A marriage made in heaven, as OSCar gets MIDI... we attend the reception.
It was obvious, really. Not many punters in 1984 were going to pay 500 green ones for a keyboard without MIDI, especially a monophonic. So, urgent action was called for — and taken. Nine months after its debut, the OSCar can now be found in your local Tescos with three chrome plated DIN sockets — what you want is what you've got and a whole lot more.
The OSCar is an "open-ended" design which to you and me means it is continuously software updatable. In theory, this is your insurance against early retirement and OSC publicity has made great play of this "design innovation". It's good to be able to report therefore that the company have kept their promise and are offering their new MIDI board as a retrofit for existing OSCar owners.
I watched two OSCar's being retrofitted at Gigsounds and the operation was surprisingly quick and involved no major surgery. The MIDI PCB simply clips onto part of the mother board whilst the three DIN plugs slide into a slot at the back of the casing. No drilling, no soldering, just add water — as the great Warthog said 'every OSCar shall have its 15 minutes.' Amen.
Unlike some Far Eastern manufacturers, OSC have had the uncommon decency to include a MIDI Thru socket as well as In and Out. It's via these that the OSCar communicates with its brethren and the outside world. The OSCar can transmit and receive Wheel Data, Program Changes, Key On/Key Off and Sequencer/Arpeggiator information. Thanks to the "Omni" mode, this can be on any of the 16 MIDI channels.
The five MIDI modes are accessed and enabled or disabled by pressing the Space button (located on the performance panel) and the corresponding digit. Like voice patches, each of the modes has a number and is controlled from the keyboard, as on the Casio 202. Multi-function controls can take a bit of getting used to and truth is, they're not ideal but are necessary to keep costs down to acceptable levels.
When the space button is pressed, the octave display doubles as a MIDI function indicator. There are five LEDS, one for each option. When they are lit, all five MIDI modes are enabled, when they're off, disabled and so on.
Although the OSCar is only a duophonic instrument (each OSCillator can be assigned to a note), it is a polyphonic controller. This means you can play a Currey-esque (good word, that) solo on the OSCar alone and then slave in a DX7, say, and play it polyphonically from the OSCar. Correspondingly, if the OSCar is being controlled from a mother keyboard it can pick out any new note information and highlight it, while the poly synthesiser is playing a sustained string chord or whatever.
The retrofit has increased the OSCar's capabilities in other areas beside interfacing. All of the 36 voices are now user programmable and the sequencer has had its memory increased from 580 events to 1500.
So what the hell's wrong with it. I hear you ask?. Go and wash your mouth out with soap and water and I'll tell you... Firstly, it's still bloody ugly but then we all know the Tale of the Ugly Duckling, don't we, boys and girls? Secondly, there is no OSCillator sync or touch sensitivity. As the OSCar's duophonic, I would imagine OSCillator sync could be easily added but I suppose touch sensitivity is too much to expect at this price for the moment. Mind you, Casio have done it with the CT6000.
A full review of the OSCar appeared in ES&CM Vol.1 No. 1 1983.
Review by Sam Hearnton