Ian Waugh makes a global search of the UK MIDI software scene and presents this roundup of what is available and from whom.
Ian Waugh pursues music and the MIDI concept where no concept has been pursued before with a general round-up of MIDI software currently available in the UK.
MIDI is an acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It was designed and developed by the major electronic keyboard manufacturers such as Sequential, Roland, Korg and Yamaha to overcome the problem of interfacing hitherto incompatible pieces of equipment.
This you probably already know and you also probably know that MIDI signals are digital signals (as its name suggests) which computers love. It didn't take long for computer boffins to realise how easy it would be to tap into the interface with a computer and control a bank of synthesizers, drum machines and effects units. (This was a secondary task which they applied themselves to during time off from dreams of world-domination.) They tapped in and have been drilling ever since producing such a wealth of music and MIDI software packages that it is no longer easy to keep track of just what is available.
Once upon a time there were only simple sequencing or editing packages but now music programs and MIDI software tends to fall into four groups: real-time sequencing, step-time note entry, voice editing software - and anything else. Some manufacturers produce all four. Read on to discover just who does what.
You may like to consider - or at least ponder on - Atari's new 520ST computer (around £750), a technically excellent machine, which comes complete with built-in MIDI interface. There doesn't seem to be any MIDI software around yet but no doubt that will come soon.
The cheapest MIDI interface on the market - so far - comes from Commodore at £19.95. It was designed for use with other Commodore packages such as their Music Studio, Music Expander and Sampler.
No separate software yet exists but it may come.
One of the first independent software packages for Yamaha's CX5 computer (see Yamaha), at £84.95 it offers eight-track, real-time sequencing with step- or real-time pitch correction and quantisation. Tracks can be assigned to external synths or internal voices and it has a built-in mixer facility. (Reviewed next issue.)
A new software package to our shores, the Dr T is a disk-based system for the Commodore 64. The main package is the Keyboard Controlled MIDI Sequencer (£200). The package is complete with its own MIDI interface and offers a flexible realtime and step-time sequencer with up to 3550 events shared across a maximum of 35 individual sequences, all of which maybe played back simultaneously. Features include editing, merge and overdub plus much more.
Dr T also produce a CZ Patch Librarian (£65), DX Patch Librarian (£75) and Echo Plus (£90) which accepts a MIDI keyboard input and sends commands out to four other instruments, thereby allowing effects such as doubling, echo and harmonising to be created.
Electro Music Research are probably the UK's most prolific producers of MIDI packages. Hardware MIDI interfaces are available for the following computers: BBC (£79.90), Spectrum (£79.90), Commodore 64 (£79.90), Amstrad (£79.90) and Research Machines Link 480Z (£85.90) with MSX (TBA) and Apple II (TBA) soon to follow. They also produce a link box called MIDILINK (£34.95) which has one MIDI In and six MIDI Thru sockets.
BBC software includes a new version of their Miditrack Composer (£44.95), a six-track, step-time editor. The original version was one of the first MIDI software packages on the market and certainly the first for the BBC - and it showed. This is a vast improvement and worth a look. It is quite easy to use with notes being displayed in note name and octave number form and it has a good range of editing facilities.
Miditrack Performer (£49.95) is an eight-track, real-time polyphonic sequencer with a storage capacity of up to 7,960 events. It has many features such as punch-in (no punch-out, though), track merging and transposition. To really get inside it and to get to grips with the bits and bytes of the MIDI spec you'll need the Miditrack Editor (£39.95) which gives you step-time editing control over the Performer tracks. It will also convert Composer tracks to real-time.
Notator (£34.95) prints out individual tracks from the Composer program. Vu-Music(£24.95) produces a video display which alters according to MIDI data received. This responds to real-time input from a MIDI system and cannot, as yet, be used in conjunction with the other Miditrack software. Shame.
For the Spectrum is a Performer (£39.95) package similar to the one for the BBC. Also available, for DX owners, is a DX7 FM Voice Creator/Editor (£24.95), a DX9 Voice Creator/Editor (£24.95), a DX7 Function Parameter Store (£24.95) and a DX7 Midibank Library and Dump Facility (£24.95).
For the Commodore 64 there are Performer (£49.95), Composer (£44.95) and Vu-Music (£24.95) programs. The Amstrad Performer (£44.95) should not be too far off and work is continuing on the MSX Performer package.
Hinton have a great idea in their MIDIC 1.1 (£300), described as an intelligent MIDI processor. It provides an interface between any MIDI equipment and a computer with an RS232 socket. A utility program allowing the user to view MIDI data on screen is intended to encourage musicians to write their own software. It seems expensive but if you fancy writing software, take a look at it.
Hinton also offer special MIDI Controllers in the form of software extension ROMs for the AMS 15-80S Digital Delay, which gives two octave control (with pitch-bend) of the AMS harmoniser transposition ratio using any MIDI keyboard. Other MIDI Controllers are available to control preset selection on Yamaha's REV-1 Reverb and YDD 2600 Delay.
Hybrid are responsible for the Acorn Music 500 synthesizer (around £199) for the BBC computer. This was generally hailed as a terrific synthesizer/piece of equipment and it is indeed excellent value in terms of the sounds available and the flexibility and control it gives you over every parameter of these sounds.
Now they have produced a MIDI interface (£129) which can be used with the Music 500 or independently, requiring also their Nucleus ROM (£35). No stand alone MIDI software has yet been produced, but you can be sure it's on its way.
The JMS Commodore 64 interface (£90) is made for them by SIEL (see later) and a bivalent connector will allow it to be plugged into a Spectrum.
Their 12-track Recording Studio (£99.95) for the C64 is a real-time package with a storage capacity of 7,677 events. It will hold velocity, after-touch, pitch-bend and patch change information. The Sequence Chain Program (£45) compliments the 12-track Recording Studio and allows sequences to be linked to produce changes in time signature and tempo. Patch changes can also be stored.
The Scorewriter is a set of three programs all stored on EPROM: the 12-track Recording Studio and the Sequence Chain Program mentioned above and the Scorewriter program which produces a hardcopy of your music, including lyrics. The fact that everything is on EPROM means the programs are instantly accessible - a big plus if the 1541 diskdrive frequently tries your patience - and more memory is free for your music. This is very much worth considering.
JMS also offer the SixTrak Sound Editor (£50) - a voice editor for Sequential's SixTrak and MAX polysynths.
Joreth's Music Composer System (£250) comprises their own AL-25 interface and software (recently upgraded and available to existing users at a nominal £10) which incorporates both real-time and step-time sequencing and editing. The hardware has a MIDI In, three MIDI Outs and internal and external sync options. Capacity is around 6,000 notes.
Joreth's software approach considers, perhaps, more the musician than the computer buff and many will welcome this. The 70-plus page manual comes with additional sheets and notes of information and corrections but a Quick Reference Guide sheet offers valuable assistance.
The ideal MIDI package includes both real-and step-time facilities and this must be a strong contender for the best overall C64 MIDI package yet produced. An additional utility called Real-Time Part Loader (£14.95) can be incorporated into the Composer to allow the user to load real-time files, part by part, from multiple files if desired. Another program due for imminent release is the Key Programmer (£14.95) which accepts musical input in any key (or even no key) and allows key selection for printing out at a later date.
Of great interest to Casio CZ owners no doubt, will be the Tone Editor (£44.85) which simplifies voice editing and storage. This also requires their AL-25 interface.
Passport's Apple MIDI card (£120) plugs into the Apple computer's expansion slots and gives you MIDI In, MIDI Out, drum sync In and Out with 24, 48 or 98 ppqn. Their Commodore interface (£110) has the same facilities and has the reputation of being a bit of an industry standard - which means that other companies have copied it!
Software for both the Apple and the Commodore includes MIDI/4 Plus (£80) and MIDI/8 Plus (£120) which are real-time sequencing packages. The MIDI/4 has a note capacity of 5,500 notes, the MIDI/8 can hold twice as many. The software is quite nice with decent editing facilities and the ability to merge tracks.
MusicShop For MIDI (£80) is a step-time editor in which notes are entered and displayed in traditional notation. You can obtain a print-out of your input and the program as a whole is very easy to use. Some of the more esoteric MIDI options are not implemented but it works superbly with multi-timbral instruments such as Casio's CZ synths.
MIDI Player (£65) will store up to 8 songs/arrangements per disk and produces a synchronised video display on the VDU during playback.
Specifically for the Apple are Polywriter (£250) which allows you to write multiple score formats with up to 28 polyphonic parts. Polywriter Utilities (£65) which links the MIDI/4 and MIDI/8 real-time packages with Polywriter or Leadsheeter, and Leadsheeter (£80) which prints out song leadsheets.
Well-known, of course, for their instruments and effects, Roland's contribution to MIDI has been several units to allow channel selection, switching and filtering. Their MPU401 interface (£160) for the Apple and IBM PC has a MIDI In, two MIDI Outs, a Sync Out and Tape In and Out connectors. Four MPUs can be connected in parallel to aid running with their Microware Software for the IBM PC, a package giving you 48-channel sequencing.
This may well appeal to studios and the pro user, but why not aim a package at the thousands of people who buy their gear, something to run on the C64, Spectrum or BBC perhaps?
Sequential were there when the MIDI spec was being drawn up and they have produced several packages, mainly for the Commodore 64.
Their 964 (£74.95) is a six-track, real-time sequencer with a capacity of 8,000 events with facilities for overdubbing, note correction and copying. It has now been withdrawn - perhaps they have another goody up their sleeve - but it should still be available from some dealers or secondhand.
Other programs are specifically for use with Sequential instruments. The 931 is a Recorder, Composer and Editor program with a 4,000-note capacity for the SixTrak and MAX. The 932 adds printing facilities showing up to six voices on a conventional stave.
The 900 (£35) is a patch and sequence dumping program for any MIDI-equipped Sequential synth. The 910 (£75) is a SixTrak expander allowing two keyboard splits, voice assignment alteration and display of parameters. The 920 (£75) is a similar package for the MAX incorporating 'superpatch' stacks and voice alteration from the C64's keyboard.
Finally, the 932 is part of their Album series and contains pre-recorded data of tunes which will play back on the SixTrak, MAX and Drumtraks machines.
SIEL have been in the business a long time, and are well-known for their musical instruments. Their interface for the Commodore (£79) and Spectrum (£79) is identical to the Jellinghaus one and a BBC version is now available (£99).
The Spectrum Live Sequencer (£22) is a cassette-based, one-track polyphonic real-time sequencer which is easy to use but rather limited. The Commodore Live Sequencer (£69) is a 16-track, real-time sequencer and excellent if you require 16-track facilities. Editing could be a little more comprehensive but it's good value.
The Multitrack Composer (£39) is available in BBC and C64 versions. It is a six-channel step-time sequencer with a 9,000 note capacity. It has many editing facilities but requires a fair amount of work to put notes into the system.
The Expander Editor (£53) for the C64 and Spectrum allows easy editing of SIEL's Opera 6, DK600 and Expander 6. The DK80 Editor (£55), also for the C64 and Spectrum, does a similar job on the DK80. Both are excellent programs with good graphics and easy editing facilities. A veritable must for owners of these synths. Due soon, too, is a DX7 Editor which, hopefully, will be as good, if not even better.
MIDI Data Base (£39), again for the C64 and Spectrum, lets you store up to 250 patches for any MIDI synth - apart from the DX7. Another nice little program which can help the musician be a bit more creative with tone editing.
This software house produced The Music System (£29.95), a much-applauded music program for the BBC computer, and deservedly so. This was distributed by Island Logic.
Their latest program is The Advanced Music System (£39.95) for the Commodore computer which includes additional features plus some MIDI software. See review in our January 86 issue. Now distributed by Rainbird Software, Wellington House, Upper St Martin's Lane, London WC2H 9DL. Tel. 01-240 8830.
Their UMI-2B system (£495 or £575 with extra memory) for the BBC was reviewed in our November issue. This real-time/step-time MIDI sequencer is deemed to be the most user-friendly package around. Favoured by many top record producer/artists. If you can afford it, buy it. Available software also includes a DX7 voice editor and dump.
The Micon MIDI System Controller for the Spectrum (£108) comes complete with hardware and software. The software provides eight-track mono step-time recording with up to 2,900 events per track and a simple one-track, real-time polyphonic sequencer with auto-correct. The hardware has a MIDI In, two MIDI Outs, internal and external sync options and sync to non-MIDI clock. The displays are nice and unless real-time is definitely your bag, it's a good package and excellent value for money.
If real-time is your bag then try their Real-time Multitracker (£27.95) which offers eight-track real-time polyphonic sequencing plus overdubbing and with a 9,000 note capacity. It should work with any interface.
As you will undoubtedly know, Yamaha have also been doing their bit for computers with their CX5 (now £299). Supporting MSX BASIC, this incorporates one of the brilliant FM sound chips. You may run into problems interfacing it with other manufacturers' disk drives etc, but a DX9 sound-alike for this money can't be bad news. Well supported in terms of software and the best entry into FM sound programming.
As time goes by (there must be a song in there somewhere), more and more companies are producing MIDI music software and hardware for both the professional user and the interested amateur. Good though most software is, as our choice grows so, hopefully, standards will improve even further.
We've listed as many of the available packages as we could track down. If your company produces one we haven't mentioned, let us know. As new packages appear, we will endeavour to bring them to your attention.
Feature by Ian Waugh
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