Every news bulletin tells us more about "the recession" - but how badly is it affecting the music biz? Ian Waugh reports from the front line at the International Music Show.
In the wake of the Frankfurt Musik Messe and in the depths of a recession, the International Music Show took place in London recently. Was it a suicide mission or was there a victory in the offing?
AFTER VISITING EUROPE'S largest music fair, the Frankfurt Musik Messe (see report MT, May '91), it's very easy to be blasé about our own International Music Show (previously the British Music Fair). Not all the "famous names" attend and it's somewhat smaller - but it's still the premier UK music exhibition and it does offer UK residents hands-on access to the vast majority of current and soon-to-be-released musical equipment.
This year, the floor space was considerably reduced from that of last year's event although a head count revealed only a handful fewer exhibitors. Most of the big boys had opted for smaller stands and there were many minimum-size one-booth stands. It's debatable whether or not the "International" tag succeeded in attracting any extra exhibitors or visitors. Visual evidence seemed to suggest it didn't.
For the seasoned music hack looking for news copy, the Frankfurt bash, coming only months earlier, tends to grab most of-the new releases. This was certainly the case this year but there were a few gems waiting to be unearthed at the IMS.
We'll start with the hardware and a surprise exhibitor in the form of E-mu Systems who were exhibiting at the BMF, er IMS, for the first time in five years. Lots of top American brass, clean-cut boys in evidence, too.
E-mu were launching the Proteus MPS (Master Performance System) (£1199) - a Proteus with a keyboard attached. As most companies produce both keyboard and expander versions of most of their synths, the only questions to ask are "why did it take E-mu so long to do it?" and "is it any good?". Ask E-mu the first question and watch for a review in MT soon.
The keyboard is velocity- and pressure-sensitive and ten Quickeys are used to instantly call up voice presets and keyboard zones. The samples are selected from the Emulator II sound library occupying 4Meg of ROM. They're based on those in the Proteus 1 with the addition of new piano samples, and there's also a wide range of digital effects.
Also on the E-mu stand was a 15-page photocopied document called Procussion Pro Tips, a collection of hints and tips for the Procussion module. This should be available through dealers or, in case of difficulty, direct from E-mu.
After opting out of last year's show, British flag-wavers Cheetah were back showing the MS800 (£199) wavetable synthesiser which has now been promised for August or September after considerable development delays. Also due at that time is the MD16RP (£399.95), a rack-mount version of the MD16 (see review MT, March '91) featuring 700 sounds and eight individual audio outs.
Cheetah's latest announcement is the Zeus 24, an analogue machine and Cheetah's first keyboard synth. The spec is impressive and includes 24 oscillators with 12 envelopes and 12 LFOs per voice. However, the model on show was little more than a mock-up and Cheetah, wisely, wouldn't be drawn on a release date. They are hoping it will achieve mega machine status, however, and "hope to keep it under £2000".
Speaking of mega machines, you could actually reach out and touch Yamaha's new top-of-the-range machine, the SY99. The prototype at Frankfurt was locked in a glass case but at the IMS you could hear what all the fuss was about. It's based on the SY77 but contains a new set of sampled waveforms and you can load new samples into it either from floppy disk or via the MIDI sample dump standard. It is already compatible with the TX16W sample library. It has a new range of digital effects and a ten-song sequencer.
It will be shipping by the time you read this, but interest in it at the show was so high that it may be in short supply for a while so you'll have time to save up - but you won't get much change from two-and-a-half grand.
If you already have one of Yamaha's SY instruments, check out a new range of books - Exploring the SY22 (£9), SY22 Operations, Tweaking and Vector Synthesis Handbook (£20), SY77 Soundmaking and Operations Level 1 (£20) and The SY77 Cheater's Guide and Cookbook (£20). They should be available from your local Yamaha dealer.
Korg's Wavestation A/D was on show at Frankfurt but it's only now due to start shipping. The price has been fixed a little lower, too, at £1450 including VAT. One of its major selling points is the Analogue-to-Digital inputs (hence its A/D tag) which allow it to process any acoustic sound source for use in a wave sequence. It also doubles as a vocoder (whatever happened to vocoders?) and very impressive the demo was, too.
After a year or two in the wilderness, Kurzweil (now distributed by Acrobat Music, sister company of The Piano Warehouse) seem determined to make an attack on the UK music market with the 88-note K1200 (£1899) synth, the 76-key version, the Pro 76 (£1786) and the Pro 1 (£1529), which is the expander.
These have 24-voice polyphony and 162 presets selected from 6Meg of waveform samples. The sparse front-panel controls are misleading and the Acrobat demo pieces, programmed on Notator, were seriously impressive.
K-Edit (£169), a voice editor, is also available in a cute satchel case. It runs on the Atari ST and requires 1Meg of RAM.
Roland were celebrating their tenth UK birthday by majoring on all the goodies they had on show at Frankfurt - so there's no need to go over old ground again other than to comment on the complete absence of the Sound Brush (although the Sound Canvas was there doing its stuff). These units, you may recall, follow Roland's GS MIDI spec which defines that certain sounds should always have the same program change numbers. It should ensure that a piece of music recorded using the GS standard can be played back on any other GS-compatible piece of equipment. Both Brush and Canvas, however, should be shipping soon.
Brand spanking new was the SCC1, the Sound Canvas Card, for the PC. So new was it, in fact, that it was only flown in the day before the Show and SCC1 is just a working name thought up on the spur of the moment. So they say. It's a half-size PC card with a Mac-type (ADB) five-pin connector into which plugs a flying lead terminating in MIDI sockets. It has a full 24-voice polyphony with dynamic voice assignment, 315 sounds and nine drum sets.
The MIDI interface is MPU401 compatible making the card a likely replacement for the LAPC1, an MT32 on a card, but which requires an extra (optional) MIDI interface. The SCC1 will cost about £375 but the LAPC1 and its interface have been reduced in price so they should end up costing about the same.
On the subject of Roland's computer kit, I might as well add that a PC version of Tentrax is due soon for the SCC1 and v2 of Tentrax (see review last month) for the ST is on its way.
The MCM stand was awash with new gear and gizmos. The new Waldorf Microwave II has new operating software and new presets, additional sound banks and improved SysEx capabilities. It's also down in price to £899 (plus VAT). The Waveslave, however, seems to have undergone a price increase since Frankfurt to £749 (plus VAT). It doubles the capacity of the Microwave II and is controlled entirely from the master module.
The Oberheim OB-MX (£still TBA) is a MIDI-programmable analogue synth with lots of knobs and switches to twiddle - 97 in all. The audio path is entirely analogue and it can produce up to 12 stereo polyphonic voices. It should be in the shops by the time you read this.
Also worth checking out are the Drummer and the Strummer (£159 each plus VAT). The Drummer (see review elsewhere in this issue) "takes care of your drum programming for you". It can produce more than 10,000 patterns and has a built-in sequencer so you can design your own should you need more. It's compatible with any MIDI drum machine or module.
The Strummer converts keyboard chords to guitar voicings. Yep, you can read that again. As well as re-voicing the chords it can also strum them. Other features include MIDI delay, velocity switching, transposition (for harmonisation) and an arpeggiator.
We'll stay on the MCM stand to take a look at the Zoom 9030 (£449 plus VAT) which is billed as an Advanced Instrument Effects Processor. It fills only half a rack space and features 47 effects modules. It boasts proprietary effects which "other manufacturers leave out because they are too expensive". This includes a polyphonic intelligent pitch shifter which follows major or minor scales (this I wanna try).
Speaking of effects, there were lots-of them scattered around the stands. Yamaha's FX900, EMP100 and FX500B were receiving their first British showing. The FX900 Simul-Effect Processor (£665) allows seven simultaneous programmable effects to be combined in series or parallel, all in stereo. The FX500B is a specialised unit based on the FX500, developed specifically for Bass Guitarists.
If you're after a budget FX unit for home recording, there's the EMP100 Multi-Effects Processor (£259) containing 100 presets and 50 programmable settings. It contains a tap tempo facility for quickly setting delay times. MIDI-compatible, too.
Small is beautiful according to Vestax who were showing a Mini Rack Effects System. There are six in the range - Distortion, Overdrive, Compressor, Chorus, Flanger, and Digital Delay - and feature mini toggle switches and minimal rotary controls. They're somewhat smaller than even a half-rack unit and fit into their own mini-rack stand (£14.32). Sit all six on top of each other in the correct order and watch the colour scheme melt from orange into red. Very eye-catching. All units cost £38.37 except the Delay which retails at £77.89. (All prices exclude VAT.) Vestax, champions of the budget studio, were also showing the RMC88 (approximately £650 plus VAT), a rack-mount mixer designed for use with personal multitrackers, and the MR44 (£348 plus VAT) multitracker with mixer. The RMC88 allows up to eight-track recording and lets you route the input signal to Record or to a Sub Master which can then be routed back to any channel. This allows up to seven channels of input to be processed and then routed to one or more outs. It can also function as a traditional mixer. It's hoped shipping will start in September.
And if you don't have a multitracker yet, the MR44 has a built-in four-channel mixer, dbx noise reduction, five-band stereo graphic equaliser, a MIDI sync jack, twin-speed transport controls and you can record on all four tracks simultaneously. All the Ins and Outs are on the front for easy repatching.
Speaking of recorders, you could be forgiven for thinking that there was a Casio DA7 on the Tascam stand. There wasn't - it was a DA20P. The main difference between the two are the XLR sockets on the DA20P and a slightly redesigned case. Oh, and the price: the DA20P should sell for around £499 excluding VAT and be in the shops in September.
If you aspire to higher things, note that Tascam's pro DA30 has been reduced in price from £1179 to £999 (plus VAT).
Finally, for a spot of dreaming, run your fingers over the M3700-24 (around £8500 plus VAT) and the M3700-32 (around £9500 plus VAT). These are two automated mixing consoles based on the M3500 series with VCA fader, channel mute and aux mute automation. They have onboard data storage and editing facilities, can generate time code and are software updatable. Drool.
Sound Technology were showing the three new Ensoniq keyboards which were unveiled at Frankfurt and the Alesis D4 - a drum module in a rack based on the HR16 and SR16 machines. The spec has been updated since Frankfurt and it now features 500 sounds and 12 audio trigger-to-MIDI channels. It's still not complete, however, but is online for an August launch.
Guitarists could check out the Alesis Quadraverb GT (that's quite enough from them) and everyone could check out the RA100 Reference Amp.
Of prime interest to recordists was the Alesis ADAT modular digital audio recording system. This was previewed at Frankfurt and it's still not quite finished. The projected delivery date is the fourth quarter of the year but it may be the back end of the quarter rather than the front end. And speaking of ends, there will be Mac and ST front ends for it, too.
Staying with Sound Tech, let's check out the latest music software. C-Lab's Creator/Notator v3.1 will be ready to ship in August. New features include enhanced score edit and printing options, support for the Fostex MTC1, a graphic arrange mode, the ability to display 32 tracks in a Pattern and new keyboard shortcuts. It also includes a printer driver for the Cannon BJ10 Bubblejet printer. The update will be £25 including VAT.
C-Lab's Polyframe Editor should now be available after a preview at Frankfurt last year. The program is complete but the delay is due, apparently, to delays in developing a dongle which will allow Polyframe to co-run with Notator. Bloody nuisance, dongles.
Digidesign's Pro Tools for the Mac is due for release in August. It was developed from the Sound Tools hard disk recording system. The system is modular, each module providing four tracks. A four-slot Mac, therefore, can be expanded to provide 16 tracks of digital recording.
The other major software news could be found on the MCM stand. Version 4.5 of Passport's Master Tracks Pro (£310 plus VAT) was announced. It includes three new methods of recording, support for Apple's MIDI Manager, on-screen faders and programmable device names. A preset palette includes many popular instruments and you can add to these or customise them.
Passport's Trax now runs under Windows 3 and can utilise extended memory. This, too, has programmable device names and on-screen faders. The price seems to have dropped, too, down to £59 plus VAT.
The IMS also offered visitors the chance to check out the new Opcode software. This includes Track Chart (£139 plus VAT), a studio management program.
One of the most significant steps forward in software management is Opcode's OMS (Opcode MIDI System) which gives access to up to 240 MIDI channels. It uses a system of devices rather than MIDI ports. You describe your setup to it, which is saved in a Studio Setup file. This is used by Opcode programs by automatically defining instruments in Vision, assigning the correct devices to patch banks in Galaxy and controlling routings via Studio V.
OMS isn't a stand-alone program, rather it's now included in all new versions of Opcode software. These include v1.3 of Vision (£349 plus VAT), the Galaxy Plus Editors (£259 plus VAT) and Studio V (£TBA). The Galaxy Editor is a universal librarian compatible with over 90 MIDI devices. Studio V is a 2U-high rack-mount Mac interface with SMPTE generator and 15 x 15 MIDI patchbay. It's based on Studio 3.
Apart from the Sound Technology and MCM stands, software and computers were rather thin on the ground, although the Mac and ST were evident in equal quantities.
It could even be said that the Mac dominated the proceedings. Gateway, the music technology education people, were demonstrating a couple of interactive CD music ROMS for the Mac - Beethoven's String Quartet No. 14 and Mozart's The Magic Flute. Not exactly MT fare, perhaps, but the interaction between program and user was superb. No reason why this technology could not tackle more modern music or aspects of technology. No doubt it will.
Almost hidden on the Gateway stand was the K..AT (that's how they spell it!), a keyboard remote for the ST. The hardware is supported by a Desk Accessory program and gives you remote control over up to 14 functions as alternatives to using the keyboard. K..AT is being handled by Q-Logic and costs £65 including VAT.
It was interesting to see Mindscape at the IMS. What was a dedicated games software house doing there? Promoting the Miracle Piano Teaching System, that's what. The package includes a piano-type keyboard and software for the PC, Amiga and, believe it or not, the Nintendo Gameboy!
You learn by playing a series of games, many arcade-like in structure. Some of the graphics are quite sophisticated. At an all-in price of £250 they could be onto a winner. It's due for release in September.
A new voice distribution company, Eye & I, were showing a range of voice cards, RAM packs and disks for most of the popular Ensoniq, Korg, Peavey, Kawai, Akai, Waldorf, Yamaha and Roland synths with prices ranging from £24.95 for SY/TG55 disks, up to £70 for Korg Wavestation performances in RAM. They're from a company called Voice Crystal and most of the sounds are endorsed by famous names.
As we edge away from the actual hardware, it's interesting to take a look at some of the other stands. Van Der Graph, for example, were selling computer-generated/assisted prints based on infrared images of performers and spectrascope analysis of pieces of music. And very nice they looked, too, available in mini postcard form for 25p up to £20 for a framed print.
A chap looking more house than new age was distributing Soundwaves,a new age magazine published by NAMA - the New Age Music Association. Contents include personalities, reviews, new age music theory and other articles.
MT regular Vic Leonard used the IMS to expand his UKMA into the EMA - the European MIDI Association. Issue 0 (well, why not?) of a special MIDI Monitor was being given away free. Well worth obtaining a copy - if there are any left - if you want to see what UKMA and the EMA are all about.
Do you play sitting down? If you do and have difficulty finding a comfortable seat, whether you're a drummer, guitarist or keyboard player, John Henry Enterprises reckon they have a seat to fit your bum. They range in price from £85 (including VAT) up to £229 for the Nitro II Keyboard Throne. And very comfortable they are, although I didn't manage to do a three-hour soak test!
The BCK stand was sporting a new range of System One invisible stands which are actually being distributed by Argents. They are wire-frame affairs and prices start from £89 (including VAT) for a two-tier option. Also in evidence here were the Quasimidi range of MIDI utilities and another pretender to the Hammond throne. Watch MT for news/reviews.
That man of a thousand MIDI boxes, Philip Rees, was showing a new MIDI controller - the G2. The novelty is, it's shaped like a guitar with a "strum plate" and "chord" buttons on the neck. It's aimed at first instrument buyers and anyone wanting to play guitar samples in a guitar style. It will cost around £400.
It's all very well working on your licks but if you want to get anywhere in the music business you need to do some promotion. Btm (Back to mono) studios were showing off their video demo facilities. They use a "live stage" set and guarantee a band up to an hour or an hour-and-a-half on stage while the 11-strong crew video and record the show resulting in a live mix demo tape on super VHS, all for £500.
It was quite a surprise to see an artist management company at the IMS, too. Artist Connection is actively looking for new acts and guarantee a hearing in all the major A&R departments. Too good to be true? In the first instance, you must complete a very simple questionnaire (about half-a-dozen questions), so phone Artist Connection 071-437 6900 for yours.
It's no good making it if you're not around to enjoy it. Come to that, it's no good struggling if you're not around to enjoy it, either. The Health & Safety Executive hosted an electrical safety press meeting which detailed some of the electrical hazards facing the musician, especially in unfamiliar halls and clubs. I'll bet there's more than one MT reader who has received an electrical shock on stage by touching a live mic stand, for example.
Enough of the preaching but we'd like all readers to be around to read our 20th anniversary issue so, phone the Health & Safety Executive on (Contact Details) and ask for a free (yep, it costs nowt) copy of the Electrical Safety for Entertainers booklet. It's very easy reading and it could save your life. You know it makes sense.
Finally, it was interesting to see a stand at the Show trying to flog space at next year's Frankfurt Musik Messe. It is no secret that we're in something of a depression - and while I'm sure most companies would like to attend, if business from the IMS is sufficiently poor, they could be giving Frankfurt a miss.
Still, God loves a trier. I'm off to book my flight.
Show Report by Ian Waugh
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