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Instant Music

Ann Owen just adds water and stirs with this jamming package for the Commodore 64 and Amiga

Electronic Arts has a stated policy of providing microcomputer-based tools for creative people. Their Instant Music programs not only provide the instruments, they also teach you how to use them effectively

Instant Music is a marvellous program if you find music fascinating and fun but a little difficult to grasp. Instead of conventional notes on a stave it uses a sequencer-style panel and - like a recently released keyboard from Amstrad - it can help make your compositions more "musical". Don't worry, serious musicians, the artificial intelligence (computer meddling) can be turned off to release your own creativity. You can sound like Metal Machine Music if you really want to!

Without going into great detail Instant Music provides all sorts of click-on tools for music creation. Only four instruments can be present within a song and both sounds and notes are saved together. One instrument is active at a time and notes are entered by clicking (pressing a mouse button) at a cursor position. Each instrument is represented by a different colour. Chord control automatically helps the creation of two or three note chords from simple one note entry.

Note lengths are determined by the rhythm guide for the track being edited. The rhythm guide can consist of quarter, eighth or sixteenths, triplets or multiple discrete notes.

The musical scale runs from bottom to top and can be displayed in piano key style. Each instrument has a volume control and transposition buttons. Tempo is controlled by a drag bar which can be adjusted while playing back.

"Realtime" playing with one of the instruments is called jamming and involves moving the cursor to the note required and hitting a mouse button to play the sound. A range of preset rhythm styles can be selected and these affect the jam pattern. Your jamming can also follow the score rhythm - which underlies a song - or can be freeform. The keyboard can be used in conjunction with the mouse to control the style of playing which results.

To help with song composition Instant Music has many of the features you may know from the common wordprocessor such as move and copy/paste blocks of notes. Once you've programmed a riff which you like, it's easy to reproduce it, with any variations required, through the rest of the song. A feature known as Quickdraw has four predetermined note patterns which are drawn between two points clicked on the screen display.

I found I had to change the sound menu setting to point the program into the appropriate directory to collect its sounds when loading a song. The program builds a new sound menu while playing in the background.

You can replace the selected instrument with any sound from the current library. For example you can select the drumkit from the screen and replace it with drumkit2 or latin percussion or steel drum. You could exchange bass with low strings, woodwind or sitar. As you can imagine, the whole feeling of a piece can be transformed. You can start with pomp rock and end up with a jazz three piece.

All the bits and pieces on the Instant Music disk.

Songs are loaded via the classic Electronic Arts file requestor interface, still the best way to retrieve a file on the Amiga and well known to users of all EA products such as Deluxe Paint.

Sounds are obviously not as good as on your MIDI instrument but some of the samples are quite effective. Guitars sound a bit thin, cymbals a bit short and tight. There are some good atmospheric sounds and electronic percussion - good for "film track" type music. The electric bass sounds allow a good impression of a New Order thrash.

The example songs supplied are all 16 bars so you can easily elongate the song to a maximum of 64, copy over the note patterns and begin to experiment on variations on the theme.

Added value

I expected good presentation and documentation and Electronic Arts delivered. Instant Music itself is strong on tutorial with various "etudes" which teach both use of the software and musical approaches. The It's Only Rock'n'Roll and Hot& Cool Jazz manuals contain details on instruments, as well as a bibliography and discography. There are also operating instructions, discussions of musical styles and musicians plus details and chord progression charts for each of the songs.

Example screen display of Instant Music.

The songs are not treated just as digital tracks on a CD. This software is not for anyone so musically passive. The songs are examples of musical style and structure and are there to be played along with and modified.

Good start

Instant Music and the add-on disks are exciting and original ways of learning about music, about writing it, about listening to it intelligently. If you've got a MIDI synth and Deluxe Music Construction Set then you'll be able to load up Rock'n'Roll and Hot&Cool and play them via MIDI. For beginners Instant Music and the Amiga sound system is a more than adequate combination for the computer musician. If you are on a tight budget then I can't think of a better way to get going with computer music.

Instant Music on Commodore 64/128

The Commodore 64/128 version of Instant Music supports only three instruments but most of the facilities like sound libraries, zoom editing and transposition. The artificial intelligence features are also present together with Quickdraw, pitch guides and jamming on one of the instruments via a joystick. The 64 sounds are not great but Instant Music still cracks it.

Example screen display of Instant Music.

64/128 purchasers of Instant Music get the considerable bonus of the complete It's Only Rock'n'Roll song set bundled with the main program.

Personalities behind the programs

Instant Music was designed and programmed by California-based Bob Campbell, owner of nine computers, an array of musical instruments and an enormous collection of comic books! I quote from EA's profile of the author: "When I was first learning to play music, I found that the simplest approach was to reduce the ideas to a few basic rules. Rules like 'play these five notes, with emphasis on these two notes'. Years later, when I was programming, I saw the same kind of thinking applied in the form of 'expert systems' on computers. That is, knowledge about a subject represented as a system of rules. It occurred to me that music was the kind of structured environment where these 'expert systems' might be useful. That maybe they could make the creation of music a little simpler and maybe a little more fun."

Hot&Cool Jazz and It's Only Rock' n'Roll are the work of a gentleman called Kyle Granger who created the new sounds and composed the computer versions of the songs.

MIDI on video

Electronic Arts have confided to Micro Music that they are soon to release a new version of Deluxe Video which will support MIDI. Currently, Deluxe Video lets you use backing tracks composed in a music program with video-style animations. At the moment you can only play them through the Amiga digital to analogue sound system but the new version will allow Micro Music readers to synchronise a MIDI sound track with the on-screen animation sequences.

Instant Music - Commodore Amiga (£24.95)
Deluxe Music Construction Set - Commodore Amiga (£69.95)
Hot& Cool Jazz - Commodore Amiga (£9.95)
It's Only Rock'n'Roll - Commodore Amiga (£9.95)
Supplier: Electronic Arts, (Contact Details)

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Micro Music - Copyright: Argus Specialist Publications


Micro Music - Aug/Sep 1989

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Review by Ann Owen

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