The MMAN from NAMM
The recession hits America but the show goes on - hot news of the latest hi-tech music and recording developments. Vic Lennard is the MMAN from NAMM.
As America puts aside world peace and global economy in favour of the parties and parades surrounding presidential elections, there's one reminder of serious business - the NAMM show.
When I arrived in Anaheim to check out the latest gear at this year's winter NAMM show, I had it in mind that this is the first NAMM show since January 1991 (the summer '91 show was cancelled). As such, I reckoned it was fair to expect a generous helping of new equipment which won't be seen in Europe before the Frankfurt show in mid-March. Korg and Yamaha had decided to use NAMM to launch their first General MIDI (GM) equipment. Korg launched the 03R/W, a 32-voice polyphonic rack module with 128 Sounds in ROM (the GM set), 100 RAM programs and 100 combinations. Korg also added to the 01/W with a rack version (01R/W), a 76-note version (01/W Pro) and 88-note version (01/W Pro X). The latter two of these have 48,000 note sequencers which will read and write Standard MIDI Files.
Yamaha launched their TG100 GM sound module, a 28-voice polyphonic tone generator with 192 instruments and eight drum kits, costing £299. It also carries an eight-pin DIN socket on the rear panel labelled To Host for direct connection to computers. This could be an interesting digression from MIDI: will it work without a MIDI interface on PCs and Macs? Yamaha also released a very necessary update to the MDF1 MIDI Data Filer in the MDF2 (reviewed last month). This uses 3.5" disks (the MDF1 used 2.8" Quickdisks - which aren't) and can read and write Standard MIDI Files; it's also battery operated and can act as a real-time MIDI data recorder. The other Yamaha release was the RY10 AWM tone generator with 28-voice polyphony, 250 internal instruments, 36 songs in RAM and 12 percussion pads. It's an interesting follow-up to the QY10.
From Roland, derivatives of Sound Canvas were the flavour of the day. Two new CM modules (CM300, CM500), a keyboard version (JV30), a workstation with a 16-track, 49,000-note sequencer and built-in 3.5" disk drive (JW50) and an enhanced Sound Canvas with nine faders and various buttons to control level and pan (SC155). Oh, and a new guitar synth with the same sound chip (the GR1) which comes as a floor unit driven by a GK2 stick-on controller. Roland also released the JV80, a five-octave replacement for the U20 containing 129 preset waveforms with options for an 8Meg Wave expansion board and a 2Meg PCM Wave card. Also replaced, after many years of service, was the MPU401 PC MIDI interface. The Super-MPU features independent processors for SMPTE and MIDI, along with two independent MIDI Outs.
Alesis launched a 76-note synth keyboard (S5) and sound module (S4) which had already been quietly disclosed to selected members of the press. Unfortunately, there was still a photography embargo and nothing was to be heard. Still, the S5 looks promising, containing 64 voices, seven effects and a mixture of additive and subtractive synthesis. As for the Alesis ADAT, there was still no sign of this being operational. Rumour has it that there are problems with the S-VHS transport. There were also rumours that another company have a digital eight-track up their corporate sleeve.
E-mu launched their Proteus/3 World which, as the name suggests, uses sounds gathered from around the globe. Yes, you can now play sampled didgeridoo and troubador harp. Now where's that film score I was writing...
Peavey had released the DPM C8, 88-note Master keyboard and DPM CH8fd equivalent with sounds onboard at the October AES show. At NAMM they added the DPM Spectrum Synth, which is 12-voice polyphonic and has 24 oscillators, 16 resonant filters and 999 presets with waveforms stored in ROM. Also on the list was the Spectrum Bass which is eight-voice polyphonic, multitimbral, and contains 1Meg of bass samples. Sounds can be layered and run in Mono Mode. Sounds like bass heaven.
"Roland released the JV80, a replacement for the U20 containing 129 preset waveforms with options for an 8meg wave expansion board and a 2meg PCM wave card."
As is to be expected at a US show, you could count the number of Atari and Amiga computer companies present on one hand - the Atari will have its day at Frankfurt.
For the PC and its compatibles, however, there were several new developments - especially for the Windows 3.0 environment. Coda released the desktop music publishing program MusicProse (previously only available for the Mac) with a buy-back option if you upgrade to the top-of-the-range Finale. Meanwhile Passport launched MusicTime, a low-end program of a similar sort. On the sequencer front, Steinberg showed Cubase PC while a relatively unknown company called Oktal were demonstrating Multitude, a 256-track sequencer with a resolution of 768ppqn and grid, drum, song and event editors along with a tempo track, real-time MIDI mixer and SysEx librarian. All this, and it's available for the PC, ST and Mac.
For MS-DOS machines, there were also a few newcomers. Showtune from Thoughtprocessors scores any MIDI File that you load in, while The Jammer from SoundTrek (no relation to the Star variety) is a Band In A Box-style program but with control over each individual drum and the ability to impose separate styles on the bass and accompaniment.
For a large proportion of the "serious musicians" in the US the Apple Macintosh is the preferred computer, so the wealth of Mac software came as little surprise. Star of the show, as far as I was concerned, was Passport's Producer software. This is an integrated digital audio and MIDI soundtrack program which takes a different approach to multimedia from other programs; it uses a visual cue sheet to provide links between files created on other programs. The screen is divided into six columns with time shown on the far left-hand side, although the divisions are virtual ones simply to allow you to clearly see the different elements. Audio, MIDI or graphics files can be imported into Producer where they appear as boxes which can be positioned in the columns and can be moved by dragging; graphical envelopes can be used to visually mix the various files. A double-click on any box calls up the native program, from which the current file can be edited in real time - even when Producer is synchronised to an external source. With enough RAM, multi-finder or System 7.0 allows direct switching to the different programs. Data from computer animations, laser discs, CD-ROM, QuickTime, sound cards, samplers and MIDI instruments can all be integrated for post-production and multimedia projects. Also, full support is given to MPC compatible hardware on PC computers. Watching a program like this makes your mouth water.
Everyone seemed to be releasing software and/or hardware to allow you to record audio direct to disk at NAMM. Digidesign launched Sound Tools II, a four-track version of Sound Tools, while Mark of the Unicorn were showing their new Digital Waveboard and Digital Performer software. Opcode had serious updates to Studio Vision while Steinberg were giving Cubase Audio its first US showing.
Alongside the widespread support for the Macintosh, it was nice to see one company still supporting the ST. Hybrid Arts (now under new management and working hard to improve their profile) launched Digital Master EX. This is a four-track version of the direct-to-hard-disk recorder Digital Master (which won awards at the AES show) which will be expandable to 12 tracks within a few months. Hybrid Arts also showed Sample Playback, a 12-output, 24-voice polyphonic (at 44.1kHz) sample player which can be loaded via its SCSI port, the ST-MAC CD-ROM player which reads and accesses all Mac sound libraries on the ST, and a SCSI module which plugs into the ST's DMA port and allows you to use any SCSI hard drive with the ST.
Another current trend seems to be towards squeezing as many effects as possible into one effects processor and making them simultaneously accessible. ART were having a field day with their effects units, adding the SGX T2 and SGX-LT to the SGX range. The former has 70 effects from which 12 can be used simultaneously and boasts real-time MIDI performance. Up to eight MIDI controllers can access parameters (as with the Alesis Quadraverb), and the unit features a two-and-a-half octave pitch shifter and two seconds of delay. The latter is an auto-programmable guitar pre-amp and multi-effects unit with separate channels for clean and distortion. The Multiverb Alpha 2.0 is similar to the SGX T2 but without the MIDI addressing and with only six effects usable out of the 60-odd provided, while the Multiverb LTX is a preset effects module with 250 programs. The DRX 2100 is again like the SGX T2 but without the speaker simulation and distortion effects. Find a good formula and milk it...
"Hearing 'Rhapsody in Blue' with the clarinet line played back on Hammond organ (or didgeridoo) is a daunting prospect; but that's technology for you."
Peavey continued to build on their hi-tech profile, replacing their Pro-FEX effects processor with the Pro-FEX II, which adds a second pitch shifter, a moveable noise gate and a stereo simulator; up to eight effects can be used in any order. The Bass-FEX features 22 effects types, again with up to eight being accessible at once.
Yamaha launched a high-end digital equaliser and also introduced the EMP700 stereo multi-effect processor - this handles 28 effects including an excellent rotary speaker simulator.
Zoom released the 9000 multieffects guitar processor, boasting 21 effects, from which five can be used at once and a foot control unit thrown in free-of-charge.
Looking at the most futuristic developments of the show, Carver launched their CDR (CD Recordable) machine, the PDR10; CDs can only be written to once, but unwanted tracks can be hidden from the TOC to allow them to be removed from the playing programme. Cost is likely to be around £7000. (See Marantz CDR1 review elsewhere in this issue.)
After years of talking about it, Warner New Media released the first CD+MIDI disc. This will play back the normal CD audio on a regular CD player, but needs a CD device with MIDI ports (like Commodore's CDTV) to play the MIDI, data encoded onto the disc. Hearing 'Rhapsody in Blue' with the clarinet line played back on Hammond organ (or didgeridoo) is a daunting prospect, but that's technology for you. Given a year or so, we'll see CD+MIDI players down around the £200 mark if this takes off.
Most of you will have been aware of what Fostex have achieved with MIDI and tape recorder transport control over the last two years. This was accomplished in a proprietary manner and depended on support from the software companies. However, MIDI Machine Control (MMC) was ratified by the MIDI authorities just before the NAMM Show and will lead to support from most sequencers and tape recorder companies. Fostex were showing their R8/MTC1 combination running under MMC with Opcode's Vision on the Mac, while Tascam have the stand-alone MMC100, which will transmit the various commands to any of their recorders with a serial port.
Lone Wolf have tried to make Local Area Networking (LAN) a reality within MIDI for some years with MidiTap, but due mainly to high pricing, their ideology is practically unknown outside the USA. This technology now exists on a single board, the MicroTap, which allows for MIDI control of any audio device. Seeing the input and output of a power amp monitored on a Mac screen was pretty mind-blowing.
As the dust settles on America, the industry prepares itself for the Frankfurt Musikmesse and another round of innovation...