Paul Wiffen goes stateside to find out what new products we can look forward to from the U.S of A
The latest products in the field of computer music were unveiled last month at the Winter NAMM show in Anaheim, California. Paul Wiffen, our man in L.A. was there, and here is his report.
Normally, the American computer music industry focuses around the Apple Macintosh (because over there, the Mac is not distributed by modern-day Robber Barons like it is in Europe). However, this year there was a major push for all PC-compatible software, because of a general promotion by Yamaha of their new C1-20 computer (first announced at the Atlanta NAMM show last June).
All software houses producing PC music software had been cajoled into creating special versions of their packages for the C1-20 and these were combined with two versions of the C1-20 (the dual floppy and the 20 meg hard disc version) in a special give-away. This involved filling out a card and wearing a C1 T-shirt at the draw. (There were an awful lot of people wandering around in C1 T-shirts.) Your intrepid reporter filled out several cards at various different software booths (purely in the interests of being able to review PC software for you of course!), but came away from both draws empty handed.
One of the most interesting new PC products at the show was a hardware add-on. Turtle Beach, who make the Sample-Vision editing package, showed a $95 playback port called the DP8. This allows you to hear the samples you are editing in the PC without having to dump them back over to the source sampler to hear the result, every time you make a change.
Despite all the C1-20 attention, the most exciting new software news in Anaheim, was still centered on the Mac. Apple themselves announced the MIDI Management System, an internal communications standard for the Mac, which will allow any software packages which implement its protocol to talk to each other without the need for external connections. This was particularly good news for the British manufacturers of the Lynex (a 16-bit stereo sampler which uses a computer desk accessory as the user interface), as they showed the system running on a Mac for the first time at NAMM.
This means that instead of the long-winded approach they had to adopt on the Atari, contacting each sequencing company individually to get them to make the changes in their software to ensure Lynex compatibility (resulting in Steinberg, C-Lab and Iconix currently being compatible), all they have to do on the Mac is implement Apple's MIDI Management standard. Any sequencer which then uses this protocol will be automatically compatible.
On the musical hardware front, the ranks of the multi-timbral sound modules continue to swell. Proteus, the new 32-voice multi-timbral rack-mount unit from E-mu Systems gives such a complete performance in conjunction with a sequencer that the demonstrator was free to accompany it with a complete mime performance.
This was probably the most impressive demo of a new product I have ever seen, complete with the whole commentary sequenced on an Emulator III (whence Proteus' 16-bit quality sounds - some in stereo - originate) and a light show triggered via the LEMI MIDI Lighting Controller. Proteus can be sequenced simultaneously on 16 different MIDI channels (the Roland U-110 can only manage six) and comes with three pairs of stereo outputs. All the sounds can be edited from the front panel, but Opcode will also have a Mac Editor/Librarian ready when Proteus becomes available in a couple of months. Proteus should retail in the U.K. for around £750.
Ensoniq had a rack-mount version of their excellent EPS sampler, which includes all the keyboard options (eight separate outs, two meg memory expansion and SCSI interface) as standard. No price is available for Europe at the moment as there are major changes in the distribution, but these should result in a considerably lower price for the rack, even with the extras, so that it should be nearer a grand than £1500. In addition to a digital piano aimed at the domestic market (sound system by Bose), Ensoniq also have a couple of new synths, the VFX and a deluxe version in the pipeline - we'll give you more details on these as we receive them.
All in all though, Anaheim was considerably more exciting from a computer and software point of view with the announcement of compatibility protocols like the MIDI Management System and M-ROS. The recycling of old products in new boxes by the Japanese came a poor second to multi-timbral modules like E-mu's Proteus and the Midia MusicBox in the hardware stakes.
This is particularly true in the case of C-Lab, who seem to me to be doing now in one package - Notator - everything that Steinberg hope to achieve eventually with M-ROS. Notator 2.0 has already shipped to users and the 2.1 version they were showing looks set to add even more features in four to six weeks time. High quality print-out of the improved notation of sequences will be available up to laser printer compatibility. Additions to the notation include guitar chord boxes, drum symbols and diagonal beaming. I eagerly await my next update.
The ST owner now also has an alternative to GenPatch with Super Librarian from a Canadian company called Pixel Publishing. The nice "thing" features of this program are that it can control your MIDI patchbay so that all the re-routing necessary to do patch dumps can be accomplished from the computer keyboard. It has a desk accessory, so that files can be transmitted within any GEM program (sequencer) and the Bulk Organizer allows you to quickly reorganize your sounds to create custom banks.
360 Systems (the manufacturers of Pro-MIDI Bass, reviewed elsewhere in this issue) have come up with an ingenious new box, the Audio Matrix 16. This is a MIDI-controlled audio patch bay which allows you to make the most of limited mixing channels and signal processing by enabling fast changes of the audio routing in your set-up. Retailing for just £599, it could well improve tenfold the effectiveness of the most limited mixing facilities.
The Japanese manufacturers had very little new in the way of technology although new packaging was doing it's best to hide this. The V-50 is basically 2 DX11s, with added PCM sounds (61) an eight track sequencer and REX-50 type signal processing, all for a suggested price of £1100. The sequencer is perhaps the most limited feature, but then this won't worry those using computer sequencing.
Roland's latest package is the W30 workstation combining a S550 sampler and the MC500 sequencer, again with a substantial saving on the individual price of these items. Korg showed a rack-mount version of the M1 called amazingly, the M1R. Kawai's entry in the "old products in new boxes" stakes was the K1-2, which comprises two K1s and signal processing in one box. There is also a K4 on the way although details of the sound generation method are sketchy; you'll know more when we do.
Opcode, whose range of editor/librarians for the Mac is unrivalled by anyone, announced a new sequencing program called Vision which as its name implies concentrates on giving above average visual feedback to the user. It looks like it may be one of the first to feature the new MIDI Management System and I have been promised an early review on this package.
Alchemy, the Stereo Sample Editor from Blank Software, has a forthcoming upgrade which will include Akai S1000 and Dynacord ADS compatibility (two of the best value-for-money 16-bit stereo samplers) plus time stretch software, a popular new technique which allows the length of samples to be changed without altering their pitch.
On the Atari stand, apart from a wall of screens showing all the different software which runs on the STs, the major news was a MIDI controller developed by Atari in conjunction with Fleetwood Mac. This is a touch sensitive keyboard (reminiscent of the British Wasp if anyone out there is old enough to remember that) plus other pad areas which can be programmed to send clusters of notes over MIDI when hit. This means that chords and percussion parts can be triggered rhythmically. Demos included Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance complete with orchestral percussion with members of Fleetwood Mac in attendance. We await trying it out with interest.
On the Atari software front, Steinberg made a big splash with the announcement of M-ROS - their MIDI Real-Time Operating System. This will allow parallel running of different compatible software packages. The first package to work under the M-ROS banner will be Cubit, a brand new sequencer. M-ROS is similar in concept to Apple MIDI Management System, so similar in fact that at the Frankfurt show a week later, there was some talk of M-ROS being adopted as a general Atari standard. However, it seems to me that other companies may feel they are at a disadvantage if they are using something which has been developed by a rival.
A new American company, Marquis, were showing the Midia Music-Box, a 26-note polyphonic unit which plugs directly into your computer. In addition to 512 analogue sounds, 256 FM sounds, 36 percussion samples and 32 doubled sounds, it provides a built-in MIDI interface for the Apple Mac and MGS, and Commodore Amiga. It can also be directly connected to the Atari ST series. It features six individual outputs as well as a built-in digital mixer to both mono and stereo outs plus headphone socket. In the US, it will retail for the same price as Proteus, but as yet there doesn't seem to be any European distribution set up.
Cheetah's MS6 analogue multi-timbral sound module was on display in Anaheim (this is already in the shops in England). But we also heard about a new module called the MS800 for around £250 which is going to do a similar job with eight digital voices in a similar manner to the PPG system with wavetables and digital enveloping. Sounds very interesting.
Oberheim's new eight-voice keyboard, the OB-8k is also multi-timbral, and identical in voice structure to the Matrix 6/6R and 1000. This means that it can load any of the analogue patches that already exist for these machines and use any editor/librarian packages already on the market. The keyboard is velocity and pressure-sensitive, making a good master keyboard as well as a synth in its own right. It should come at well under a grand in the U.K. with current rates of exchange.
Show Report by Paul Wiffen
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