Music add-ons for home micros.
Ever mindful of your mutterings (question 39 of the CM questionnaire, for instance), this month's 'Rumblings' does a three-point turn from last issue's extravagant roller-coasting to the three-wheeler of the computer music business, the basic micro...
Sounds a bit weird, don't you think? Well, if I let you into a little secret that this bit of software comes from the same stable as Bill Budge's wonderful Pinball Construction Set (voted by Steve Wozniak - he of Apple fame - as 'the best 8-bit program ever'), you'll see a little more sense in that name. According to the program's author, a 16-year-old by the name of Will Harvey from Uplands High School in Foster City, California, his program is 'simple, hot, and deep'. Very edifying.
In fact, Music Construction Set is an exceptionally intriguing program, available for the Apple II and Commodore 64, that uses the idea of 'icons' (introduced by Apple's Lisa and much copied thereafter) to make composing music simpler and more fun. So, for instance, by manipulating a joystick you're able to move a graphics hand about to collect notes and place them on the staves. Then, if you move the hand to the piano icon in the lower right, you'll hear what you've put together played back. After that, you can then go to the scissors to cut out whole measures, use the glue pot to paste them in somewhere else, and the house to return (home) to the beginning. Get the picture?
Of course, the Apple's sound is basically grotty, so a six-voice add-on soundboard (called 'Mockingboard' - sounds like someone's having a dig at Xerox's Mockingbird transcriber!) is needed as well. In the case of the Commodore 64, the internal SID chip suffices, but you're limited to just three voices at a time. However, with both micros, playback is accompanied by notes scrolling past on the screen - very impressive indeed.
Another add-on that can be used in conjunction with the Music Construction Set is the KoalaPad from Koala Technologies. As the Americans would have it, 'the pad is smaller than a TV dinner and weighs about as much as a paperback book'. Basically, you plug the pad into the joystick port of the micro and then prod at the thing with your finger in order to register the changes, X- and Y-axes-wise. What the KoalaPad does to your interaction with the Music Construction Set is to speed the rate at which music can be put together: using the joystick alone is very slow and tedious by comparison.
Music Construction Set retails for just $40, and is produced by Electronic Arts at (Contact Details). The Mockingboard add-on for the Apple costs $125 and comes from Sweet Micro Systems at (Contact Details). And finally, the KoalaPad is available for $125 from Koala Technologies, who can be found (eating eucalyptus leaves) at (Contact Details).
I can't resist quoting from an advert that's been appearing regularly in an august journal of computer music - complete with a fuzzy photo of a lank-haired, bearded, NHS specs-wearing, shirt-hanging-out-of-trousers Californian reminder of the sixties surrounded by all the paraphernalia of the eighties (Synclavier, Roland modular system, a couple of MC4s, and various terminals scattered left, right, and centre) - a macrohippy, perhaps? Anyway, we're invited to 'explore new worlds of computer music' with the following slice of OTT prose: 'Did you think you'd "heard it all" when it comes to computer music? THINK AGAIN. Think about full-bodied choral and orchestral music or Arabic-sounding heavy rock, or uncannily realistic East Indian music or Japanese flute themes. Think about audio universes you can't even begin to imagine, derived from a combination of synthesis and digitisation of real sounds, such as voices, instruments, whales and much more. In fact, think about the music of mankind through the ages blended into textures and compositions never before possible, all rendered 100% under program control. THINK SYNTHESIS IN ITS BROADEST MEANING. THINK MACROFUSION.'
Like, how can you think about something that you're told you can't think about? Arabic-sounding heavy rock? God forbid. Come back, Def Leppard, all is forgiven! And as for those whales, there must be more to life than being squashed onto a Winchester - hope they've filled in their PRS returns...
Anyhow, Macrofusion Computer Music invite you to part with $3 for a half-hour sampler cassette, and they'll also send you a 'descriptive color catalog' for another 12 cassettes if you write to them at (Contact Details). Best of luck!
Just about the first sound add-on for the IBM Personal Computer has appeared in the shape of the Ariel RTA 331 one-third octave, real-time audio frequency analyser. The analyser divides the audio spectrum into 31 third-octave bands from 20Hz to 20kHz, and displays the results on the monitor. In addition to spectrum analysis, the RTA 331 will also convert the incoming audio signal into 8-bit samples and store it in the IBM's memory. Since this micro has a capacity of half-a-megabyte, more than 20 seconds of good quality audio can be accommodated. The sounds can then be played back at different sampling rates or manipulated with user-written routines. Other features of the RTA 331 include on-board, software-controlled pink noise generation plus averaging, weighting, and peak hold functions.
All in all, this looks like a solidly professional item, but at $650 it's not exactly cheap. Models are also available for the Apple II, Tandy TRS80, and Commodore 3000 and 4000 series machines. Ariel Corporation are to be found at (Contact Details). In the UK, the RTA 331's distributor is Marquee Electronics, (Contact Details), and they're retailing it for £510 plus VAT.
News by David Ellis
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