Roland CM Modules
ROLAND CM32L, CM32P, CM64 & LAPC1 Sound Modules
Roland's CM32L, CM32P, CM64 and LAPC1 modules are a selection of their more familiar expanders re-configured and re-packaged with the computer synthesist in mind. Modulating with Ian Waugh.
Computer music systems are now in use with everyone from programmers, through musicians to games players. Enter the first music system both designed and styled to suit a computer setup.
USING A COMPUTER to help make music is not new (experiments in computer music can be traced back over at least 30 years) but it is only fairly recently that it has become available to the masses - that's you and me (unless you're one of MT's affluent and famous readers in which case please send any left-over Fairlights to the Editorial address), One day, I'm sure, we'll all have present-day "affordable" Fairlight power in a box beside our micros.
Computers have given musicians enormous power and control over their music and the sheer variety and range of music software packages continues to increase. Most popular micros can boast at least one sequencer program and the majority have a good selection of voice editors and librarians, and a miscellaneous collection of composition programs, scorewriters and so on, too.
So perhaps it seems only logical that the combination of computer software and music hardware be integrated even further: At least such is the reasoning behind the development of Roland's CM - Computer Music - modules.
Roland have always been at the forefront of computer music systems, well before their time, you might say (giving credence to their slogan - We Design The Future) and readers with long memories may recall the Amdek CMU800, an "expander" even before the term expander had been coined in a musical context. It was designed to be controlled by software running on computers such as PCs and the Apple II. This was way back in 1982, and any impact it may have had was overshadowed by the advent of MIDI just a year later. Roland's commitment to computer-based systems can be further evidenced by their distribution of the Musicom educational computer music system.
The CM series of modules is designed specifically for use by computer users. They have few front panel controls, so operation through software is pretty much essential. In fact the only panel controls are a volume knob and an on/off button. An LED shows when the unit is on and another flashes when MIDI data is being received. In each case power is supplied by an external adapter.
THERE ARE THREE CM modules built around existing tried and proven Roland technology. The CM32L uses Roland's famous LA synthesis and is based on the MT32, but it contains an expanded PCM memory capacity which is two and a half times larger than that of the MT32.
Music Technology's seminal MT32 review (October '87) will give you full details of the original unit. The CM32L has a maximum polyphony of 32 voices spread over nine parts. The actual polyphony depends upon the number of Partials (blocks of sound) which go to make up a Tone.
Eight Parts are "instrument" parts and the ninth Part is used as a dedicated rhythm section. This includes 33 sound effects such as thunder, waves, dog bark, punch, footsteps, laughing, screaming and so on. These are rather more useful if you're scoring music for pictures of some kind (TV advert, home video...) than if you're trying to write an electronic symphony or a pop song, but they're fun.
The CM32L has 128 presets and a built-in reverb. Connections to the outside world include MIDI In, Out and Thru, stereo audio output sockets and a headphone socket.
THE CM32P IS similar to the U110 sample player (for a review of the U110 see MT. January '89). It has a maximum polyphony of 31 voices and a multitimbral capacity of six Parts. The CM32P has 64 preset Tones, built-in reverb and it can access another 64 sounds using plug-in U110 cards.
It has MIDI In and Thru sockets (it doesn't transmit any MIDI data so a MIDI Out is not necessary), a headphone socket and stereo audio outs. It also has sockets to connect it to an MT32 which allows you to expand the system, but if you want to add PCM samples to an MT32 you really want the...
THE CM64 COMBINES the CM32L and CM32P in one box, giving a total of 14-Part multitimbral capacity plus a separate rhythm part. It has MIDI In, Out and Thru sockets, a headphone socket and stereo audio outs.
"The CM32L uses Roland's famous LA synthesis and is based on the MT32, but contains an expanded PCM memory capacity which is two and a half times larger than the MT32."
The eight LA sounds are played on MIDI channels two to nine with the rhythm section on channel ten as per the MT32. The PCM sampled sounds are on channels 11 to 16.
THE IBM PC and compatibles allow a variety of application cards to be plugged into expansion slots in their innards. These range from specialist graphic cards to MIDI interface and sound cards.
The LAPC1 is effectively a CM32L on such a plug-in card, and contains the same range of LA sounds and extra sound effects. It is fitted with left and right audio output phono sockets and a mini jack headphone socket.
It also has a MIDI interface connector which is used to connect to the optional MCB1 MIDI interface. This features a MIDI In and two MIDI Out sockets plus a Sync socket. There is a Metronome and Tape In and Out sockets, too, to permit external synchronisation.
The MPUIMC is also an optional MIDI interface. It offers the same MIDI functions as the MCB1 but is compatible with the new Micro Channel Architecture bus format used on IBM PS/2 computers. (Sorry, but I can't help having a dig at IBM about their total disregard for upward compatibility here. I'll leave MSDOS till another day.)
To put these interfaces into perspective, the industry-standard PC interface, the Roland MPU401, has an RRP of £219.00.
A big feature of the LAPC1 card, and one which was being heavily promoted at the 1989 British Music Fair, is the inclusion of music routines for the card in commercial games programs. Given the right music and the judicious use of those extra sound effects, the result can be a total transformation of a game (watch a movie with the sound turned down and you'll see what I mean). However, unless you're an avid games aficionado this is likely to be a happy by-product to your purchase of the card rather than the prime reason for its purchase.
One software development company, Dynaware, has already realised the potential of a combined music/software package. The result is Ballade, a combined sequencer and tone editor for the Roland MT32 and, of course, it is made to measure for the LAPC1. It allows music to be entered on the stave in traditional notation or from a MIDI keyboard. Watch for a full review in these pages soon.
THE CM MODULES are very easy to use. You simply connect them to your computer via the MIDI sockets and plug in a set of headphones, connect them to a domestic hi-fi amp and speakers or route them to your 64-input SSL desk. The sounds in any Part can be changed by sending program change messages on the appropriate channel.
Your basic software requirements are a sequence which allows you easily and quickly to assign tracks to different MIDI channels - most can. You also need to be able to insert program changes into the tracks. This is easily done if you have an external master keyboard but, again, most pro sequencers allow you to insert these and other MIDI events directly into track in their edit pages.
"A big feature of the LAPC1 card is the inclusion of music routines for the card in commercial games programs - the result can be a total transformation of a game"
The units respond to other MIDI messages too such as pitchbend, control changes, modulation volume, pan and hold (sustain). These can be entered from an external controller or, again, inserted directly into a track if your sequencer allows.
Patches for modules containing LA sounds can be transmitted and edited via MIDI using voice editors but, like the MT32, these are lost when you switch off. However, as they are intended to be used with computer-based music system, the data could be stored as system exclusive dumps (many sequencers can handle this) and saved along with the music.
TO ASSIST THE computer musician, Roland have also developed three data entry modules to complement the CM range. All are housed in computer-beige cases and use membrane controls.
The CF10 is a Digital Fader. It has ten channels which transmit MIDI volume and pan messages. The membrane faders allow coarse volume control, and increment/decrement controls permit fine tuning. The MIDI channel assignment, however, is fixed for each channel.
The CN20 is a Music Entry Pad. MIDI information such as note on/off, velocity, bender and program changes can be transmitted from the front panel. Ten types of chord can be transmitted, too. The "keyboard" only covers an octave-and-a-half but a transpose function gives you access to the full range of MIDI note numbers from 0 to 127. A built-in physical fader can be assigned to control a variety of MIDI data over any of the 16 channels such as volume, bender, modulation and aftertouch.
The CA30 is an Intelligent Arranger for use with the CM32L and CM64. It is similar to the RA50 Intelligent Arranger and E20 Intelligent Keyboard and can produce very complex auto bass, rhythm and accompaniment patterns (a visit to your local music shop to hear the accompaniments on these instruments is definitely recommended). If it is fed a melody line and chord progression via MIDI it will produce a complex auto accompaniment for it which can, in turn, be fed back through the CA30's MIDI Out for further editing.
THE ROLAND CM modules represent a brave step for Roland. Although they are aimed at a growing area of the music market - the computer musician - they don't intrinsically do anything a traditional expander couldn't do. But they look neat and they do free you from any worries you may have about what button to press on the front panel.
They also save you one or two hundred pounds on the price of the equivalent expander unit - the CM64 in particular offers a saving of £260 against the RRP of an MT32 and a U110. However, given the lack of external buttons and LCDs plus the use of technology which is no longer quite state-of-the-art, perhaps potential buyers may totter between these and their expander counterparts.
But this surely is the way computer music is heading, even if it is only a few steps along the way. Ask any Fairlight owner what they like about their instrument and they will tell you it is the total integration of sound and software. The ability to create and edit both music and sounds and store them together as part of the whole composition is an ideal which both musicians and manufacturers are working towards (for an example of affordable, total sound and music integration check out the Hybrid Music System which runs on the BBC micro).
The CM modules have quite squarely declared their place in the musical scheme of things, and it can only be hoped by those of us wanting a tidy and well-integrated computer music system that their concept is grasped and developed even further by Roland and other manufacturers.
In ten years time we'll look back upon 1990 with its individual and separate music hardware and software units with as much nostalgia and affection as we now look back upon equipment of the pre-MIDI era. And not many of us would ever wish to go back.
Prices CM32L, £369.00; CM32P, £445.00; CM64, £789.00; LAPC1, £379.00; MCB1, £79.00; MPUIMC, £210.00; CF10, £129.00; CN20, £129.00; CA30, £315.00. All prices include VAT.
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Review by Ian Waugh