Rosetti MIDI Software
For some time there seemed to be a belief within the synth industry that anyone interested in keyboards had to be equally boggled eyed over computers. S'automatic. Synths lead to micros like vindaloo leads to a long sit down.
Fortunately we're coming out of the original micro-daze and realising that only a small percentage of synth owners want to sit down and dissect the atom on the spare TV set. Most of them are interested in music. Godamn, how'd we let that one slip by.
Thus, when One Two comes round to testing 'music software', it's the first word we'll be worrying about. In a matter of months we'll all be swimming in programmes for sequencers, score writers, arpeggiators, etc. If you want to know how many subroutines and For Next loops they contain, then look to the manuals. But if you're interested in discovering why they work, and whether they'll help you bash out a decent tune... read on.
Rosetti are currently offering programmes that work on two of the most popular micros – the Sinclair Spectrum and the Commodore 64 both bearing colour graphics and reasonable memories.
We'll make it plain from the start that the software mentioned below is designed for MIDI keyboards. And, even if you own one of the above computers, and a suitable synth, buying the programme on cassette won't be enough. You'll need an interface. Rosetti are currently marketing two. The larger version (£89) will fit both computers, plugging into a circuit board holder at the rear of the micros and leading to a junction box with three MIDI outs, two MIDI ins and a MIDI through, plus a sync socket for drum machines. They are doing a cheaper version (£30) for the Commodore only with just one MIDI in and two MIDI outs.
However, if you were really determined, there are MIDI to analogue converters coming onto the market (not best described as inexpensive) which would let you link up to an older synth with CV and Gate sockets only.
The two music composition packages are among a series of software options coming from a Dortmund based company called Jellinghaus Musick Systeme. (For the sake of being one up in the pub, that's pronounced Yellinghouse). They're available alongside a DX7 programmer and an arpeggiator programme, with the promise of a 12 track 'studio' on the way for about £100.
They take approximately two minutes to load from tape and both initially deliver on the screen what is known in a trade as a menu – a list of the tasks the programme can perform with code numbers so you can call up that particular section.
Take the Spectrum first of all. In essence it's a dirty great sequencer... but a restricted one. It contains eight individual channels, all monophonic. It is possible to produce chords, providing you load them a note at a time. Perhaps more importantly, each voice can be ascribed its own MIDI channel so if you've got eight MIDI synths, why, everyone could have a note each! If, more realistically, you've got two, perhaps three, the first could be producing the lead melody, the second the chords and the third the bass line.
If you're wondering how three MIDI outs would let you run eight MIDI keyboards, the answer is in the through sockets most synths are now including. This way the MIDI signals pass through them all in a chain, and only the synth set to MIDI channel 6, for example, would extract and use the information on that track. The rest is passed along.
When you're ready to record, you select the voice (1 to 8) and can then enter the pitch information in two ways, either by playing the notes on the synth keyboard or by typing them in using the Spectrum's Qwerty keyboard. At this stage it IS just pitch information. No matter how you play, the programme will remember everything in metronomic step time. The desired timing has to be edited in at a later date.
Once you've played as many notes as you want, the Spectrum can then display them in a table, giving each note a number and a pitch – 4A, 2C etc. Annoyingly the German programmers haven't bothered to change from their own, erratic method of score writing, so you have to adjust to B natural being shown as an H.
Also in the table is a graphic representation of the timing of each note (quaver, semi-breve etc) and its duration (referred to in synth terms as gate time). A final column lets you determine the volume, providing the synth you're connected to can cope with dynamic information. A DX7 could. Strangely there seems no way of altering the overall volume of each channel – no faders on this mixing desk.
Automatic default values set the timing at a quaver and the gate time at 50 per cent. The programme has been written so that the keys in the top row of the Spectrum's keyboard call up the standard note times from semi-breves to demisemi-quavers with rests and triplets found elsewhere among the letters.
Jellinghaus insert bar marks for you as horizontal lines, dividing up the list of notes. If you change a note time, the measure marks are shuffled along to take account of it so all the bars still add up to the proper number of beats.
The screen can show up to 20 notes at a time and will scroll round to display the next 20, the 20 after that, and so on. Or, for purposes of editing, you could ask the computer to let you look at one note, then delete wrong material or create a space following it so new notes can be inserted. The editing facilities may not be extensive, but they are simple and expedient.
All the while the Spectrum totals up how much memory space you've used and warns you if the end is nigh. Nominally it's 1,000 steps per track, but that can be altered if you want fewer, but longer lines.
Now we come to the music making bit. Tricky. How do you 'score' a £50 programme against, say, a self contained sequencer costing £300? Do you take into account the cost of the computer and the MIDI interface? If so then the software under review has nothing to boast about. But if you already have the micro, and the expense involved is a MIDI interface (useful for plenty) and the cassette, it begins to be more worthwhile.
I found the Spectrum precise, but slow to use, and with several unhelpful omissions. Loading in every note value and duration is time consuming when many sequencers these days accept immediate, real time information.
But more disturbing was that once one voice had been loaded in, the computer virtually has no more to do with it. You can't listen to it as you input the notes for the next voice, neither can you see how the fresh information compares with the bars of the previous channel. You're working blind. It's only when you press the play button that the results of your experiments are revealed. They could be wildly out. And Jellinghaus only let you play one voice at a time, or all voices together. You can't isolate two or three from the mix.
Though the beauty of computer composing is that you can edit for days if necessary to get things absolutely perfect, a little more musical forethought in the first stages would prevent that from being necessary.
The Commodore alternative picks up some points by setting out the table in a different way (you can't input notes polyphonically but you can load them into the six channels in layers rather than one at a time). And you're not stuck with the pre-set note times of quaver, semi-quaver, etc, but do with job with numbers from 0 to 99.
But it loses because it's impossible to load notes from a synth keyboard – you have to use your Commodore Qwerty and that is definitely moving away from music software when inspiration tends to occur in three second bursts rather than two hour typing exercises.
In fairness the Rosetti programmes are not significantly different from similarly priced software appearing from rival houses. They all operate monophonically and under the same sort of restrictions. Of the two Jellinghaus composers on offer at the moment, I'd certainly go for the Spectrum in preference to the Commodore.
But we then come back to the initial question of is it a 'musical' instrument ready to be used effortlessly by any musician? If you already have the computer and the keyboards then the MIDI interface won't be a waste (the programmes can only improve, and quickly). But if you're thinking of investing in the whole lot, right now, first time purchase with only music as your final product (no computer games) there are self contained poly sequencers that will serve you better.
Gear in this article:
Review by Paul Colbert
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