In conjunction with the Chase Bit 01 Expander, Casio CZ-101 synthesizer and Akai Sampler, the Jellinghaus 12-Track MIDI Studio software for the Commodore 64 micro represents the most powerful compositional and recording set-up available under £2500. Mark Jenkins catches his breath and tells you why.
In conjunction with the Chase Bit 01 Expander, Casio CZ-101 and Akai Sampler, the Jellinghaus 12-Track MIDI Studio software for the Commodore 64 represents the most powerful compositional and recording set-up available under £5000 - and all for just over £2000! Mark Jenkins catches his breath and tells you why.
Could you make a computer the centre of your studio? Until a couple of years ago, only those with access to custom-built or vastly expensive gear could answer 'yes' to this question, and most of us wouldn't have wanted to even if we could.
But as we all know, the introduction of MIDI has firmly tied small computers into the music scene, and the best software packages available at the moment leave dedicated synths and sequencers standing. Take the Jellinghaus Muzik Systeme, for instance - in conjunction with a Commodore 64, it offers a complete 12-track MIDI recording studio and Score Writer for just £339.
In fact, Jellinghaus' prices start much lower than this. You can buy the 12-Channel Studio package on disk for under £100, and also obtain a package to graphically display and edit sounds for the Yamaha DX7. Arpeggiators, Master Keyboard Simulators, Live Sequencers and much more are available in individual disk-based packages.
However, the latest idea from Jellinghaus is to combine three of their most powerful pieces of software in a single package, and it's this combination - the 12-Channel Studio, Sequence Chainer and Score Writer which we are looking at here.
Jellinghaus have opted for this approach for two very good reasons. Firstly, it makes it economical to blow the software onto EPROMs and install them in a perspex casing which fits between the Commodore 64 and the Jellinghaus MIDI Interface. This means that the software loads up instantaneously on power up - no more tedious disk loading - although you'll still need a 1541 Disk Drive if you want to save any of your compositions.
Secondly, it makes the software much harder to pirate, because there are lots of people about with fast disk copiers, but very few with 27128 EPROM blowers.
The Jellinghaus software will help you compose complex MIDI pieces, score them and print them out, but you need a keyboard to enter the music, and you need a number of synthesizers (or at least a number of accessible synth voices) if you want to take full advantage of the system's twelve channel capability. Choosing suitable synths on a budget is no longer as hard as it sounds; Casio's CZ-101, at £350 or so, is sweeping up in the MIDI expander stakes at the moment, and unless you find its miniature keys totally unplayable (say if you're doing MIDI transcriptions of Chopin), it offers astonishing value in terms of sonic power and quality. Even more to the point, its Mono Mode capability means that it can play four different monophonic sounds simultaneously on different MIDI channels, which is ideal for taking advantage of what the Jellinghaus software has to offer.
But what if you require a little more chordal capability? In choosing a second MIDI instrument, you shouldn't waste money on a keyboard (the Casio already has one) and you may well want analogue-type sounds (since the Casio has the digital sound field well covered). Additionally, it would be nice to have two separate voices for your money, and 19 rack-mounting to save space would be helpful. Oh, and there's the ever-present budget requirement too.
There's only one machine that fits the bill at the moment, and that's the new Bit01 Expander from Chase. Six-voice polyphonic, it can be split to play two three-note polyphonic voices and also plays in layered mode. Its sounds are powerful and its MIDI spec is much more advanced than that of its father, the Bit 1. At £499 it seems to be the one to go for, and a look at its specification tells you a lot about its sound capabilities:
6 voice polyphonic (single mode)
3 voice polyphonic (dual mode)
2 x 3 voice polyphonic (split mode)
Velocity sensitive (8 parameters)
Dual oscillators (detunable)
Dual 4-stage envelopes
In fact, the oscillators have much of the clarity of digital synths but the Bit has a lot to offer in terms of analogue sounds as well. It scores highly in its response to velocity effects (you'd need a DX7, Bit 1, Akai AX80 or Prophet T8 to take full advantage of these, but you can always edit velocity effects into the Jellinghaus files as we'll see), and the Bit's factory sounds feature examples of velocity-controlled volume, filter opening, attack time, pulse width and more.
The Bit01 is self-editing, so you can alter its sounds onboard without needing to connect any particular synth, and all parameters are shown one at a time on one of four large dual LED displays. Sounds are easily called upon a keypad and the first 75 are fully programmable, while another 24 are Split/Dual patches with two sounds occurring in layers or one either side of a programmable split point.
Lastly, you may want to add polyphonic sampling to your set-up, although it will cost you another £1000 or so. Akai's S612 is the best bet here offering six-note polyphony, astonishing MIDI tracking ability and velocity control, and handy 19" rack-mounting. Now that the MD280 Quick Disk has been launched, it's possible to use preset samples from the excellent Akai Sound Library, or to sample and store your own in a matter of seconds.
Production models of the S612 have an Auto-Loop routine which is quite reliable, and all loop parameters are stored on disk. As on a conventional synth, the Sampler's front panel controls only alter the loop position if you touch them or want to make a Manual Splice. Programmable Key Transpose, good frequency response for shortish duration samples, cheapish disks and integral LFO (for modulation) combine to make the Akai system a winner, and at under £1,000 for both units it won't stretch your budget too much.
Now we have our system together — composer, digital sounds, analogue sounds, sampled sounds. A MIDI or conventional drum machine giving 24ppqn (pulses per quarter note) is an option which the Jellinghaus system can include, and other options would be the Commodore Disk Drive previously mentioned, a small cassette player to record programs from the Bit 01, a dedicated computer monitor (causes fewer arguments than pinching the nearest portable TV), and a printer if you want to take advantage of the Score Writer program. So let's take a look at what the Jellinghaus Musik Systeme can do.
Due to its EPROM format, the Jelling-loads almost immediately, and hitting any key on the Commodore 64 steps from the loading display to the menu. This allows you to choose which of the three programs you want to use:
Select the Studio program and you're asked whether you're using a drum machine and/or a footswitch; these are connected directly to the Jellinghaus MIDI Interface. The main compositional display shows a Record Channel and eleven others with identical options. These are:
On/Off (for playback)
Mode Sync or Ostinato (for a single play each time the longest track starts, or a repeated loop)
Transpose (for playback)
Filter (to remove keyboard, pitch wheel, after-touch and program change information to save memory space)
and so on. There aren't many dedicated sequencers about which allow you to change MIDI channels after recording as the Jellinghaus package does.
To record a track, simply hit Function 1 or the footswitch and you'll get a metronome bleep at a variable speed via the computer monitor's speaker. Hit Function 7 to start and to stop, and you can play your piece back immediately.
Before proceeding to overdub, you have to copy the contents of the Record track onto any free track. This is done in a matter of seconds using Function 5, and the destination track is selected using a cursor.
The package is very much cursor driven, and you can quickly step about from track to track and function to function just by using the arrowed keys. One moment you can be removing velocity information from Channel 6, the next transposing Channel 3 up a perfect fifth (it's done in semitones by the way). And remember, don't confuse the twelve recording channels with MIDI channels. These are fully variable on each track.
In overdub mode, the previously recorded material will obviously play back if you want it to, and/or you can run a drum machine in sync as the slave or master timekeeping device. As before, the completed material has to be bounced to another track, but since you can change its MIDI channel and the MIDI receive channels of the four voices on the Casio and of the Bit 01 and Akai (from 1 to 9 in the Akai's case), there's no lack of choice as to how your material sounds as it builds up.
All notes can be entered polyphonically in real time with variable tempo, so you can slow the track down to give you more time to play the difficult parts, then restore it to the original tempo. You can also make parameter changes during playback. The system offers various styles of working depending on what you feel comfortable with. For instance, you can use
Function 8 of the main menu takes you to a List/Edit Function page, which allows you to change the note quantisation for each channel and to list and edit material starting at any bar. This function in operation is quite astonishing to behold; every single MIDI event is listed using a special code, with '4C22' for instance indicating a C in MIDI Octave 4 (Middle C), with a key velocity value of 22. The exact measure in which this occurs is marked, and you can change the note, its key velocity or its exact placement. That's powerful!
The possibilities are endless. You can rescue blinding solos marred by just one bum note by editing it out afterwards, or 'touch up' your music note by note, adding the all important expression with changes of key velocity or timing. You can add pitch bend and modulation (001 = 064 indicates that Continuous Controller 1 - the modulation wheel of an attached MIDI keyboard - has transmitted a value of 64, for instance), and you can insert or delete pitch bends, velocity effects and program changes.
Provided that you remember to alter both Note On AND Note Off information while editing, you can't go wrong, although the vast amount of detail available can make it a tedious process. More simply, you can quantise any track starting at any measure, by any value up to 1/4 quintuplets.
Once you're happy with a set of tracks you can store them on a disk and give them a name up to ten characters long. You can increase the capacity of the sequences by mixing down - simply connecting MIDI Out to MIDI In and playing all desired sequences back into the Record track, effectively adding them together. A MIDI switching box such as the Quark MIDI-Link will make this process less fiddly, and you can also use the Commodore 64 BASIC operating system to merge tracks using disk commands.
Once you've constructed some pieces you'll want to arrange them into complex songs. Switch off the computer, switch back on and select the Sequence Chainer, and you're presented with options for Load Song/Catalog/Edit Song/Save Song/Scratch Song/Expand Song.
The Edit Song page simply allows you to type in any sequences you want chained together by name, with any number of repeats and changes of tempo and/or transposition.
There are some limitations if you want to go on to use the Score Writer though. For instance, you must use a drum machine for synchronised recording, and you must avoid changing the tempo during the course of the piece. Apart from these restrictions, the Score Writer can translate your music, however complex, into beautifully notated printed music.
The Score Writer opens with three Preset pages. The first of these is headed Control Parameters, and adjusts the size of the margin, the line spacing, clef positioning, printer type and so on. You'll need a dot matrix Commodore printer such as the MPS801 or a suitable Centronics-equipped printer.
The second Preset page, Quantisation, adjusts the sensitivity with which the program interprets your playing both in terms of simultaneity of notes and in terms of timing. In other words, if your chordal playing is a little sloppy, you can select a value of 1 to 9 MIDI clock pulses over which range the notes will appear as part of a chord rather than as individual notes. Similarly, you can select a Timing Tolerance value from 1 to 47 MIDI clock pulses (ie. from almost nothing to a half note) over which range the Score Writer will pull all notes played onto the closest beat.
There are similar tolerance settings for Overlap and Release Time, and a setting for the pitch of the split between staves in a piano score. You can assign any track from the 12-Channel Studio files to any of the six possible staves, and the program will sort them out, with the default setting assigning Part 1 to the upper stave and Part 2 to the lower.
Lastly, there's a Layout page for the title and other text which allows you to make your own decisions about how much space there is between staves, how many staves fit on a page, and so on.
Between them, the Quantisation and Layout pages allow you to combine tracks onto a maximum of six staves, with a pair of staves being combined into a piano score on bass, treble or alto clefs with any split point. Dynamics are not reproduced, unfortunately, but legato slurs and ties are, and notes are always stemmed in the correct direction. If you set up the Layout page correctly you'll be given space to ink in lyrics and any additional expression marks as desired.
You can call up a directory of pieces from disk for the Score Writer, and the main operating limits are as follows:
12 tracks from the 12-Channel Studio
6 separate stave lines
2-part writing for each track
5 voices in each stave
1000 notes per track (2000 MIDI events plus controller)
50 bar lines on each printed page
50 time positions in each bar (eg. a 4/4 bar using 64th notes)
20 voices in total
So the Score Writer could very easily cope with our Casio/Bit 01/Akai system, which at most could have 20 voices operating simultaneously.
The MIDI-based software package we've discussed here offers some very powerful sounds for recording and makes an ideal tool for keyboard composition - however complex you wish to be. The added ability to print out your finished scores will be a Godsend both to working session musicians and composers. Provided that you don't expect instant printouts from the Score Writer, and that you are willing to take time editing the 12-Channel Studio files and marking up lyrics and other notation on the Score Writer printouts, you could well be looking at the shape of things to come in synth-based composition.
Chase Bit 01 Expander
Akai S612 Sampler
Gear in this article:
Feature by Mark Jenkins