As I sit here writing this column I have a copy of Bourbaki's Fractunes playing on my music PC, and although this software is not Windows-compatible it does illustrate what you can do when you start mixing sound and video. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the current fashion in multimedia is that we'll be getting strange and wonderful new applications as programmers explore all the angles of the new technology.
Fractunes is actually one of a series of three packages designed for the purpose of generating and animating fractal images on the PC. Bourbaki bills the software as a '21st Century Light Organ' as it allows you to 'animate' the images using MIDI files, or even with a live performance via MIDI. The effect is similar to that found on 'sound to light' systems you often see in discos, except that the music is being used to control the colourisation of a PCX image rather than a box of coloured lights. The software can use a number of MIDI interfaces, including the MPU-401, Sound Blaster, and the IBM Music feature, and will also use the in-built sounds on the Sound Blaster and Ad-Lib cards. You can animate any PCX image, so you can create your own using any paint program that supports this image format. There is also a scripting language that allows you to string images and MIDI files together to produce extended slide shows.
I'm not sure if any practical use can be made of this software, but it's quite pretty and somewhat distracting! The only thing I can think of is that it would make a good light show, and you could use it to drive a projection VDU on stage. The software also carries a health warning — which is a first in my book — since strobe effects can sometimes trigger epileptic fits if you are prone to this kind of attack. To use Fractunes you need an EGA or VGA display, a supported MIDI and/or sound card, and £55.95 (plus £2 p+p). Contact Inspiration Technology ((Contact Details)).
If you want to dabble in sampling on the PC without forking out immense sums of hard earned cash, you might want to take a look at the PC Master Sound package from Microdeal. This is another sample replay unit, along the lines of the Wave-Play RS which I mentioned in my September '92 column, and has been available for some time on the Atari and Amiga. However, unlike the Wave-Play, the Microdeal package also lets you record using the PC's parallel port, and comes with a nifty-looking graphic editor. The editor can also play back the sound through a Sound Blaster or AdLib card if one is fitted, and you can even use the PC's internal speaker if you have masochistic tendencies.
The sound quality isn't up to much, since it only has 7-bit resolution on playback, and although it supports the Windows WAV format and can read and edit these files, when saved they cannot be read by Windows sound applications. I've spoken to the programmers at Microdeal about this, and they say this is a bug in their sampler software which will be fixed in future releases. There is also a drum machine program that is supposed to turn your PC into a beat-box. Unfortunately this causes my 386SX PC to lock up solid, requiring the power to be switched off and on again to reboot the machine, so I can't really comment on this program. In terms of quality you'd be better off saving up for a Sound Blaster (or better yet, a Gravis Ultrasound) but this might be a cheap way of recording your own Windows sounds. PC Master Sound costs £49.95 and is available from Microdeal ((Contact Details)).
Optech are finally shipping this 16-bit sound card, although the Windows support is still a bit sparse. I have now managed to get my hands on an Ultrasound, and my first impressions are that the sound quality is streets ahead of the OPL3-based FM synth cards. There will be a full review soon in Sound On Sound. The price seems to have settled down to £209.99 (inc. VAT but not carriage). This includes 512k of on-board memory instead of the original 256k (this can be upgraded to 1 MB for a nominal fee). Optech can be contacted on (Contact Details).
Turnkey are now distributing Cadenza from Big Noise Software, and have announced that there is a new Windows version available. The new features include a stave notation editor, the facility to print charts, swing quantise and auto save. Big Noise have also released a new product called the MaxPak which includes a number of Windows applications, and utilities such as a rhythm sequencer, a generic patch librarian and a MIDI mixer. The MaxPak will cost around £120; if you're interested in more information on either of these products contact Richard Fincher at Turnkey on 071 379 5148.
The Power Chords sequencing program mentioned in last month's column is now being distributed in this country by Digital Music down in Hampshire. Digital Music — perhaps best known as the UK source of Music Quest interfaces — are now also handling Dan McKee's WinJammer, a Windows sequencer that I've mentioned in this column before. For more information on these sequencers and Music Quest interfaces contact Paul Wilkinson on (Contact Details).
I've always been fascinated by the concept of using algorithmic compositional tools as an aid to writing, although I'm never quite sure whether the end results justify the effort required. One algorithmic package that may be of interest is a program called Sound Globs (er... great name guys) from the same people who brought you Drummer. With Sound Globs you graphically construct a set of statistical relationships which define the overall shape (or structure) of the music. You can then 'tweak' these in real-time to alter the characteristics of the music as it plays, refining it as you go.
I've only been playing with the demo, but I've managed to create some interesting rhythms and textures which in the full package could be saved as a MIDI file and then imported into my main sequencer. As with most of these types of programs, it's very easy to create some 'orrible noises, but you may also find the basis of your next masterpiece. At the very least this approach might get you out of a musical rut. Sound Globs costs US $199 (plus $10 shipping) and is only available direct from Cool Shoes ((Contact Details)). The demo is available for download from the route66/progs topic on CIX ((Contact Details)) or from the MIDIBVEN area on CompuServe.
Feature by Brian Heywood
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