Yet another MIDI system controller package, this time for the Spectrum, and already finding favour with musicians.
Chris Jenkins connects with a MIDI control package for the Spectrum Micro — The most sophisticated yet for this machine?
XRI have gone out on a limb a little in choosing the Spectrum for their £108 Micon interface, but the gamble seems to have worked as they've come up with an accompanying piece of software which makes some of the more established opposition look primitive. Usually there's a tendency to stick with well-known names such as SIEL or Rosetti, but there are now several XRI packages available and they seem to perform reliably.
The interface itself is a small black box with a white multiway connector, MIDI In, Thru and Out sockets, and also DIN Sync In and Out sockets. The multiway attaches to the back of the Spectrum (or new Spectrum Plus) and holds the interface vertical with leads protruding from the top edge.
Once the software's loaded you get a musical display of Bass and Treble clefs which allows note entry in two main ways. Notes are played on the synth keyboard (unlike the EMR BBC Micro Package for instance, or the SIEL Composer package, both of which enter notes from the computer keyboard) and you can enter notes one channel at a time, or up to eight channels together. If you're entering only one monophonic channel, the notes are played one at a time on the keyboard and the length of each note inserted by tapping the space bar as many times as desired. If you want rests, you just tap the 0 button instead.
When playing several channels together you select how many channels are to be entered and then play, tapping in a total number of events on the space bar afterwards. In both cases the music display scrolls to the left, with bar divisions appearing and all the usual musical notation — ties, note values, sharps and flats, even legato and staccatto information being displayed. You can mix the methods, entering five tracks at once and then another individual track, and then starting two new tracks together and finishing them off individually (confused? You will be).
The most versatile feature of the step time package is that you can run through the bars and edit any note or group of notes. Complete sequences can be dumped to tape with a typical capacity of 5,000 notes to a sequence; 10 sequences can be held in the Spectrum's memory and these can be played back simply by keying the appropriate sequence number. You can copy whole bars from one point to another, loop sequences, change channel numbers, change tempo and sync to a MIDI or other drum machine. There's a short line of status information at the top of the screen most of the time to tell you current bar number, tempo and soon.
Voice changes and pitch bend are stored as part of the sequences (provided you set your synth up to transmit them correctly) and so the XRI can reproduce very complex, expressive and full musical passages. Compare it to the Yamaha CX5's FM Composer package, or to the SIEL numerical Composer package — it's slightly less powerful than the former, but a little friendlier than the latter.
The XRI package is the most ambitious compositional package for the Spectrum to date, and there's probably little point in doing anything more complex due to the amount of time you'd need to dump information to and retrieve it from tape. XRI also have software for Real Time composition, DX7/DX9 program dump and DX7/DX9 parameter dump. Existing Spectrum owners may well be surprised by the musical possibilities their machines can now offer, and musicians already convinced of the usefulness of a micro may well to be able to opt for the Spectrum rather than the more expensive Commodore or BBC for their musical purposes.
XRI Systems, (Contact Details)
Review by Chris Jenkins
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