Moog's Song Producer, Channel 8 Software, and a chance for budding computer musicians to get their music onto vinyl.
This month's round-up of all that's new in the world of computer music.
At long last, information on Moog's Song Producer combination of MIDI hardware and software for the Commodore 64 has winged its way across the Atlantic, courtesy of their in-house promotional bulletin, Interface. Reading through the specs for the hardware is like taking what everyone else has done and then multiplying it by four. Not only does Moog's hardware have four MIDI Outs (that's four separate MIDI busses!), but also eight drum trigger outputs, clock in/out, start, and stop jacks.
Then there's two ways of running it. First, the real-time 'MIDI Command' software that uses graphics to show what's going down those four MIDI busses, makes any MIDI keyboard a split or layered one with eight definable split/layer points, and allows footswitch advance through chains of up to 99 previously-defined programs.
Second, on the recording side, there's 'Songstepper', a step-time sequencer package that permits eight voices of music to be distributed over the four MIDI busses (a claimed 32 notes simultaneously possible!) with full editing features, standard notation display, and printout facilities.
Having tried on several occasions to elicit some sort of response from a group calling themselves the Small Computers in the Arts Network (SCAN) in the States, it's good to see a similar sort of organisation emerging from the UK, though with the simpler title of Micro Arts and a rather more public presence. This is what they say about themselves, their magazine, and the software they're releasing:
'Micro Arts is a forum organisation for people working in microtechnology and the arts. The magazine covers micro art, music, general debate, and other more speculative areas. The software label will build up a catalogue of new artists' work, and can include anything that falls outside existing straitjackets.'
The contents of the magazines (two issues so far, costing 90p each), are nicely eclectic, ranging from 'Sextech - Sensuality and Technology' to the 'Electronic Beowulf', 'Programmer as Onanist', and 'Systems Music'. According to Geoffrey Davis, the founder of the group, they're now also thinking along the lines of releasing cassettes of micro-produced systems music.
For more information or copies of the magazines, contact Micro Arts at (Contact Details).
...as you may recall, was the title of Hubert Bognermayr and Harald Zuschrader's 'computer-acoustic sound symphony' LP released last year. It also became the name of a new record label and publishing company in Hamburg who specialise in promoting computer music, and aside from the above-mentioned Fairlight-using duo, Erdenklang's other artists include Klaus Prunster (described as a 'computer-teenie-bopper!), Tri Atma and Gyan Nishabda (who produce 'music to relax, to meditate, to dance', where 'rhythm guitars are orchestrated together with raindrops while seashells murmur behind the tablas'), Krystian Schultze (he of Expedition Extra fame), and Raven Kane and Klaus Netzle (producers of Silicon Valley - 'a conception album about the struggle going on between the passive emotions of man versus the computerised high-tech world that is taking over'). I know just how they feel...
Erdenklang's current plans are to produce a double album entitled The Story of Computer-Rock I, 1980-1985, including a version on Compact Disc. Aside from including Erdenklang's own artists, the company are also looking for unreleased material from other performers, and are inviting interested computer-musicians to contact them at (Contact Details). Why not give them a try?
Channel 8 are a well-respected software house with a lot of games software under their belts, and unlike most of their blinkered colleagues, they've been quick to realise the value of the MIDI.
The end result of a good deal of observation of the MIDI software and MIDI synth industries has led them to come up with a package called MIDISOFT 1 which, when released later this year, will be 'without any of the usual limitations imposed by badly written and poorly designed software'. Or so they claim. In fact, their October advertisement in E&MM suggested that the product would be ready for the PCW show held at Olympia in September, but I'm told their plans have been held up by 'unforeseen circumstances'. Sounds like a familiar story, you think - could it be the advertise it at least two months before it's released syndrome? Well, personally I hope not - Channel 8 aren't a fly-by-night company, so there's every reason to expect the goods in the very near future.
Anyway, the Channel 8 hardware seems to be a fairly universal design, allowing either a BBC Micro, Commodore 64, IBM PC, or Sinclair QL to indulge in MIDI communications. Aside from a MIDI In, MIDI Thru and three MIDI Outs, there's also a multiplicity of LEDs for indicating tempo, pulses-per-quarter-note, start/stop status, and trigger pulses in use, as well as outputs for clock, trigger pulse, start/stop, and a footswitch. Sounds like a thoroughly sensible design.
The software also sounds quite intriguing. Aside from offering a real-time sequencer that overdubs quite happily, it also incorporates a step-time mode that allows input from either the MIDI keyboard, a joystick, or the micro's QWERTY keyboard, displays the score as it's being edited, and allows sections of music to be CALLed from elsewhere in the score with transpositions, though without using up more valuable memory space.
And to put theory into hard-copy reality, there's also a graphic printout facility that allows a dot-matrix printer to indulge itself in specified sections of a score. Channel 8 also say that as part of their after-sales service, they'll be providing an update system which will entitle purchasers of MIDISOFT 1 to obtain anything from minor revisions to major rewrites of the software. They don't say how much that'll cost, but it all goes to show that they've got their heart in the right place...
The price quoted in September for the BBC Micro version of the package (with the software in ROM) was £189.95, inclusive of VAT. Whether that's also the price for versions running on the other chosen micros isn't known, but no doubt Channel 8 will clear the air once they've got over those unforeseen circumstances. In the meantime, Channel 8 Software invite you to send for their free brochure by writing to (Contact Details).
News by David Ellis
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