The Synergy gets an overhaul and becomes the Synergy Plus, Passport and Syntauri fight it out, and more.
Synergy Plus is the name given to the reincarnation of the Synergy just announced by Digital Keyboards Inc. Although it maintains its predecessor's penchant for pretending to be a high-tech grand piano (I'm not a lover of glossy black exteriors!), the insides of the new machine have had a thorough working over, with the addition of the General Development System voicing and cartridge generation software. What all this means is that the Synergy owner is now able to program his or her own voices (by virtue of GDS-like displays of waveforms, envelopes et at), extend the on-board sequencer's capabilities, and add the inevitable MIDI link.
To perform these musical miracles, an external micro has been tagged on, and Digital Keyboards' suggested computer is the Kaypro II. Their choice seems curious - the Kaypro II isn't the micro that'd spring to my mind - but they do say that other CPM 2.2, Z80-based computers can also be used. The other good news is that existing Synergy owners (but do Synergy owners exist? - that's the question) can upgrade to the Synergy Plus.
And the price? Well, $7,500 is what's being quoted for the Synergy Plus with the Kaypro II computer. Sounds like good value - especially considering the $30,000 price tag of the GDS. For more information, contact Tim Piggott at Digital Keyboards Inc, (Contact Details).
This somewhat bizarre name is attached to a new digital synthesiser that the equally curiously-named Altered Media Project have just released in the States (where else?). The GCE is said to be a 'high-speed, high-fidelity digital sound synthesiser capable of real-time operation with 16-bit stereo quadraphonic outputs'.
At the heart of the system, there's a 16-bit computer designed for real-time additive and FM synthesis. 128 instructions are provided in the operating system for defining the 'oscillators', including control of the waveshape, frequency, amplitude, and frequency or amplitude modulation. Other options include facilities for VOSIM synthesis and filtering, and the processing of external sounds. The maximum number of 128 oscillators is achieved with an individual sample rate of 32kHz (giving a bandwidth of something less than 16kHz). However, by reducing the number of oscillators to 80, the sampling rate can be made to exceed 50kHz, with a corresponding increase in sound quality.
The individual parts of the GCE include the synthesiser boards (a massive 13.5" x 17" each), a 16-bit processor, memory, a high-speed DAC, a high-speed DMA link for communicating with the user's controlling computer, and all via a 16-bit S100 bus. In fact, there's room on the bus to accommodate a further seven GCE synthesisers, and there's a special 24-bit bus for communication of digital sound between any devices plugged onto the bus. Not surprisingly, this isn't the sort of system you tag onto any old eight-bit micro that's lying around in the attic: the GCE needs something along the lines of a Unix 68000 system with a lot of disk space. Lucky you if you've got a sugar parent who'll drop one of those in your Christmas stocking...
But it does look as if the GCE's been designed with a rather keener eye on the old wallet than Lucasfilms' $750,000 Audio Signal Processor. Although no price has been confirmed, Altered Media say that the GCE is 'in the price range of current commercial digital synthesisers, but has the power and flexibility of the large research systems'.
The mind boggles at the thought of what Trevor Horn would get up to if he got hold of one of these - sampling the Portsmouth Sinfonia playing Beethoven's Ninth to sound like the Berlin Phil playing Beethoven's Ninth, perhaps? Still, if your name isn't Trevor Horn or Paul Morley and you're interested in knowing more about the GCE, you're invited to contact Altered Media Project Inc at (Contact Details).
The battle between Syntauri and Passport for the musical Apple user has by now reached legend proportions. Not that they ever actually gouged each other's eyes out, but you get the impression it's a good thing that Los Altos (home of Syntauri) and Half Moon Bay (Passport's base) aren't within spitting distance of each other.
Syntauri recently released their Musicland software - a suite of four 'musical games' aimed at the kids amongst us - designed by Martin Lamb at the University of Toronto and developed as part of the so-called Structured Sound Synthesis Project. Currently, the package includes Sound Factory (designing a sound through harmonic addition and envelope drawing), Timbre Painting (painting with tone colours), Music Doodles (drawing song shapes with an 'electronic crayon'), and Music Blocks (connecting together blocks of melodies). This seems eminently imaginative, and reasonably priced at £150, but it's a shame that Syntauri are still using the Mountain Computer synthesiser hardware, which is now looking rather expensive and distinctly lacklustre.
Still, if you're out to extract as much as possible from this five-year-old hardware, an item of software called Metawave, written by Paul Lehrman in the States, could prove useful. This takes as its starting point the Decillionix DX1 card, which is used to sample a sound into memory. The program then allows the user to play around with the sample, truncating it, filtering it, or whatever, and then saving it onto disk for use by Syntauri's other software. And all for $89.95. For more information on this, or other things Syntauri-ish, contact Computer Music Studios at (Contact Details).
This would be all very fine and dandy if it wasn't for the fact that Syntauri have been rather slow to jump onto the MIDI bandwagon - more than a year behind Passport, in fact - which has created certain problems as regards street credibility: the 'no MIDI, no way' syndrome. And the result of this is that Syntauri is no longer, though the company's products will continue to be marketed under the name Metamatics and the guiding hand of original Syntauri software designer, Charlie Kellner.
All of which leaves Passport Designs in a rather comfortable position. They've been quick to see the wider potential of the MIDI, and aside from the fact that Yamaha and Korg are using their Apple MIDI card, Passport have also signed a co-licensing deal with various music publishers (Hal Leonard in the States and Rittor Music in Japan) for the marketing of what they term 'computer sheet music'. A canny move, this - as will be obvious from this month's Editorial.
News by David Ellis
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