Brian Heywood looks at updates to an unusual music program and rounds up some useful PC accessories.
It's been an incredibly fraught month for me; apart from having a lot of work on, we've moved house. The new place is only a few miles up the road, but even so, we filled two pantechnicons with household, office and studio equipment. You only find out how much stuff you have when you need to move it!
A book that landed on my desk with a resounding thud this month is Jeff Burger's The Desktop Multimedia Bible. This weighty, 635 page tome from Addison Wesley sets out to be a comprehensive reference on all things to do with multimedia and covers all the basic technology that goes to make up the various elements of computer-based multimedia productions. The book is not specific to any particular computing platform, although the PC and PS/2 do get a mention, along with the Apple Macintosh and the Iris Indigo. Despite its size, a book with this scope can't really cover the topics in any great detail; however, it does give a very good feel for the technology and is useful for looking up unfamiliar concepts. A worthwhile addition to your bookshelf, it's available from the PC Bookshop for £27.95.
"The Desktop Multimedia Bible sets out to be a comprehensive reference on all things to do with multimedia."
While we're on the subject of multimedia, Optech have sent me a sample of a low cost CD-ROM carrier called the Tricaddy. In case you're wondering, most CD-ROM drives require that you put the CD into a carrier, or caddy, before you can load it into the CD-ROM drive. Normally these cost anywhere between £5 and £12 and — since they're designed to double up as permanent storage for the CD — they can substantially increase the cost of buying a CD. The Tricaddy costs just over £3, which means that you can store your CDs in caddies without breaking the bank. Optech recommend that you don't use the Tricaddy in dual-spin CD players, although I had no trouble using it with my Toshiba 3401 drive. You can contact Optech on (Contact Details) if you want more details.
One thing that is often in short supply in the average studio is clear horizontal surfaces, which is a bit of a problem if you use a computer-based sequencer, since there is no convenient place to locate and use the mouse. To get round this problem I have been trying out various tracker balls as an alternative to the standard rodent, which means that all you need to find is a single clear area. One of the neatest I've seen is the Handy Mouse from Evesham Micros, which — despite its name — is actually a small tracker ball. The Handy Mouse is small enough to fit neatly into the palm of your hand, allowing you to use your thumb to move the ball and click the buttons. The unit emulates a Microsoft (two-button) mouse, with the tracker ball acting as the left button, and there is another button below which can be used as the standard right mouse button. There are also two buttons along the top, which are configured as left buttons. The unit is bilaterally symmetrical, which means that it can be used by either a left-handed or right-handed mouseketeer. The Handy mouse squeaks in at just under £40 and is available from Evesham Micros on (Contact Details).
Howling Dog Systems have released a more 'up-market' version of their excellent guitar-based sequencing program called Power Chords Pro (
• Up to 16 melody parts per bar.
• Smart drag and drop editing in the Rhythm Editor. This means copying notes, quick transposition, time shifting, moving drum parts from one instrument to another, etc. You can adjust all facets of a rhythm while in the rhythm editor — upper and lower bounds, length in bars, patch, channel, and so on.
• Power Effects — automatically create up strums, down strums, alternating strums, random notes, humanise velocity, quantize, drum and mallet rolls, arpeggios at the click of a button.
• On-screen keyboard for melodies, or chords. Transpose chords between the fret-board and keyboard.
• New melody record mode on fretboard; you can even record string bending into a melody.
• Record chord progressions in real time by clicking on chords in the chord palette with the right mouse button.
• Import parts from MIDI files (including drum parts, and chord rhythms).
• Drum parts that are spread across more than one track are automatically consolidated in an additional track for easy importing.
• Import MIDI data from the clipboard (from programs like Cakewalk and WinJammer).
• Export rhythm editor or song to either a MIDI file, or the clipboard, for importing into Cakewalk, WinJammer, etc.
• Tempo changes are now supported in the song window.
• Chord rhythms now contain patch change and MIDI channel information so you can easily change patches in the chord part any time you want.
The manual is also much improved — or at least much larger! I'm not sure when Power Chords Pro is going to be available over here, or what the UK price will be, but the North American price is $199.95. Howling Dog's UK distributor is Digital Music, who can be contacted on (Contact Details).
While this is not really specific to any particular computer, if you've ever felt the urge to design your own MIDI controller but have been put off by the complexity of getting the information into the MIDI domain, you may be interested in a kit that's just been released by Maplin. The MIDI Keyboard Scanning Module is based on the E510 keyboard scanning chip which allows you to interface up to 128 keys — or switches — to MIDI, complete with key velocity detection. Although the unit is pretty basic — no continuous controllers, for instance — it does provide a way of creating your own keyboard, pedal board or even a cheap way of adding MIDI to an older, non-MIDI keyboard. The kit costs £34.95 and is available via mail order from Maplin ((Contact Details)), quoting part number LT35Q.
Feature by Brian Heywood
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