Music and the modem
David Janda discovers just what's of interest music wise on the Bulletin boards around the world
What on earth have computer music and computer communications got in common? Well, quite a lot actually. Next to distribution by hand, a bulletin board (BB) is probably the second largest method for getting micro music amongst the masses.
It makes sense too. There are hundreds of BB's scattered throughout the country. Some cater for a particular type of machine, while others adopt a theme - such as music. Common to all types of BB is the ability to upload/download programs and data files, and if the quality is good enough a piece of music is quickly distributed around the country.
Be you an aspiring muso or spectator the costs need not be high at all. Major conurbations have a wealth of BB's a local call away, and the vast majority don't charge a penny for using them. Those that do normally ask for a one-off contribution towards the cost of running the board (typically a tenner) and are free from then on.
The majority of music files have to be up/downloaded in a binary format, which means you'll need to use a file transfer protocol such as XMODEM. Of course, the higher the baud rate the quicker a file is transferred, so it's worth investing in a high-speed modem if you intend to be on-line a lot.
Music data files are on the large side, but because they consist mostly of seven bit data they're often compacted. This saves disk space and reduces transfer time. Even after compacting they can still be quite large, so some Sysops provide a mail order service for a nominal fee. Either way, make sure you have the appropriate compactor/decompactor on hand.
And now a moral note: The majority of music files available on the networks are adaptations of commercial titles. Even if the title and original artist were credited the person who coded the music is still breaking the laws of copyright. It's up to you to decide wether you wish to download and listen to the song. If you write computer music consider writing your own stuff - you'll get much more satisfaction.
It cannot be claimed that the IBM PC is a technically innovative machine, and this is reflected in the quality of sound it can produce. To be fair to the designers sound was included for audible warnings, not music, but this has not deterred anyone.
The majority of tunes available consist of data files with the suffix of .MUZ. These can be created/amended using a simple line editor such as EDUN which can include words as well as note data.
You'll need a player of which there are many. Written in BASIC and compatible with BASICE and GWBASIC they include a menu selection system allowing you to choose a selection of tunes. Be warned, some .MUZ files are good, many are bloody awful.
Even though the PC can only produce a single note at any one time there are techniques which give the impression that chords are being played. In order to play tunes developed with these methods your PC needs to be a 100% compatible (or very near) as some nifty BIOS specific coding techniques are used. Available as .EXE or .COM files two to look out for are AXEL-F and the Monty Python theme tune.
Whatever file you download it will probably be compacted in which case you'll need a public domain ARC utility to crunch/uncrunch the files.
Things have come a long way since "The Entertainer". No more naff single note tunes, but complex multi-voice pieces enhanced by a wealth of hardware and software.
Computer music and communications have had a happy marriage as far as Beeb owners are concerned. Besides being a very good comms micro, the Beeb can produce some good sounds. Many BB's operate on Acorn machines, and quite a few of these specialise in music.
The majority of tunes are coded in BASIC, but this has not held up technical advancement. Complex drum patterns, sophisticated envelope changes and professional fade-outs are the common. Lyrics on the fly are the norm which enhance the piece a great deal.
Of late there has been a reduction in the number of Acorn run BB's. However the Channel-X network is going strong. CCL4, based in Hull on (Contact Details) has one of the largest selections of Beeb music available. It features work by Dan Pugh and Kevan Cheyne, two of the countries best Beeb composers.
Also of interest are digitized sounds. Due to the memory restrictions of a standard Beeb you cannot expect anything of great length, but if you have a Master 128 and/or a winchester disk (for rapid loading) there are a few full-length items around. One such multi-part digitized track is Equinoxe (Part 5) which has to be heard to be believed!
The Music 5000 system boosted interest in Beeb music, and many Acorn based BB systems have a section devoted to this, and other systems. If you wish to upload a music file created with one of these systems, then it's a good idea to leave some form of documentation detailing what system the music is written for.
The arrival of the Commodore Amiga and the Atari ST heralded a dramatic change in the micro music scene that is reflected by the types of music files available on BB's. The increase in available user-memory, together with faster processing speeds have enabled the programmer to produce far more complex sounds. Digitized tracks and MIDI music files are the order of the day.
Digitizing whole tracks is possible, and some are distributed around machine specific BB's. The files are huge and are quite often compacted using an ARC program. Even so, the files are still large, and download time is reduced if you have a high speed modem - V22 bis is recommended.
Commercial pieces are often digitized, yet are hard to find. This is partly because the quality is so good, and to a degree music publishers see this as a threat to sales. The music files are there to be downloaded, but don't expect their presence to be advertised!
Music files created with MIDI packages are available on US based BB's. Even though the Amiga enjoys more sales in the US, the ST is recognised as a serious MIDI tool. Providing you have the appropriate software the data files can be manipulated, and although not abundant in the UK, it's only a matter of time before MIDI files appear in large numbers.
A major problem in getting hold of music files is knowing where to look. To an extent commercial services such as Micronet and Compunet overcome this. Because of their large user base (in comparison to a BB) they act like collecting points for telesoftware of all types.
Compunet is the leader in this respect. Commodore biased, but with a steady increase in ST users it's a haven for micro music. If you own a Commodore 64, Atari ST or an Amiga you'll find plenty to keep you happy. The people who upload onto Compunet specialise in the demo. These usually consist of a combination of music and graphics.
The majority of demos are available free of charge, and at 1200 baud you can download quite a lot in an evening. However, uploading at 75 baud is a real pain, but I understand that multi-speed access to Compunet will be available "real soon now."
Micronet does not feature music where Compunet does, but there is an area devoted to the subject. Called Music City it contains news and views appropriate to the micro music scene. Currently the music files on offer consist of BASIC and Music 5000 files for the Beeb. The area is being revamped and will cater for Amiga and Atari users, with the emphasis on MIDI.
- CCL4 (Contact Details) (Acorn)
- OBBS Bradford (Contact Details) (Acorn)
- Fio Manchester (Contact Details) (Acorn, Amiga, ST)
- Airtel (Contact Details) (ST)
- Dark Crystal (Contact Details) (ST)
- London Underground (Contact Details) (Acorn, Amiga, ST)
- Metrotel (Contact Details) (ST)
- PC Access (Contact Details) (PC)
- Techno Line (Contact Details) (Acorn, ST)
- Twighlight Phone (Contact Details)
- Audio Output (Contact Details) (Acorn, ST)
- CATS Fido Maidenhead (Contact Details) (ST)
Feature by David Janda
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