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ST Notes

Martin Russ takes his monthly look at the world of ST music...

It can be hard deciding what is news and what isn't. Rumours of Atari's low-cost 68030-based machine, code-named Falcon, continue to circulate, but it may be nothing more than vapourware. The ST pad — a keyboardless 'write on' tablet — may have been over-ambitious. More tangible is the latest portable ST — the ST Book. The Stacy portable suffered from battery problems, but was fine when plugged into the mains; the ST Book shows just how much technology has advanced recently. It is smaller, lighter, and Atari have announced a special MIDI port expander and cartridge slot emulator, so that you can use it for mobile music applications (the non-standard MIDI sockets on the ST Book are mini-DINs, rather like those you find on Macs and some PCs). After a long period during which they seemed not to recognise the importance of the ST to the music business, it looks like Atari are now actively promoting the ST for musical uses.

Depending on how often you buy disks, you may have only just started to notice that the prices of 3.5" inch disks have been rising recently. The price rises were apparently in response to a world-wide shortage of disks that started to happen early this year. The main casualties have been the low-cost unbranded disks which are widely used by games publishers and magazines, and consequently some popular ST magazines have been putting branded disks on their front covers. Some cynics claim that the problem has been artificially created to increase the price, whilst over-production also seems to be a contributory factor. Regardless of the causes, you can expect to see blank disks costing a little more for some time to come — and you can expect that the quality of cheap disks will almost certainly plummet. Of course, for serious musical use, most ST users will still be buying high quality branded disks for storing their valuable song sequences, MIDI Files and Voice Dumps. You do invest in decent 'named' disks for your backups, don't you?

The continued strength of the Pound against the US dollar brings benefits beyond merely making holiday in the USA more attractive; savings are being passed on by Atari UK in the form of lower prices. This could be just the right time to change that ageing ST for an STE with its easy memory upgrades to 4MB of RAM, or even for a Mega STE. With several multi-tasking systems for the ST beginning to make appearances, more than 1MB of RAM looks set to become less a luxury than a necessity. For musical purposes, it is likely that you will be able to run a sequencer and editor rather more reliably than with many of the switcher systems, and so it should be possible to build up your own customised system without the need to commit yourself to one of the power-user integrated packages like Steinberg's Cubase, C-Lab's Notator or Dr.T's KCS.

Of course, the opposite side of the coin is that several different ways of doing multi-tasking may prevent a unified and compatible approach from evolving. I would recommend you wait and see for the moment...

Seeemingly unconnected facts can sometimes all join together remarkably. I recently saw the name John Hollis in connection with a hardware dongle for preventing the piracy of computer games, and this reminded me of (John) Hollis Research's Trackman sequencer, on which I did some beta testing. I had heard that John was working on a hardware device, but I assumed that it would be an add-on to Trackman. Things seem to be coming full circle here — John Hollis was one of the founders of the Quicksilva software label in the early '80s (I have a generic computer game designer package on cassette written by John for the Sinclair Spectrum) and now his hardware is being used to protect games by another software house.

"After a long period during which they seemed not to recognise the importance of the ST to the music business, it looks like Atari are now actively promoting the ST for musical uses."


Llamas don't often make much of an appearance in music magazines (outside of Andes Hi-tech Music Today or South American Llama Music Monthly, but the success of Jeff Minter's shareware program Llamatron deserves a mention. Rather than use the normal distribution channels for software, Jeff decided to see if shareware really worked, and released his Llama 'shoot-em-up' into the real world with a registration fee of only £5. Virtually giving away a program and then hoping that people will send in their registrations requires a great deal of faith in human nature, but it apparently works.

Many of the programs for the ST that can be found in PD libraries (and on some SOS disks) are shareware, and this is probably a good time to encourage you to register any that you are regularly using. Registering often costs only a fraction of the price of a commercial equivalent, and you will usually get the latest version and some extra goodies in return for your honesty.


Until recently my ST exhibited a distressing problem. The lead from the hard disk drive to the ST was so short that I could only put the hard drive in one, rather awkward, position. Attempting to tidy up my computer setup finally persuaded me to do something about it, but where could I find a suitable lead? Hardware modifications and add-ons can be purchased from a wide range of suppliers, but I hate ringing up people without any sort of recommendation. I worry about the technical expertise of some retailers, and I am a sucker for the small personalised business approach that you only get from people most ST owners have never heard of — decent ST hardware experts.

So, when someone recommended a suitably technically minded firm to me, I thought that I should pass the news on. The lead did not cost a fortune (unlike some ST leads), and it arrived exactly when I needed it; C & P Rossiter ((Contact Details)) also handle upgrades and repairs.

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Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.


Sound On Sound - Jun 1992



Feature by Martin Russ

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