding synthesist, it's modular. The basic unit offers a 61-note keyboard with 16 voices, but a 76-note version will be available and the number of voices can be expanded to 32 or 48. Impressive doesn't quite describe the features; there's eight-part multi-timbrality with three stereo outputs, two auxiliary outputs, 128 performances and internal sounds, 32 independent MIDI channels and eight keyboard zones for starters. The keyboard is capable of functioning as a master with channel aftertouch, modulation and pitchbend wheels (proper ones, not those sideways jobbies) along with a "freewheel", two play buttons and three footpedals, one of which functions as a sustain pedal.
Each voice has two oscillators and wavetable generators along with a noise generator, two LFOs, ADSR amplifier envelope, DADSR filter envelope and eight time-level pairs for the wave' envelope. The screen is a massive 480 x 64 pixels with eight buttons and faders purely for the display. Additionally, there are 27 sound edit buttons, 53 sound edit knobs and a 12-button numeric pad. Needless to say there's an HD disk drive which can be used to store sounds and performances. Starting at £3000, the synth isn't exactly a budget instrument, but it's certainly a synth against which others are likely to be measured.
Roland had a couple of keyboard tricks up their sleeve: the DJ70 (£1799) is a sampling workstation which could be considered a cut-down S770 but with added functions aimed at the DJ market. The standard memory of this 37-note keyboard is 2Mb, which can be expanded to 4Mb and is compatible with all disks from S770/750/550/330 and W30. Polyphony is 24 notes and full memory expansion gives 45 seconds at 44.1kHz. As with the rest of the current S-series, sound-shaping facilities include TVA and TVF and a 3.5" HD disk drive. Why call it a DJ? Because Roland have included a 12cm horizontal "scratch dial" which moves the sample around in much the same way as scratching with a record and turntable. To match their new GS format Sound Canvas-derivatives launched at NAMM, Roland announced the PC200 MkII (£215) and PC150 (£128). These each have 49-note keyboards but differ in that the PC200 MkII has velocity-sensitive keys, pitchbend and modulation levers, and various other controls while the PC150 is lacking them. Further, the PC150 has no socket for an external PSU as it only runs on batteries.
Also added to the Roland range were the A30 (£499) five-octave master keyboard with facilities aimed at their GS synths, and the AX1 (£445) portable controller which you nicely pose with round your neck (why didn't they call it the AX-1S?).
Having made mention of it at previous shows, Cheetah unveiled their 24-oscillator analogue synth, the Zeus 24. Aimed at a market various other manufacturers seem to have vacated, the Zeus offers 12 envelopes and LFOs per voice, is multitimbral with eight individual audio outputs and sports a 61-note keyboard with channel aftertouch and release velocity. Price will be around £3000. At the other end of the spectrum is Cheetah's MS800 Sampled Wave Synthesiser, a 15-voice multitimbral expander of half-rack size. Price is £199.99.
Relative newcomers to the keyboard scene they may be, but Peavey certainly haven't let that hinder the development of their keyboard range. Their new DPM2si is a 76-note synth using the company's Digital Phase Modulation system. It features 32-voice multitimbrality, 4Meg of internal 16-bit ROM samples, 200 RAM-based programs (a further 100 are available via ROM card), ten programmable Drum Kit locations, 16-track (80,000 note) sequencing and dual 24-bit digital effects processing. A newly-emerging Peavey line was the Spectrum modules - the Spectrum Synth and Spectrum Bass. These are 1U-high rackmounts boasting 999 presets of 16-bit resolution and 12-voice (24-oscillator) multitimbrality. The Synth module features 16 LFOs, 16 filters and hard sync and pulse-width modulation in pursuit of those old analogue sounds. The Bass module, meanwhile, is intended to be the answer to a programmer's most bass desires.
Peavey's CH8FD keyboard also draws on Digital Phase Modulation but ties it in with an 88-note weighted keyboard, onboard effects, a nine-track sequencer and 100 "of the highest quality Acoustic, Orchestral, Percussion and Synthesized electronic instrument sounds". In the States it's expected to score highly in the huge numbers of churches currently seeing the light of technology. In the UK we'll have to wait and see. Pairing up Peavey's DPM C8 MIDI master keyboard and PC1600 MIDI Controller/Universal Editor would give you a pretty comprehensive controller setup - the keyboard has 88 weighted keys, four programmable sliders, pitch wheel, mod wheels, disk drive and so on, while the Controller/Editor has 16 each of programmable sliders and switches, a data wheel, two CV inputs, MIDI filtering, slider grouping...
Yamaha added two further 61-note keyboards to their SY range. The SY35 (about £650) is the hi-tech division's keyboard version of the TG33. It offers both AWM and FM synthesis with 64 sounds each in ROM and RAM and a DSP for effects. The SY85 (about £1500) uses AWM2 and offers 30-note polyphony with 6Mb of ROM and 0.5Mb of RAM which can be increased to 3.5Mb by using an expansion board with inexpensive SIMM chips. Also included is a 3.5" DD disk drive for the 20,000 note, nine-track sequencer which can hold up to ten songs, and a real-time control system which allows you to simultaneously alter up to eight parameters via sliders.
To complement their TG100 GM sound module, Yamaha added the TG500, which will take the place of the TG77. This 1U-high rackmount unit offers 64-note polyphony with 384 preset sounds and 192 user memories. Price will be around £1100. A little more unexpected was the addition of a 16-bit percussion sound module in the RM50 (about £700) which has 500 presets, 500 partially editable sounds and 100 user memories. One optional extra is that of a battery backed-up expansion memory board which will hold sample waveforms. Included as standard is an audio-to-MIDI converter and six audio triggers.
Other launches on the synth side included the S2 and S3 from GEM - a pair of workstations differing only in their number of keys (61 and 76 respectively). Working with the PCM and wavetable synthesis techniques, they offer 6Mb of ROM and 2Mb of RAM with six, 18-bit DA converters, two DSPs for effects and digital filters. There's an on-board 3.5" HD disk drive which can read MIDI Files from ST and PC disks, and two independent MIDI Out ports to allow for up to 32 MIDI channels for the instrument's 16-part multitimbrality. Unfortunately the polyphony is only 16 voices, and even though the blurb states that it complies with the General MIDI standard program change configuration, it will not play back MIDI Files intended for true GM synths (which demands 24-note polyphony). Price will be around £2000.
Musitronics have added a PCM-EX board for the Yamaha SY range of synths; an additional 8Mb of PCM data is added to the SY/TG77 (at about £300) and 4Mb to the SY/TG55 (for around £300) with 128 new sounds being included as standard; of the sounds I heard, the tuba, Fender bass and tenor sax were rather good.
Quasimidi released three new items: the first was the QM2016 (around £649), a 20-input, 16-output MIDI patchbay. This unit is particularly interesting, as it can handle filtering and merging on the first five Ins but uses the rest as a straightforward patching matrix. Very sensible - as is having the first two MIDI Ins and Outs on the front panel for ease of patching. Next up is the QM Merge which can merge three inputs and also provides a three-way MIDI Thru facility and some basic processing. Finally there was the Style Drive (around £699) which will let you create and impose your own styles on MIDI song data. It also offers MIDI data storage via its 3.5" disk drive and will record MIDI song data direct to disk as well as reading MIDI Files and Roland style cards.
There are one or two MIDI foot controller units on the market, but generally they tend to be rather basic - Ground Control from Dynamix is anything but. Each of eight foot-pedals can transmit up to 64 bytes of MIDI data including System Exclusive - for sending parameter changes to synths and the like. For programming, there is a 1U-high rackmount system unit with a 2 x 40- character screen and a data card slot for saving commands and performance memories. Price is around £500; worth a look.
Creating a great deal of interest on the software side was C-Lab's move onto the Apple Macintosh platform with the launch of Notator Logic. Part of the name may have been inherited from the ST program but that's about where the similarities end, as it's a brand new sequencing program intended for use with the Mac's System 7 operating system.
Notator Logic is an object-orientated music environment with a practically limitless number of tracks. The resolution is 960ppqn and Notator Logic has a tempo range of between 0.05 and 9999.99 beats per minute. The entire MIDI setup can be shown - and patched - on-screen in a similar manner to Opcode's OMS system. All events are shown in a linear fashion, but multiple tracks can be placed together in "folders" to prevent the visual cluttering of the screen. Cycle points can be altered on the fly and both Event List and Score Editors are available.
The demo was absolutely blinding - one of the best I've ever seen, with a complete song being input by a drummer with pads and a Roland Octapad; drums, bass, strings, brass stabs, piano - the lot. In fact, I had to go back a second time to watch it objectively. Of course, it's impossible to say how Notator Logic will feel when being used in the studio, and the manipulation of data on-screen may well upset many Mac die-hards in that it doesn't appear to have the feel of a Mac application, but the same could be said of Steinberg's Cubase. In fact, Notator Logic and Cubase are likely to be the two programs that people upgrading to the Mac from an ST will look most closely at. Steinberg may have the slight advantage of having the print-out version of Cubase - Cubase Score - in final beta-test while the initial release version of Notator Logic will not have such a facility. Either way, both of these programs are visually streets ahead of any other sequencer on the Mac.
C-Lab were also showing Mac versions of Aura, the ear training program, and Midia, the graphic display program for MIDI events. Prices will be a little more than the Atari ST versions.
Sample Tools from Italy, known for their Sample Tools editor-librarian for the Roland S550 (now called Unistar) released a further three programs: Polystar (around £400) is an Akai S1000/1100 and Roland S750/770 librarian and editor; Parastar (around £250) is a real-time parameter and wave editor for the Akai S1000/1100, and Wavestar (around £130) is a librarian and editor for all samplers that conform to the MIDI Sample Dump Standard.
Having launched Cubase Windows at the NAMM Show, Steinberg followed up with the necessary PC interfaces: PC MIDI 1 is a basic one-input, one-output MIDI card (for around £90) while the SMPII offers two MIDI Ins and four independent MIDI Outs along with SMPTE and MTC in a 1U-high rack unit (around £550). Also released on the hardware side were two interfaces for the Mac to go with Mac Cubase: Mac MIDI 1 has one MIDI In and three parallel MIDI Outs (about £80) while the Mac MIDI 2S has two MIDI Ins each with three MIDI Outs along with SMPTE and MTC (around £350). (All prices translated from German DMs.)
On the software side, Steinberg were showing MasterScore II, a desktop music publisher for the Atari ST which retails at £325. Input is via any of the Steinberg sequencing programs or via MIDI File from any other program, in step time from a MIDI keyboard, or ASCII from the computer keyboard. The musical complexity which the program can accommodate is likely to rival similar programs on the Apple Macintosh.
For the PC Twelve Tone Systems were showing Cakewalk Professional for Windows. PC sequencing programs have come a long way visually, courtesy of the Windows environment. Cakewalk Pro offers 256 tracks, Scoring, Piano Roll and Event List editors, System Exclusive librarian, SMPTE/MTC sync and the ability to create key macros. Unfortunately, no-one distributes it in the UK.
Following on from the K..AT ST remote keyboard controller, FriendChip added a version for the Mac (about £110) and the DC K..AT Desktop Controller which includes several sets of remote buttons, a heavy-duty wheel for mouse movement and a series of keys for the mouse buttons. Versions are available for the Mac (around £300) and the ST (around £270).
From Opcode came the Studio 4 (less than £500) which is a MIDI patchbay and SMPTE synchroniser in one for the Apple Mac. With eight independent MIDI Ins and Outs, this is likely to be a contender in a market dominated by Mark of the Unicorn's MIDI Time Piece.
Soundcraft took advantage of the Frankfurt show to preview their Spirit Auto mixing desk - which is basically a Spirit Studio with automation. However, this doesn't just handle MIDI muting, but covers fader VCA automation as well. This may be computer-controlled via Cubase's MIDI Manager page (or similar) or you might prefer to use the dedicated program being developed by Steinberg. The desk will be available from June 1992.
Both Fostex and Soundtracs had rackmount mixers on display whose settings can be transmitted over MIDI. From Fostex there was the DCM100, which has eight stereo pairs mixed into one stereo pair with high and low EQ and two auxiliary sends. The MixTab control box allows you to change settings and then save them as one of 100 scenes which record the level, pan, EQ settings and aux levels - cost for the pair will be around £700. The MIDI Mixer from Soundtracs has similar functions and also allows you to fade from one scene to the next - price is around £550, although a hardware control box is not included. Many sequencers will be able to control either of these - Fostex had a MIDI Manager page from Cubase set up on the stand.
Plasmec were showing four versions of ADAS, their direct-to-disk recording system. For the Atari ST there was the latest update with resizeable windows and new record and cue list functions while both the Apple Mac and PC Windows versions were up and running on the stand. The fourth version is free-standing with a large LCD and an RGB socket for an external monitor. While the processor is still a 68000, the unit appears to function far more smoothly than on the ST; perhaps this is the advantage of not having to run via the ST's operating system. The front panel has a scrub wheel, which previously required the use of a mouse and the cost, including a 100Mb hard drive, is around £2500 - this also includes a digital I/O board. Also on display was the new range of Plasmec hard drives; fixed, 88Mb removable and 128Mb opticals.
Not quite ready for the NAMM Show, Opcode released the budget multimedia Macintosh program called Audioshop (£69.95) at Frankfurt. This integrates the use of eight-bit digitised audio with audio uploaded from standard CDs via a CD-ROM player.
One of the biggest surprises was the launch of a two-track record, four-track playback direct-to-disk system from Yamaha. High on spec with 16-bit A/D and 18-bit D/A conversion (eight times oversampled), digital I/O (AES/EBU, SPDIF and Yamaha Y2), a DSP for reverb and modulation effects and three-band digital parametric EQ, the most interesting part is its lack of a front end - Yamaha have left this to software companies with expertise in this area. Mark of the Unicorn, with Digital Performer on the Mac, and Steinberg, with Cubase Audio on the ST, are providing the user interfaces, although other companies are likely to get involved. Price is expected to be under £2000, which includes an external 100Mb hard drive.
Akai also announced a budget direct-to-disk system in the HDR100, a four-track system which allows four units to be linked to provide 16-track recording. Price will be about £1399. Also mentioned was the LR900 (about £249), which is an automatic looping recorder with up to eight seconds of delay time available, aimed at guitarists and DJs. On display was the v2.0 software for the S1100, which adds the feature of direct-to-disk recording for £349.
Vapourware - a lovely Americanism, of which the epitome was an offering from Anatek. The Radar is a 24-track direct-to-disk system which was shown as a box with level meters painted on and a remote which had the numbers being rubbed off the display due to handling. Cost is intended to be around $15,000 at the end of the year. Could the fact that Anatek (currently without UK distribution) have recently been bought out by a company-specialising in the manufacture of hard drives have anything to do with this?
If I were to choose one absolute oddball from the show, it would have to be the two German guys who have put together a two-input, two-output merging MIDI interface for the Atari Portfolio palmtop computer (the one that runs MS-DOS) and have also written sequencing and MIDI monitoring software for it. I know that people climb mountains "because they are there", but this is ridiculous.