Mike Collins reports on what's new for Macintosh owners at the recent Mac World show in the States
Mike Collins attended the recent MacWorld exposition in Boston, and bought back this report about the latest development in the Macintosh world which could affect many people in the Music Industry
At a Keynote Address at the Wang Center for the Performing Arts' in downtown Boston, John Sculley, the Chief Executive Officer at Apple in the US outlined many of the new ideas and directions at the company: "This, our fifth year with the Macintosh, will be seeing dramatic changes! Our 'vision' sees us empowering individuals to do many things which were previously impossible, using our personal computer technology. We want to change the way people work, learn, communicate, and think!" — Powerful stuff, I think you will all agree!
["Let's all hope that the changes are all going to be for better rather than for worse, or for good as opposed to Evil!", I remember thinking as he spoke!]
Sculley went on to explain: "We at Apple intend to expand our mid-range products, the SE-30 and IICX, and bring prices down so that high performance can be offered at lower prices. We intend to make entry-level machines, the Mac Plus and the standard SE, available at much cheaper prices, so that many more PC users can afford a Mac. But we are not ignoring high-end users either. We will produce some extremely powerful 'workstation' systems as well. In short, we intend to broaden our base. Mac software will run across the entire product line, unlike the situation which exists with our competitors such as IBM, where different software uses different operating systems/graphical environments."
This is good news for Mac users here in the UK, and for people who are trying to decide whether to go for an Atari or IBM based system as opposed to a Mac system. The price differential is narrowing to the point where there is not a lot to choose between the systems on price — and the Mac offers its consistent user-interface and standardised operating system throughout the whole range of models, which the others do not. This leads to less time being spent on learning how to use the software, and a much more certain degree of compatibility between different programs which you may wish to run.
The Macintosh also features MultiFinder, a pseudo multi-tasking software 'switcher' program, which allows you to run several programs 'side-by-side', and to switch between them at the 'click of a mouse-button'. So you could have your Midi sequencer, synth editors, sample editors, notation program, and perhaps a MIDI Monitor program all loaded into RAM, and switch quickly between these as you are working on your music. You would need a lot of RAM to work with so many programs at once, but the Mac's operating system and MultiFinder will allow you to do this. Other microcomputers tend to put you into a situation where you can only practically run a couple of programs at the most in even a pseudo-multitasking way, so the Mac has a clear advantage in this respect.
DigiDesign were showing their latest Sound n Tools Digital Recording and Editing system for the Mac, and this was one of the most exciting things at the show for me. At last there is an affordable hard disk recording system available for the Mac! The system comprises three or four components, according to your requirements: First there is a choice of either an analogue to digital converter unit, or a digital in/out unit which supports both AES/EBU and S/PDIF formats for compatibility with most professional digital audio devices, DAT recorders, and CD players with digital outputs. The system also uses a Sound Accelerator card for the Mac II or SE which allows the Mac to play back 16-bit 44.1kHz sound. This card uses a Motorola 560001 Digital Signal Processor, which allows the Sound Accelerator to perform complex DSP functions like time compression and expansion, parametric and graphic EQ, as well as real-time, high-fidelity playback. To control this hardware, DigiDesign have upgraded their popular Sound Designer sampler editing software to version II, and added extra functions to interface with this new hardware. You can transfer samples to and from most popular samplers from the Akai range and the EMU range, and from Casio, Mirage, Roland, Ensoniq, as well as the Oberheim DPX-1. You can record approximately 1 minute of 44.1 kHz 16-bit sound for every available 10 megabytes of hard disk space. [It is worth noting that the hard disk you use must have an access time of 28ms or less, and not all hard disks are this fast.] The software allows you to define regions of your sound recording, and then construct a play list, locked to incoming SMPTE locations via MTC, so that you can synchronize dialogue, sound effects, or music, to video.
The big news from Apple was the 'push' they are giving to MultiMedia applications. One of the best programs on show was MacroMind Director, which allows you to assemble Text, Graphics, Pictures, Animations, and Macintosh Sound Resources (which can be created using Sound Tools for professional quality sound). The program also has Midi Start, Stop, Continue, and Song Position Pointers to allow you to synchronise your Midi system with one of these MultiMedia presentations. The final result can be recorded onto a video cassette for subsequent replay or broadcast, if you have a genlock board to connect your Mac to the VCR. Or you can run the whole thing 'live' from the Mac, and project the screen display onto a large screen for a group of people to see.
The BBC Interactive Television Unit were showing MediaMaker, a program which allows you to assemble moving video pictures and graphics with commentary, music, and sound effects. Sources can include Video-8, videodisk, CD-ROM, and colour graphics produced by any Macintosh application. Sound resources can either be 8-bit recordings via MacRecorder from Farrallon, or 16-bit recordings from Sound Tools, or CD-Audio sounds. So 'DeskTop Video' is now a reality, if you can afford the necessary kit. After presenting MediaMaker at one of the morning 'Keynote Addresses', John Sculley predicted that the 1990's would see a revolution in the MultiMedia world, spurred on by these new DeskTop Media tools on the Macintosh, just as the latter half of the 1980's has witnessed the Desk Publishing revolution, brought about mainly by Aldus's PageMaker software.
Now imagine a small team of talented MultiMedia specialists — a Musician, a Midi Programmer, a Recording engineer, and a Video/Graphics person. All using the Macintosh to create a MultiMedia production. Perhaps the Musician is also the Midi Programmer and the Recording Engineer. His two hands are busy on the synthesizer keyboard, and yet he needs to instruct the computer to carry out certain tasks, such as drop in to record a sequence, edit the MacroMind Director video frames, or whatever. Wouldn't it be nice if he could just tell the Macintosh what to do using his voice! Well, guess what — this is now perfectly possible using the Voice Navigator, which was demonstrated with Opcode's Vision sequencer software, as well as with various other Macintosh programs. A microphone is connected to the Mac via a small interface box, and the control software needs to be 'taught' to recognize a particular individual's pronunciation of selected commands, and that's all there is to it! You can just say 'Play', or 'Record' to your sequencer, and it will!
So how about using these tools to make your own 'scratch' videos, with 'sampled' House-type music, using both digitised audio samples taken from records, or any audio source (as they are already on many of today's pop records), and digitised video and graphics 'samples' taken from any existing video or graphics sources?
What are the copyright laws going to make of this I wonder? Who will be the Stock, Aitken, and Waterman of the MultiMedia 'single' or 'album'? Which I am sure will appear in the very near future!
Warner New media had two very interesting products on show. The Audio Notes series of Compact Disks combines CD-Audio and CD-ROM data on the same disk. Newer CD-ROM players such as the Apple CD SC can replay either type of data. The ROM data can be downloaded into a Macintosh computer, and then used to control the playback of the Audio from the CD. Simultaneously, information about the audio can be presented via the Macintosh. Such information could include expert commentary on the music, definitions of musical terms, transalations of foreign language lyrics, music notation, and so on. The first CD in the series is about Mozart's Magic Flute opera. It comes on 3 CD-ROM discs containing not only the original opera, but also numerous "sidebars" of other CD-Audio material, such as alternative performances of the opera. There is a "how much have you learned" section available to allow music students to test their knowledge before their exams, and side-by-side German/English lyrics which are synchronized to the sung performance.
The second product range will be a series of CD Audio discs with both Graphics and Midi Data stores within the CD's subcodes. JVC have just released a CD player with a Video output to allow you to display the graphics on a TV screen, and a Midi output to allow you to transfer MIDI Data to your MIDI setup. The graphics could contain instructions about the Midi setup, or lyrics, or music notation, or creative graphics to accompany the music,or vice versa, or whatever you like within reason. The MIDI data would typically be a simplified version of the music on the audio recording, optimized for a commonly available multi-timbral MIDI synthesizer such as the Roland MT-32, or it could include a MIDIFile containing the complete score for the music which you could transfer to a Music Notation program like Finale, and then print out whatever you needed from this! This could obviously have a pretty revolutionary effect on music publishing if it took off in a big way!
The next product on show which caught my imagination was Timbuktu Remote from Farallon. This allows you to connect your Mac to a Modem, and hook it up with another Mac, say in a Recording Studio in the city centre. You can start the second Mac up remotely, if it is a Mac II, and then take control of this second mac over the telephone lines. Using this system, I could do a 'Session' at one of the West End studios in London without leaving the comfort of my home in North London. I could edit MIDI sequences, synthesizers, or samplers remotely, at a moment's notice! New genlock cards (such as TV Producer from Computer Friends Inc) were also on show, and these allow you to display live video signals on your Mac, either in a small window, or as a background to whatever program you are running.
With a modem link to carry live video from the studio to your home, and back to the studio, it would be almost as good as being there in person.
With facilities like this becoming available, it won't be long before I can control a complete recording studio setup from the comfort of my armchair with my feet up and watching the TV at the same time...! And if you think this is a ridiculous idea, its time to recall the immortal statement uttered at a board meeting of the 1895 Western Union Telegraph Company in America, and recorded in the minutes for posterity to consider: "No sane person would ever conduct business through such a contrivance as the telephone". You too could be that man — just go ahead and say that all this is insanity too! There is just one catch — for effective remote control using Timbuktu you need to use a data transmission rate of 9,600 bits per second, and the present British telephone system cannot guarantee such fast rates throughout the country. So for the moment, Timbuktu is probably not a practical proposition unless you can guarantee telephone connections via all electronic exchanges. But this will come soon!
Back at the Boston Expo again, the last Keynote Address was from Apple's Alan Kay. This man is very much the 'visionary' type. He attempted to show glimpses of the near future, and pretty exciting it was too! In the development labs, Apple and others are experimenting with 'guides' who will take you on an interactive tour of your computer-controlled information system. Your personal computer may be hooked in via modem to data banks containing a great wealth of information. So a speaking guide, whose 'talking head' would appear in live video on your screen, would guide you to the information you were after. With a studio system, you could ask the guide to find all the likely synth and sampler sounds from your sound databanks, for a Brass part for instance, and to prepare them for you to audition by transferring them to your synths and samplers. Alan Kay called such guides 'Agents', and saw them as essential aids to manoeuvering through the vast amounts of information which would be available to us in the future. All this has become more of a reality with the latest fashionable developments in computing, such as Hypertext, Artificial Intelligence, multi-tasking operating systems, and Object-Oriented programming. As well as with the latest developments in the hardware and peripheral equipment, such as video boards and the new read/write optical storage media. Alan Kay reckons that 1995 will see the power of 8 Cray supercomputers sitting on your desktop in something the size of a Macintosh. He told the audience "The Ancient Greeks say 'Art is the imitation of life'. I say 'Art is the creation of something new'." He is definitely a bit of a philosopher I reckon our Alan!
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