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MIDI on the Atari ST

Atari ST: Introduction to MIDI Programming

Article from Sound On Sound, September 1987

Books about MIDI are thin on the ground; books about MIDI on the Atari ST are even scarcer! However, there is one and you can read what Martin Russ thought of it on page 16...

The Atari ST computer definitely seems to have arrived. Programs, books and magazines seem to pop up everywhere these days. It looks as if the MIDI capability of the ST may well prove to be one of its major assets - many companies are devoting a great deal of time and effort to exploiting the possibilities of MIDI using the ST. At a more personal level, there has been a rather slower arrival of books dealing with the programming aspects of using the Atari's MIDI port. No - amend that slow arrival. I hadn't found any - until now!


Despite the vast number of sequencer packages available for it, there is more to the ST than just running other people's software. You can write your own! And what better to show you the way than a book? Enter Abacus with Introduction to MIDI Programming.

This is an unusual book. Imagine a paperback with 256 pages, of which about 200 are just listings of C programs. Don't stop concentrating, because this is that book! After a brief overview of the possibilities of MIDI and the ST, the authors - Len Dorfman and Dennis Young - then get down to the specifics: running through what MIDI is, via the Atari's hardware implementation and a guide to buying a MIDI synthesizer, and finishing with a MIDI software buyer's guide - all in about 20 pages and written in a slightly breathless, chatty American style.

Pausing for breath, and a blank page, they move into a 20-page description of the MIDI 1.0 Specification. Len and Dennis seem to know both their programming and their music - several of their programs are sold by Xlent Software, and Len apparently plays jazz guitar! This about completes the general introduction part of the book - we now proceed to the nitty-gritty.


Here we are at page 57 and the book suddenly changes from a routine description of MIDI into something completely different. Listed here are two brief programs written in the currently fashionable computer programming language called 'C', which show you how to send and receive bytes from the Atari ST's MIDI ports. This is a very pertinent hint of what is to follow - next up is a six-page program which plays a four octave chromatic scale on the 16 preset sounds in a Casio CZ-101 synth.

As to the rest of the book, there are 200-odd pages of program listings! Not space filling, but a very useful library of working, debugged routines to carry out most of the things you would want to do when using MIDI. The program segments themselves are actually extracted from a listing of the ST Music Box Auto-Player program from Xlent Software, with some additional routines from the same company's ST Music Box program. Unlike many computer programming books, which use examples that are either pointless or not re-usable, this one abounds with useful routines, such as: writing a two-digit byte to the screen; converting hex numbers to displayable ASCII; a practical grounding on sprite-like graphics or an internal sound chip driver.

Available as an optional extra with the book is a 3.5" disk which contains the source code for all the programs listed in the book, as well as a few music files for the Auto-Player program to play. The source code represents about 6,000 lines of program, so it could save you rather a lot of typing effort to buy the disk!


This book is not an introduction to C for musicians, rather it assumes the role of an introduction to MIDI for the C programmer, giving some idea of the complexity of the task involved in writing MIDI software. The book's title is slightly misleading, since it gives the impression of this being an 'introduction' rather than a fascinating glimpse into the mind of two freelance programmers - which is what it really is. Still, it is not often that a software company decides to expose the inner workings of a commercial piece of software to the harsh, steely gaze of the public in this fashion, and Abacus and the authors are to be congratulated on their bravery and determination.


So, very much a book that ignores conventions - very few publishers would have the nerve to print 4/5ths of a book as just program listings. Computer books in general tend to be a very mixed bunch - you often have to sort through many pages of dross for the odd few gems! This book succeeds only at the level of a library of routines, not as an introduction to MIDI programming. Would I buy it? Well, I must confess that it is on order (complete with the disk) and I intend to use it to try and push me deeper into C.

I will probably also enjoy hacking about with the Auto-Play program. File under: 'a definite maybe'!

'Atari ST: Introduction to MIDI Programming' by Dorfman & Young is published by Abacus Software. Price: £14.95. The optional disk is an additional £9.95 (both prices include VAT).

Abacus also publish a wide range of books specific to the Atari ST, several of which are indispensable to the ST programmer. Available from: Silica Shop, (Contact Details).

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Korg DRV3000

Publisher: Sound On Sound - SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.

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Sound On Sound - Sep 1987

Review by Martin Russ

Previous article in this issue:

> MIDI Matters

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> Korg DRV3000

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