A review of Rosetti's latest software for the Spectrum and Commodore micros.
Peter Schwartz links up with Rosetti's new interfaces and software for the Commodore and Spectrum micros.
Beginning with the hardware, the RMS 1H and RMS 2H; the former works with the Commodore 64, costs £29.95 and lacks footswitch facilities, whereas the latter works with the Commodore 64 or Sinclair Spectrum, has external and footswitch inputs, and costs £89.95. The 2H is identical in operation to SIEL's interface and like it includes MIDI In, Out and Thru (to be fashionably Americanised).
The 2H takes the form of an inoffensive looking box, about the size of a box of chocolates bought for someone you wouldn't want to invest too much cash on, and has three MIDI outputs. For the unwary, this may lead to the conclusion that it can control three MIDI synths — this, of course, isn't the case. It can control 16 or even more synths, because MIDI is a serial communication system with built-in routines for extracting 16 different sets of information from whatever is transmitted. Having three outputs will just save you a few DIN plugs and MIDI Thru boxes (if your keyboard isn't so equipped).
The 2H has a multicore output lead terminating in two connectors, which as previously mentioned make it compatible with the Commodore 64 and Spectrum. Other computers may well be brought onto the scene soon (the BBC being an obvious contender, but lacking the almost worldwide distribution of the other two); some computers will need hardware or software changes, others simply a different connector lead. Rosetti are supplying a Commodore Synchro Port lead for £15.50, a MIDI cable for £5.50 and a double footswitch for £18.95.
The applications for the footswitch will become clear when we look at the specific software facilities in each package, but before doing that we'll briefly mention the 1H or 'Mini' Interface. This consists of an exposed circuit comprising a handful of chips which allow you to run the simpler software; for the moment on the Commodore 64 only. One of its indubitable advantages is economy (it's cheap!) and so it represents an ideal way to get into the MIDI/computer world without a very high initial investment.
The first software package is the RMS20C, on disc for the Commodore 64, It comprises a powerful 6-track composition language which uses a combination of letters and numbers without keyboard entry. It's rather similar to the Fairlight's Music Composition Language and could allow you to create a multitrack composition using a stack of expander modules (SIEL, Oberheim or Roland for instance) which can play directly to tape without any use of a conventional keyboard.
The screen display of a finished composition initially looks a little intimidating,but all becomes clear after a few minutes. Each note is specified by a letter and a number — C4 for the fourth C on the keyboard for instance — and the MIDI channel of the synth required to play that note is then entered. A Note Length figure gives the duration of the note, and a Gate Length figure makes it staccato (short and sharp) or legato (long and sustained).
Once a few notes have been entered in this way, the whole group can be copied with any desired transposition; in English, the instruction would be 'Copy a group of four notes starting at note one with a transposition of three semitones'. In the machine language this becomes C-4-1-3, which isn't too demanding, and you can quickly come up with some frighteningly complex patterns (depending on how many MIDI synths you have to hand, of course). Incidentally, you can assign more than one MIDI channel to a single synth, so one keyboard or expander could play three-note chords with a certain sound while another played a bass line, a third played leads and a fourth added sound effects. Since the software can change the sound in any synth during the course of the composition, the possibilities are almost endless. The RMS20C disc will set you back a mere £49.95 — and take note that this is one of the packages also marketed by SIEL.
SIEL have another simple Spectrum program for a realtime polyphonic sequencer, giving a single sequence played on the keyboard and looped using the footswitch. It's similar to the Prophet 600's built-in sequencer, and quite useful for composing and generally mucking about.
Unique to Rosetti at the moment is the RMS125 for the Spectrum. It's an 8-track composer intended to simulate a complete studio in many ways, and assignable to eight MIDI channels. Up to 8,000 notes can be shared among these channels and entry can be from computer or music keyboard, with comprehensive editing facilities. A Time Signature is set at the start of the composition, after which the music entered is automatically arranged into bars shown on a musical stave; MIDI velocity information can also be stored (for DX7 Prophet T8, Opera 6 and other lucky owners) and there's a constant readout of remaining capacity. The 12C isn't included on the initial price list, but it should be available by the time you read this.
The RMS11S is an arpeggiator program which is also available tor the Commodore 64 as RMS23C, in each case at £19.95. It's very simple to use, basically duplicating and expanding the arpeggiator facilities of a Polysynth for those which haven't got it (Juno 106 purchasers for a start). The program can store up to 40 chords and can play arpeggios on them over one, two or three octaves moving up, down or both; a footswitch can step along to the next arpeggio and a drum machine input can sync up the tempo.
There's one other program for the Spectrum, the RNS10S Live Recording Sequencer, which hadn't been seen at the time of writing but which will cost £29.95. In addition there are two Commodore 64 programs intended for the Yamaha DX7, a Sound Editor (RMS21C £49.95) and a Sound Library (RMS22C — also £49.95).
The DX7 Sound Editor performs a vital task in making the complexities of FM synthesis a little more comprehensible — or at least a little more visible. Yamaha themselves are having a go at this with the display on the large DX1, and also with some of the routines on the CX5 Music Computer, but this method is a lot cheaper. Diagrams and tables of algorithms, frequency ratios and envelope parameters are displayed, and changes made either on the synth itself or via the computer are shown graphically. The entire display can be printed out for a permanent record. The Sound Library program is expected to include 96 sounds, which can be loaded 32 at a time (unless you've been sensible enough to write to the US for a memory expansion, which will allow you to load all 96).
Taking the Rosetti range as a whole, there's a good spread of cost and specification. The cheaper interface together with the arpeggio program for instance represents a tiny fraction of the cost of a MIDI synth, and so must be counted great value for money. The more complex composition programs need to prove themselves before any conclusions can be reached, although it's clear that the Commodore 64 program is great for anybody who wants to compose without going near any black and white keys at all. The arpeggiators are quite interesting too — a very simple sequencer, if you like.
Review by Peter Schwartz
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