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Computer Musician


Music Mate, Mainframe's Apple sound sampler and updates for the Synergy.

The title conjures up visions of yet another monophonic bleep program on the Spectrum, but this is rather unfortunate, since this composing software from Microcomputer Products International is actually a rather clever 'music processor' running on micros a lot larger and more expensive than Sinclair's money-spinner.

Anyway, the idea behind the software is to produce something that's as near as damnit an alternative to the pen-and-paper approach that's blotted the copybook of composers for centuries. Notes are entered using a fairly straightforward MCL and then displayed on the screen. Up to 14 parts can be accommodated at once, though larger score formats can be achieved by layering sets of parts once they've been printed out. Music can be printed out as individual parts or as a full score on any Epson printer with graphics capability. As the example shows, the condensed text mode used produces a very neat result, even if the contrary alignment of part names and staves is somewhat bizarre.

An intriguing feature that's built into the software is the ability to use probabilistic (try saying that when you've had one too many...) techniques to generate either single parts or entire scores. The program constructs a number of probability matrices from whatever values the user enters for certain parameters, and the program then churns out notes accordingly in the shape of glorious hard copy. Although no transition rules are involved (meaning that every note is chosen without regard to what came before), it's encouraging to see this facility in a commercial package, and it's ideal for adding that soupcon of aleatoric excitement here and there, if not going the whole hog with Cage-like notational free-for-alls. (Readers are invited to submit their interpretation of the vocabulary in this last sentence to the Music Editor. Free dictionary to the sender of the most imaginative version.)

Of course, the problem with Music Mate is that you can't actually hear anything until you've got some musicians together to play the Epson-generated score. If only the Music Mate note files could be piped via MIDI to a waiting synth or two. (Nudge, nudge...). Another slightly tricky area is that Music Mate only runs on CP/M or MS-DOS operating systems. This means that the software won't run on a BBC Micro until you've got the Z80 80-column cards. Still, at £150, Music Mate seems like a good investment if you're in the business of serious compositional activities and want a less messy alternative to Rotring pens and dyeline paper(!) For more information, contact Microcomputer Products International Ltd., (Contact Details).

Mainframing Music

The interview with Mainframe in E&MM February provoked lots of interest on account of the mention of an Apple-based sampling system that Murray Monro and John Molloy had had built for them. Well, since then, things have been moving apace at the Mainframe HQ, and the system (called the 'Enterprize') has been appearing on the box in all its polyphonic, keyboard-controlled glory. The original version of the system comprised a four-voice card, using the Apple's memory for sound storage, that could be played either by jabbing the QWERTY keyboard in real time (hairy), or from a simple sequencer (hopeful). That's all old hat now, because a keyboard interface has been added so that your digits can get at the digits (if you see what I mean), and the sequencer features cover the full range of possibilities from real to non-real time.

At present, production is being geared up to produce the system at the very reasonable cost of £250 for the four-voice Apple board and software. To add the luxury of keyboard control, Mainframe are providing a board and software for £100 to interface with any scanned keyboard of the Casio variety. They'll also be bringing out their own keyboards sometime in the near future. The system will run on a 48K Apple II or IIe, but, seeing that more memory means more sample, adding on a 16K RAM card to give 64K total is definitely advised. Because the four voices use the Apple's memory rather than their own dedicated memory (the Fairlight approach), each has equal access to all of the four samples that can be stored at any given time. A further useful point is that both triggers in and out are provided.

For more info on the Enterprize, contact mc2 Music at (Contact Details).


There's nothing quite as fickle as the music business, and Digital Keyboards Inc. experienced a pretty heavy dose of that fickleness when it came to their Synergy keyboard. The problem with this machine was that it promised a lot but missed the boat in certain areas, but fortunately, its makers don't take anything lying down, and they've now come up with a package of updates which makes rather interesting reading.

The first upgrade is wholly software-based (a question of exchanging a few ROMs in the machine for 'just a few dollars') and improves the keyboard response speed by 50%, increases the sequencer's capacity to 2160 events, improves the S/N ratio, and adds built-in diagnostics. Next, there's a package of additional hardware and software for opening up the Synergy to communications with a micro via an RS232 serial link.

Wot, no MIDI? Yes, quite.

Anyhow, this link should give the user the much-needed ability to store voice alterations and sequencer contents on disk and then recall them as and when they're needed. In addition, this package will also add an MCL option, enabling the creation and editing of compositions using what DKI call 'intermediate notation'. All very interesting.

Finally, the real biggie: an interface network which turns the Synergy into a General Development System, much beloved by Klaus Schulze and Wendy Carlos, to name but two. This will allow the user to create his own voices (at last!), bum-in ROM cartridges, and interact with all manner of displays. Plus, coming shortly... a Synergy slave processor which will allow the control of 512 oscillators. Phewee!

For more on the visual/auditory input front, there's a brochure and 'DKI News' ($3), owner's manual ($15), and voice cartridge cassettes ($10) as tasters of the Synergy's delights. These are available from Digital Keyboards Inc., (Contact Details).

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Electronics & Music Maker - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Electronics & Music Maker - Jun 1984

Computer Musician



News by David Ellis

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