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Teachers And Technology

BETT '92

Paul Gilby reports from the show devoted to educational technology.

This year's BETT show took place at the Barbican, London between January 22nd-25th. Over 200 companies drawn from all areas of education technology exhibited at the show, which attracted a busy crowd of educationalists from around the UK.

The BETT show is one of the most important annual events for teachers who want to catch up with the latest technology. This year's show didn't disappoint, with various hi-tech products and software packages on offer. The Acorn Archimedes, which has dominated the schools market for some years, is now facing considerable competition from almost all of the major computer manufacturers. On the music front the Arch still hasn't made the sort of impression that the Atari ST or Amiga have; however, schools have had their own problems funding the purchase of these non-preferred computers just to get their hands on the likes of Notator and Cubase.


Hard on the heels of the Arch is the IBM PC and compatibles. Research Machines of Oxford have been in the education market for some years, now with their not-so-compatible PC-186. This is basically an IBM PC with enough differences to make it unsuitable for use with any 'off the shelf' PC music products. RM commissioned their own product, the Music Sequencer, which actually runs under Windows and has to use a specially designed MIDI 2000 interface card from Hybrid Technology of Cambridge. For reasons unknown, RM decided not to exhibit this long awaited software, and instead concentrated their show efforts on their fully IBM compatible 286 and 386 machines running a variety of programs.

The absence of RM's own sequencer left only the Impac IMP Music Sequencer on display for PC-186-owners to contemplate.

RM were taking the occasion very seriously, with an exhibition stand in both halls of the Barbican show. A substantial part of one stand was devoted, as on every other computer manufacturer's stand, to multimedia. A computer, a CD-ROM player, speakers, and a whole bunch of software covering music, graphics, image capture, text and DTP were all buzzing across the screens running under Windows.

Music-wise, RM seem to have settled on the Ballade sequencer from Dynaware for non-Windows users, and the soon to be released MIDISoft Studio for Windows devotees.

Another PC-related product was the Miracle Piano Teaching System from Mindscape. This American product includes its own MIDI keyboard, and utilises your PC to run software that offers a range of tutorials. These include classical, jazz and rock style lessons with full on-screen notation, and step-by-step interactive tuition.


On the Archimedes, Electromusic Research, those stalwarts of the schools music market, were showing a range of programs including Studio 24 Plus and RhythmBox II.

Book publisher Longman's software division, Logotron, were demonstrating Notate. As the name implies, Notate is a music notation program, allowing you to compose and edit up to eight stave parts and hear them via the Arch's built-in sound facility or through an external MIDI synthesizer. You can import or export work as Standard MIDI Files.

Finally for the Archimedes comes a range of products from Vertical Twist. Previewed at the show and due for release in May comes the Sequ-P MIDI sequencer. This program will offer 31 tracks which includes a percussion or conductor track, and extensive musical and MIDI data editing, including the ability to edit data at a byte level. Also announced were a number of hardware products which included a synthesizer podule based on Yamaha's FM technology (2-operator) and a MIDI/sampler podule. As none or these products are yet available, we'll have to wait and see what Vertical Twist finally come up with.


On the hardware front, Roland's CM range of synth and speaker modules were littered across the stands of every exhibitor who had anything vaguely musical to demonstrate. The Soundblaster card was audibly very much in evidence, although tucked away inside the many IBM PC compatibles on show its visual profile was rather lower. This card is fast becoming the multimedia standard for its sampling and FM synth facilities. The quality isn't as good as your average Roland product, but they have targeted their marketing well and captured the bottom end PC users who want 'instant music'.

For the record, the major computer manufacturers at the BETT show were: Acorn, Apple, Apricot, Commodore, IBM, ICL, Philips and Research Machines. Notable by their absence were Atari. Just as every other computer company is showing a stronger presence in the education market and starting to break the Acorn monopoly, Atari seem to be looking the other way.


The most striking aspect of this year's BETT show was the number of CD-ROMs in evidence. You could be forgiven for thinking that the entire British education system was awash with CD-ROM discs and players; sadly this is not yet so. Other than database and encyclopaedia type products, the most interesting discs are the multimedia products. It's here that a new market for musicians is starting to open up, that of 'clip music'. This can be seen as a logical extension of library music. The main difference lies in the area of copyright, and already some American companies have entered the field with both fee paying and public domain 'clip music'. Technically, 'clip music' is just music that has either been sampled or composed on a computer, and stored in a format which is suitable for inclusion in a multimedia authoring program, eg. HyperCard for the Macintosh or Guide on the PC. The music is currently supplied on floppy disk; however, now that low-cost CD-ROM production is available, large collections of clip music are coming to the market.

The use of CD-ROM technology is, however, not confined to computers. Commodore exhibited their CDTV system with a range of discs covering both education and leisure interests. CDTV is basically a stand-alone multimedia station that plugs into your domestic TV.


Moving into the portable domain, Sony previewed their Data Discman electronic book. Although displayed behind glass, it attracted a lot of interest and points the way toward the development of personal information systems. The Data Discman is a CD-ROM player which uses the small 8cm CD single size disc. At present the machine is limited to text and basic graphics, though sound is available via the familiar Walkman-type headphones. With many of the world's book publishers looking seriously at this product, it won't be long before you'll see the rich and trendy posing on planes, trains and automobiles with these babies.

On a slightly more serious note, the Data Discman incorporates powerful database search facilities, a QWERTY keyboard, and function buttons to access the 100,000 page capacity of the small compact disc storage medium. You can also plug it into a domestic TV and play your normal audio CD singles on it as well.

Overall, this year's show was positively received and the organisers have already announced that due to pressure of demand the 1993 show will move across London to Olympia.

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Shape Of Things To Come

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Six Of The Best

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 - Mar 1992



Show Report by Paul Gilby

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> Shape Of Things To Come

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> Six Of The Best

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