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PC Notes

I noticed that mine was the only happy smiling face gracing the computer columns last month, with both Martin (Atari Notes) and Kendall (Apple Notes) looking decidedly moody. Is this difference in outlook due to our differing computing platforms, I wonder? Probably not — Wilf over in the Sample Shop uses an Atari, and he looks quite jolly.


One of the annoying and limiting aspects of MIDI is its perceived reliance on the piano style keyboard as its performance interface. This is obviously because this kind of control surface is probably one of the cheapest to make. The basic keyboard design has been around since Roman times, when it was used to control water-powered organs, and although there has been a lot of work on alternatives, the ivories still rule the roost as far MIDI synthesizers are concerned. This reliance of MIDI on the keyboard also comes through in a lot of music software, thus reinforcing the fallacy that you need to have keyboard skills to make computer based music. One program that avoids this pitfall is called Power Chords from Canadian company Howling Dog Systems (see screen).

Power Chords uses a stringed instrument as its input model, allowing you to enter notes on a fretboard to construct chords. Alternatively you can ask the program to create chords to your specification, allowing you to cycle through different inversions, audition the chords and then save them to a scratch area or palette. These chords can then be strung together into a sequence to produce your basic song sheet. Each bar of the piece can have a different picking pattern to simulate the right hand technique of a guitarist.

The picking pattern, melody, bass and drum parts are either constructed using a pattern based rhythm editor or performed in real-time from your MIDI input device. Each type of pattern can be stored in its own palette or exported directly from the editor into the song sheet. The song is constructed by simply picking chords and patterns from the various palettes and dropping into the required bar on the song sheet. The patterns will automatically repeat until replaced by another pattern. You can both export and import MIDI files, so you can use the song data in other sequencers.

The Power Chords 'instrument' defaults to a standard 6-string guitar, but allows you to create any stringed instrument you fancy. You can have up to 12 strings which can be tuned any way you like — for instance, I configured both a balalaika and a bandolin. You could also use this feature to experiment with different tunings (a là Martin Carthy), or even just use the program as a chord reference.

As a sequencer, Power Chords is somewhat limited, without much in the way of synchronisation, quantisation, or filtering options. However, used in conjunction with your main sequencer, it will give a simple way of accessing the harmonic characteristics of a stringed instrument. Or — if you are a guitarist — give you an ideal writing tool for quickly 'roughing out' songs using a musical language with which you are familiar.

The program is Windows 3.1-compliant but will only address a single MIDI device, although you can split the basic 16 channels across using the Windows MIDI Mapper. The software is available direct from Howling Wolf on (Contact Details) for Visa sales ($99.95, Canadian money) or you can write to them at (Contact Details), or electronically on the CompuServe ID (Contact Details). The Power Chords demo is available for download from the route66/progs topic on CIX ((Contact Details) — modem). This program is well worth a look.


Yamaha is currently developing a set of Windows utilities for controlling their little TG100 General MIDI sound module. The software, which will be in the public domain, will consist of a front panel, voice editor, and a librarian to allow you control the TG from your PC running Windows 3.1. The software will be able to use either the TG100 serial port Windows driver or any MPC MIDI port driver. More details about this as they become available.


If you read this column on a regular basis then you will have noticed that some of the software mentioned — like the Power Chords demo — is available for download from CIX. CIX (pronounced 'kicks') is a TLA (Three Letter Abbreviation) for Compulink Information exchange. Incidentally, you may think that a 4-letter abbreviation is known as an FLA. This is not the case. It is actually called an ETLA — Extended Three Letter Abbreviation!

Anyway, back to business. CIX is what is known as an on-line conferencing system, essentially a large computer with lots of modems attached and plenty of disk space. If you have a modem attached to your computer you can transfer data (or download) from the file area to your hard disk via your telephone line. There is a selection of public domain software, shareware and demo programs on CIX, as well as a lively discussion of various topics. The route66 area is devoted to 'high tech' music and MIDI and has about 350 regular visitors.

Services like CIX can be very useful since they have a plethora of useful files, and a body of knowledgeable people only too eager to help you out if you have any problems. The downside of all this is that all of these on-line services charge for the time spent connected to them, and are usually totally baffling when you first start to use them. One way to ease the pain of going on-line is to use an Off-Line Reader program or OLR. An OLR will automatically connect to a service, download any interesting messages and then allow you to peruse them at your leisure. Next time you connect to the on-line system, any replies that you may have made will be uploaded and any files that you have requested will be downloaded to your computer. This not only reduces your phone bills and on-line charges, but also makes it easier to use the service.

Ashmount Research has for some time been selling an OLR for CIX, CompuServe and BIX called Telepathy — usually shortened to TP (pronounced 'tee-pee'). Ashmount have now released a Windows version of the program — called WigWam (ugh!) — which is a joy to use. The program really does protect you from the horrors of going on-line, and can dramatically reduce the costs of using CIX. You need to have a modem that has either MNP or V.42 error correction to use WigWam, as otherwise a noisy telephone line can corrupt the data that you are downloading. Wigwam is available for £145 from Ashmount Research on (Contact Details).

Incidentally, you can contact me on CIX as brianh, or if you use CompuServe or have access to the InterNet email network, you can use (Contact Details) to get through to me.

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Apple Notes

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Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.


Sound On Sound - Dec 1992



Feature by Brian Heywood

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> Apple Notes

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