The Atari ST may currently be the most popular music computer, but a lot of music software is still being pioneered on the Apple Mac. Mike Collins visited MacWorld '89 for the latest musical developments.
CONSIDERED THE ROLLS ROYCE OF MUSIC MICROS, THE MACINTOSH HAS OFTEN SEEN MUSIC SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENTS BEFORE OTHER MICROS. WHERE BETTER, THEN, TO KEEP UP TO DATE THAN THE MACWORLD EXPO? REPORT BY MIKE COLLINS.
ACCEPTING THE "AFFORDABLE" popularity of the Atari ST, the Apple Macintosh Computer is one of the front-runners when it comes to Musical applications. Which makes the annual Boston MacWorld Expo just about the best place to get the most up-to-date info on new developments. The show ran for four days from the 9th to the 12th of August last year and had quite a lot to say on behalf of the Mac.
The big news at Boston was that the MultiMedia revolution is about to hit us. MultiMedia is a "coming-together" of graphics, pictures, text, live or pre-recorded video signals, animation, dialogue, sound effects and music. These elements may all now be assembled using the Macintosh on your "desktop", or in your studio, and the final results may be replayed from the Mac, recorded onto a VCR, projected onto a screen using a variety of projection systems, transmitted via modem, broadcast on TV, or whatever. John Sculley, the charismatic Chief Executive Officer at Apple, predicts that the 1990's will see an explosion of this DeskTop Media similar to the DeskTop Publishing phenomenon which began on the Macintosh just a few years back.
Sculley and others demonstrated some of the most exciting new developments at a series of Keynote Addresses each morning at the Wang Centre for the Performing Arts in the centre of Boston - realistic animations (such as the one showing a lifelike animated snake moving at different speeds on three different windows on screen); new MultiMedia software from the BBC Interactive Television Unit in London; new CD formats controlled interactively from the Macintosh from Warner New Media and others; Videodiscs from ABC News Interactive and WGBH-TV, and from Harvard Interactive, all controlled from HyperCard on the Mac; Remote Control software for the Mac via modem; voice control of the Mac using a system called The Voice Navigator (and this really works - imagine telling your Mac sequencer to "record", "play", "stop", "rewind", "drop in', and so on, with no hands except on the notes you want to play on the keyboard); demonstration and presentation software called MacroMind Director which can even control MIDI equipment... Particular references were made to various developments which Apple felt were significant and important for the future. These included the newly-launched read/write optical disk storage media from Mass Microsystems (and others) which allow relatively cheap storage of hundreds of megabytes of information. Both sound and video files eat storage space, so these new optical systems will be of great interest to anyone wanting to make internal software links between several programs running in a pseudo-multitasking way on the Mac. You can send data internally from one program to another, as was demonstrated from Director to Vision to play sequences, or you can merge data from several programs and output it from one or other of the Mac's output ports. Newer versions of the Midi Manager software should work even better. Chris Hallaby reckoned Opcode were aiming to provide more and more integration of their programs, as well as allowing them to work with other people's via the Midi Manager. It's currently possible to link all their synth editor/librarian packages together to create one general controller for your MIDI equipment. A free desk accessory is now available to allow patches to be sent to and from your MIDI gear while running any program on the Mac. And Vision will work with the patch programs in a consistent way, allowing the instruments defined in the sequences to be linked to actual patch data, not just names of synths and patches, so that you always get the same sounds back when you come back to a piece of music at a later time. You can also map the relationships between note names and instruments in Vision, which is extremely useful when working with drum machines, samplers, or many of the multitimbral units currently available.
And talking of Vision, this just has to be the hottest sequencer around at the moment. It has both event list (like Performer) and graphic note editing (like MidiPaint) available. The new version of the program will scroll the note displays as the sequence runs, although a rather amusing 'bouncing ball" traverses the graphic editing window following the music while the sequence plays at the moment. Algorithmic composition is included, along with an incredible number of useful features like pop-up help boxes, and on-screen faders which can send MIDI Volume (Controller 7) messages to your MIDI gear for automated MIDI "mixing". More features than just about any other program, in fact - Opcode are definitely onto a winner here.
Warner New Media had two products on show at a Boston hotel hosting interactive videodisc and CDs. The first was a series of CD-Audio/ROM disks called Audio Notes. These playback on the new Apple CD-ROM player which can switch between the two formats (Audio and ROM). One of the first in this series was based round Mozart's Magic Flute opera, and a HyperCard program running on the Mac allows interactive control by the people working with either of these media on the Mac.
"APPLE PREDICT THAT THE 1990fS WILL SEE AH EXPLOSION OF DESKTOP MEDIA SIMILAR TO THE DESKTOP PUBLISHING PHENOMENON WHICH BEGAN ON THE MAC JUST A FEW YEARS BACK."
There were seminars each day at the World Trade Centre and at the Bayside Exposition Hall, ramming home the MultiMedia message even more, and the Music Conference on the Saturday with Dave Oppenheim of Opcode, Peter Gotcher of DigiDesign, and MIDI expert Paul Lehrman, amongst others, was no exception. Sound Tools from DigiDesign looks all set to become a very important system for musicians, recording engineers, and other professionals working with MultiMedia on the Macintosh. There is an A/D convertor to allow you to input/output analogue audio, and a digital I/O unit to allow you to input/output almost any professional digital audio format, from DAT to CD to Mitsubushi/Sony tape formats. An Audio Accelerator card with a powerful Digital Signal Processing (DSP) chip slots into your Mac II or SE, and allows direct-to-hard disk recording, auditioning, DSP, and subsequent output or playback of sounds from the Mac. The controlling software is a new version (version II) of the popular DigiDesign Sound Designer sample editor for the Mac. This will also allow you to import sounds from virtually any sampler on the market for editing or librarian purposes, either via MIDI or via SCSI. Special software is included to allow you to play back 16-bit, 44.1kHz sounds in Macintosh "snth" resource format, from a range of Macintosh applications including HyperCard, MacroMind Director, and many others. These 'snth' resources cause the sounds to be replayed via the Sound Accelerator card rather than by the Mac's central processor, and consequently don't involve any usage of precious Mac RAM, and free the central processor to handle tasks such as animation more readily. As a result, it is now feasible to record hours of professional-quality dialogue, effects, or music, to be synchronised with a HyperCard or Director presentation. The only limitation on recording time is storage space - and that's where the new optical disks come in.
Opcode's Chris Hallaby and Dave Oppenheim were very excited about the new Midi Manager and Midi Driver software which Apple have recently released to program developers. They had a beta test version of Vision on show at their stand, and Dave reckoned he had tested this running concurrently with MacroMind Director under MultiFinder. MacroMind Director can send MIDI Start, Stop, Song Position Pointer, and Continue commands to a MIDI sequencer to run dialogue, sound fx, and music in sync with visuals from the Mac. The Midi Manager software allows you to Audio on the CD using the ROM data which was transferred to the Mac.
The second format was no less exciting: CD+ Graphics+ MIDI. A new CD player is available from JVC with a video output to a TV screen, and a MIDI output to your MIDI gear. Some albums are already on release in America - such as Talking Heads' Naked, which includes graphics - and further albums are about to be released which include MIDI data as well. Examples could include using the MIDI data for 'music minus one' sessions, where you drop out an instrument and play that part yourself for practice. Or there might be an album containing a selection of original Top 40 hits, with synthesised versions as alternative audio recordings, and then with simplified sequence data, optimised for a common multitimbral instrument like the Roland MT32, for people to make what they will of at home, where the sequence data could be transferred to a home sequencer, say on a Mac. The graphics on the disk could include details of how to set up the MIDI instruments, and lyrics to sing along with - Karaoke style. Both of these new formats look set to generate a lot of interest both sides of the Atlantic.
The piece de resistance for me at the show was the HyperCard software developed in London by Max Whitby and Mark Wilson at the BBC Interactive Television Unit, in association with Apple Computers. This is called MediaMaker. They describe it as a "tool that enables users to create their own multimedia sequences, synchronising moving pictures and graphics with commentary, music, and sound effects". Elements of a MultiMedia 'production' can include material sourced from Video 8, videodisc, CD-ROM, digital audio (16-bit via Sounds Tools or 8-bit via MacRecorder). These can be easily assembled in the desired sequence, and then replayed from the Mac, for a corporate presentation for instance, or the final result could be output to a Video Cassette Recorder, allowing you to make your own "DeskTop Video'. This reminds me of MIDI sequencing and sampling (which could both be used in some ways anyway) but with the video and graphics tool. Will we now spawn a "Stock, Aitken and Waterman' of the multimedia scene? And what about the copyright situation now, with text, graphics, artwork and video all involved? Let's see what tomorrow brings...