The Musical Micro
1989 PC Show Report
Over 100,000 people attended this year's show; Paul Ireson reveals what you missed music-wise if you stayed at home.
For the second year in succession, the PC Show included a Sound On Sound sponsored Music And Micro Village, devoted to musical applications of personal computers. Paul Ireson reports.
This year's PC Show at Earl's Court proved to be another good one for music; building on the success of last year's event, the Sound On Sound sponsored Music And Micro Village included even more exhibitors than in 1988, and attracted tens of thousands of visitors. In all, over 100,000 people attended the show.
In prime position, and with the biggest stand in the Music And Micro Village, were Roland, who devoted their display to their new range of CM computer sound modules. The CM32L, CM32P and CM64 are multitimbral MIDI sound modules that are aimed at home computer users who are looking for a simple means of adding some quality sound generating facilities to their system. It is interesting to see that major musical instrument manufacturers are at last waking up to the existence of such a market, and with little competition at present, Roland look like cleaning up. At least one major games software house, Sierra, is already writing its software with the availability of the Roland modules in mind: their current generation of games go one better than using the Atari's internal sound chip, and will play their soundtracks via MIDI on an MT32 or CM32L. Incidentally, the field of computer games soundtracks seems to be providing employment for assorted dinosaurs of rock these days - Jez Woodroffe (ex-Black Sabbath keyboard player) and Bob Siebenberg (ex-drummer for Supertramp) have both been involved in composing music for games. If only someone would persuade Kylie Minogue to retire and do the same...
Just across a gangway from Roland were specialist PC music dealers Computer Music Systems, who, amongst other things, had a new program called Ballade. Ballade (PCs only) provides comprehensive tone editing and sequencing facilities for MT32 and CM32L modules, underlining the fact that software already exists for Roland's new gadgets. Also being shown on the CMS stand was the latest version (3.0) of Voyetra's powerful Sequencer Plus. Strengthening the PC side of the music section, Yamaha's own PC compatible, the C1, was on demo with Yamaha Music Pulse.
MCMXCIX had their full range of software on show, and the Dr. T presence on their stand was strengthened on one of the public days by the arrival of Al Hospers, Dr. T's American president, on a flying visit. He brought with him an early version of TIGER Cub, a modified version of the TIGER graphic editing program, which incorporates less sophisticated editing but better sequencing facilities.
For those seeking a little education in the field of music and MIDI, Dutycell were present, offering places on their hi-tech music courses. Software and a wide range of synth sounds were available courtesy of MIDI Music, who were joined by C-Lab's UK expert Will Mowat demonstrating Notator and Creator.
Microillusions and SDL kept Amiga fans happy with in-depth demos of the superb Music X, which proved one of the star attractions of the Music Village.
Audio Visual Research demonstrated their latest sampling hardware and software for the ST, most notably the A16S 16-bit sampler (£695), and the STM 12/14-bit sampling cartridge. More sampling-based goodies were to be found on the adjacent Microdeal stand, where besides the latest version of ST Replay, a new package called Quartet was on show. Quartet enables you to load and edit samples - which could be captured using Replay - from disk, and sequence these to produce songs.
Hollis Research joined forces with Future Music Chelsea to take a stand and demo Trackman II, which includes features to make Trackman an even faster, easier and more powerful ST sequencer program. Several visitors were apparently so impressed by the music being turned out on the Hollis stand that they asked where they could buy the album!
Last but not least in the Music Village, The Digital Muse had three new products to announce. Prodigy is a new sequencer; a kind of smaller brother to Virtuoso. Also coming soon are an intelligent MIDI expander (offering four independent MIDI Ins and four independent Outs), and The Time Machine, a SMPTE add-on box which will also accept an audio trigger to allow sequencer sync to a live drummer or similar source.
Outside the Music Village, if one could only avoid the hordes of zap-happy vid kids to find it, there was still more music related software and hardware on show. The demo of Music X on the Commodore stand had the editor of at least one leading hi-tech music mag enraptured, as Nigel Jones knocked out a few classic Genesis covers, leaping from electronic drums to keyboards as required. Hybrid Arts UK exhibited on the mammoth Atari stand, and were showing off FM Melody Maker (£69.95), a 9-voice FM sound cartridge which also incorporates a fully-featured drum machine and MIDI sequencer, and GenEdit, Hybrid's contribution to the brave new world of generic synth editors. As with the Roland/Sierra situation, games from Wildfire are already being written with the intention of using FM Melody Maker to provide their soundtracks. Steinberg (in the guise of Evenlode Soundworks) were also to be found on the Atari stand, exhibiting Cubase.
The biggest news from Atari themselves was Stacy, their laptop ST-compatible which is being aimed exclusively at musicians. The eagerness with which Steinberg's demonstrators took to using Cubase on Stacy suggests that musicians will indeed find the portable ST an exciting prospect. The current version of Stacy comes with 1 Mb of RAM and an on-board 20Mb hard disk drive, and will cost £1299.99 plus VAT. The Atari TT (a new computer based on the 32-bit Motorola 68030 processor) was also on show in a rather halfhearted manner - it was there, but it hasn't been officially launched yet, and there was no software written specifically for it around to show off its capabilities.
At the more prestigious - read 'very expensive' - end of the laptop market, Apple chose the show to unveil their new Macintosh Portable (£4500 +VAT). Also on show, however, was Spectre's latest Mac emulation cartridge for the ST, the GCR (£379), which raises the possibility of a much cheaper portable pseudo-Mac, using a GCR/Stacy combination.
Finally, for those interested in music on the Acorn Archimedes, this year's show made it clear that the range of software for these machines is making it a much more viable choice as a music computer. Pandora's Inspiration was being demoed on the Acorn stand in its final form, and by the time you read this it should have passed final approval and testing. Also on the Acorn stand were Armadillo with their range of Archimedes-based sampling systems, and Electromusic Research with their full range of music products. EMR's Mike Beecher attracted the crowds with his jovial demonstrations of the Studio 24 and Megastudio sequencers, SoundSynth waveform creation software, Scorewriter PMS, and MIDI interface and sampling expansion boards. All in all, a show not to be missed.