The Shape of Things to Come
A chance to catch up on the new products you may have missed at last month's British Music Fair.
After a couple of months of wondering exactly what the hell a MIDI Performance System was, Zyklus finally told us at the BMF.
In simple terms... it is not simple! To describe the MIDI Performance System is to talk about a sequencer, however, it is unlike any sequencer you may have encountered before. You can record a performance played on your own synthesizer in real-time or step-time and play it back. Now the difference becomes apparent...
The MPS is like 12 totally independent polyphonic sequencers all running at the same time and all in sync with each other. Each of the 12 sequences can be edited and controlled in real-time as they are playing from the front panel of the unit. Any sequence can be routed to one of four MIDI Outs and various sequences can be triggered by a single keypress from different parts of a keyboard by MIDI map zone information.
The most important aspect of the system is that it performs all of these tasks whilst playing back your music. This makes it an ideal live or improvisation instrument and, to this end, Zyklus have put a lot of effort into the power supply section of the unit, making it impossible to wipe the memory if the power should suddenly go down at a live gig (or in the studio, come to that).
Technically, the system can store 9,000 events, 99 sequences, 24 different configurations and 12 performances, with all data being stored on a RAM cartridge for archive purposes. Well worth a demo!
Price £1,995 inc VAT. Details from Zyklus Ltd, (Contact Details).
From Farfisa comes a MIDI sequencer with a difference, the MC5 Digigram. The basic unit offers a 12-track sequencer with an 11,000 note capacity and real or step-time recording. Once musical data has been recorded, you are free to display and edit the pitch and duration of individual notes on any track and in any bar. These are all straightforward features that you would find on almost every sequencer. However, what is unique to the MC5 are features such as automatic harmonisation from melody or chords and a built-in score printer.
By plugging an Epson compatible dot-matrix printer into the back of the MC5, you can instantly print out your music in manuscript form as you played it or immediately transpose the piece and print it out with your selected harmony variations, bass parts and chords - ideal for arrangers. Altogether, the Farfisa MC5 represents an interesting alternative to the current crop of sequencers on the market, particularly if you are more traditionally music-oriented in your requirements.
Price £899 inc VAT. Details from Farfisa UK Ltd, (Contact Details).
Like Yamaha, Akai used the BMF to introduce their instrument controllers. Visitors could watch a continuous video presentation of the new EWI and EVI instruments as well as being able to hear them live in the product demos.
Two models are available, one based on the three-valve system of a trumpet (the Electronic Valve Instrument), and the other based on a saxophone type fingering (the Electronic Woodwind Instrument). Both the EWI1000 and EVI1000 have to be used in conjunction with the EWV2000 Sound Module. This analogue module contains two programmable monophonic synths, a 64 bank sound memory and a MIDI Out socket for additional control of further MIDI expander modules.
Each instrument offers an eight octave playing range and the inclusion of various sensors allow you to control such parameters as pitch bend, glide, vibrato and modulation (more info on p36). Price around £1300 inc VAT.
Other Akai new releases at the BMF included a new digital reverb unit, which joins their EX series. The EX90R offers variable pre-delay up to 200ms, 8 preset reverbs including large hall, plate and gated reverb, 12-bit resolution with an 85dB dynamic range.
In their 19" rack-mount series, Akai introduced the MB76 MIDI Programmable Mix Bay. This 1U high device accepts 7 audio inputs via ¼" jacks and mixes them in any combination to feed 6 outputs. 32 different mixes may be memorised and called up either manually or via MIDI.
The PEQ6 is Akai's MIDI Programmable Equaliser, again in a 1U high case. This is a multichannel equaliser offering 6 independent channels of 7-band equalisation. Front panel rotary controls are provided and these give +/-12dB of level control at 63Hz, 160Hz, 400Hz, 1kHz, 2.5kHz, 6.3kHz and 16kHz. As with the MB76, 32 banks can be stored in memory for instant recall via MIDI.
Finally, the new Akai/Linn sampling drum machine, the ADR15 received its European launch at the BMF. The unit sounded impressive at the show and we did hope to have a review of it in this issue. However, we were told that a couple of major changes were going to take place: notably, it would receive a few cosmetic improvements, the name would change to MPC64 (a bit late in the day, but that's corporate decision-making for you) and we were also told that the MIDI aspect of the software was not yet fully operational. So we decided not to review the version shown at the BMF, we'll wait for the one they expect people to buy. Stay tuned!
Contact: Akai (UK) Ltd, (Contact Details).
Traditionally a live sound equipment company, Brooke Siren Systems, or BSS as they are known, have developed a highly intelligent MIDI controllable noise gate. The DPR-502 is a dual channel gate which, in common with many of the gates around today, features a Key input for external triggering and this includes a built-in filter with a variable width control.
An Auto Attack mode monitors input signal information and automatically compensates for variations in rise-time. The ADE or Auto Dynamic Enhancement mode gives a controlled boost to the incoming signal to improve transient response as the gate opens, with two transient characteristics being selectable.
On the MIDI side, the DPR-502 can act as a 'talker' or a 'listener' by generating or responding to MIDI data. A series of small DIP switches on the rear panel enable you to configure the unit to pass MIDI data in a variety of ways. For example, you can select which MIDI note number will trigger the gate and decide whether it should be affected by MIDI velocity data or not.
Altogether, the DPR-502 is a highly flexible noise gate which may be operated as two independent units or linked for stereo operation.
Details from BSS Audio Ltd, (Contact Details).
We first mentioned The Event from Real Time Logic many months ago. It seems that this British SMPTE-to-MIDI synchroniser has taken longer than anticipated to get off the ground and has now evolved in many ways. The new version shown at this year's APRS differed from the original both in colour and in features.
The Event now offers jam sync in both forward and reverse operation, video-locked timecode for PAL/NTSC and SECAM formats, a 4,000 beat tempo sequencer, and a three channel delay module which allows output clocks to be shifted relative to each other.
Distributed by ADT Ltd, (Contact Details).
The BMF saw the unveiling of several new products from Roland, many of which were mentioned last month. However, here are a few we didn't tell you about.
The TR626 Rhythm Composer comes as a replacement for the very popular TR505 and offers many of the features that TR505 owners always wanted. There are eight individual outputs, more sounds (you can now access a total of 30) and fast pattern/song storage via the new Roland IC memory cards instead of the tedious tape dump method. In addition, you can now tune every instrument and there is also a long awaited sync-to-tape function. Being a direct replacement for the TR505, the TR626 will sell for the same RRP of £295.
Roland also introduced the MT32 MIDI Sound Module. We managed to get it for review immediately, so you can read all about it on page 65.
For D-50 owners there are two new memory cards. A 256 RAM card for storing your own sounds and a new ROM card which features a new library of instrument sounds.
Contact: Roland (UK) Ltd, (Contact Details).
Most of the new equipment from Yamaha was mentioned last month, however, they did keep one major product up their sleeve - their WX7 Wind MIDI Controller. Without a doubt, this product stole the show. Everybody who was lucky enough to squeeze into their demonstration booth heard what can only be described as 'the dawn of a new age' as the WX7 demonstrator, Sal Gallina, literally blew everybody away!
For a more in-depth look at this instrument's development read the main feature on p36. However, for a technical rundown, read on.
The WX7 has been designed for the sax player and offers the same fingering, but without the problems, it is claimed. The instrument makes no sound of its own, but acts as a controller for any MIDI expander, eg. a TX81Z. In simple terms it can be seen as a development of the breath controller found on the Yamaha DX series synths. The major difference with the WX7 is that it is a true instrument capable of great expression.
Via MIDI, the breath control aspect of the WX7 controls volume, vibrato and tone of the sound module and by varying your lower lip pressure, pitch bending is possible. The instrument has a pitch range of seven octaves and you can select the home key of the instrument to simulate alto, soprano registers, etc.
As a MIDI controller instrument, you can transmit sustained notes on one MIDI channel whilst playing over it on another. This is just one example of the WX7's facilities, many more are possible but most defy description. Price around £750 inc VAT.
Further details are now available on the new DX7S. This new synthesizer falls somewhere between the old DX7 and the new DX7 II. It has the same new cleaner sound circuitry of the DX7 II, same new RAM cartridges, panel styling and CS control sliders. So what are the differences?
Well, the DX7S is what Yamaha call a single voice synth, hence the 'S' in the name. This basically means that you can only have one 16-note voice, unlike the DX7 II which offers two 8-note voices in Dual Play mode and two 16-note voices in Split Play mode fed to its two audio outputs. The DX7S will sell for £1239 inc VAT.
Contact: Yamaha-Kemble UK, (Contact Details).
Tucked away inside a small room on the Elka stand at the BMF there was a man, a box and an Atari ST computer. This was the first UK show for the soon-to-be-launched Lynx Sampler. What is it? Well, it is not an Elka product, it's a British unit designed and developed in Cambridge that could ultimately be as big as the Fairlight!
Housed inside the unassuming 1U black box is a super brain computer which gets on with the task of sampling sound into its memory. The sampling system operates at 50kHz and gives you 16-bit stereo samples. Around the back of the box are eight audio outputs, which tells you that it's an 8-note polyphonic system, though it is capable of giving 16-note polyphony as well.
Once a sound has been sampled, it is displayed on the screen of the Atari ST for further manipulation. The clever thing about the Lynx is that, unlike the Hybrid Arts ADAP sampling system, it doesn't use the memory in the Atari computer, it's employed purely as a host device for displaying the waveform data in a graphic way to the user.
Using the Atari's mouse you can zoom into sections of the sampled waveform, edit what you find, copy, merge, insert, reverse, mix and expand. You can plot 3-dimensional graphs of the sample, perform Fast Fourier Transformation, envelope the sound, redraw the waveform and add either echo or reverb treatments.
A full complement of MIDI parameter assignment is possible, including the programming of keyboard split-points and MIDI mapping to produce effects such as aftertouch control of panning.
All the sample and performance data is stored on disk via the Atari computer. In addition to this vast selection of features, the Lynx also includes its own built-in 40-track sequencer and a score editor program which prints music.
And due to its unique design, the Lynx can also run any standard sequencer software program simultaneously if you prefer to work with your Pro-24 system, for instance.
Last but not least, a planned software enhancement will allow you to use the Lynx as a real-time stereo digital effects processor with echo, reverb and chorus treatments currently under development. And the price for all this? A remarkable £1,300 inc VAT!
Further details available through Elka-Orla UK Ltd, (Contact Details).
One of the other crowd-pullers at the BMF show this year were the new guitars from Casio. There are four instruments in the series: the most basic models, the DG10 at £225 and DG20 at £279, are almost 'toys', but not quite! The DG10 looks like a guitar and gives you 12 different sounds. The strings themselves don't make a noise as they are very loose and made of nylon. You also get 12 PCM auto rhythms to strum along to, a built-in speaker to hear the sound, though you have to provide your own cloth cap if you intend busking on the streets.
The DG20 is very similar, except it has 20 sounds to choose from, 4 built-in drum pads to tap and a MIDI Out socket to connect you to the world of synthesized sound.
For the more serious-minded, Casio's MG500 and MG510 (both £549) are true MIDI guitar controllers. Both models offer the same specification, ie. six steel strings, 96 MIDI program changes, octave selection, audio out, MIDI Out and guitar/synth volume and blend. The only difference really is the shape; one's a traditional Fender Stratocaster lookalike and the other isn't.
On the keyboard front, Casio introduced the HZ600 five octave, full size 8-note polyphonic synthesizer. This offers all the immediacy of a preset synth with a total of 60 presets split as 40 on the upper side and 20 on the lower side. In addition, the HZ600 gives you the power of programming your own sounds with 20 user-definable programs assignable to the upper and 10 user programs to the lower side. All programs may be stored on the Casio RAM cards and the instrument features three split points, stereo chorus and a data entry dial for parameter editing.
Price £349 inc VAT. Details from Casio, (Contact Details).
This year's British Music Fair was bigger than last year, occupying almost double the floor space. But was it a success?
The music trade always seem disappointed with the show; many retailers already know what will be on display and seeing and hearing the actual goodies in the flesh seems to do nothing to further stimulate them. For the public, the exact opposite is true. There is nothing more rewarding than to have made the trek to Olympia, London and to have heard and played with the instruments of your dreams. Attending shows can be very useful. It gives you an opportunity to quickly assess a product and discuss it with real experts, not just the guy in your local music shop. And you are in the unique position of having every product that you are probably interested in all under one roof.
However, even though many of the visitors had a good time, quite a few we met were disappointed. This was largely due to the nature of the BMF. You see, the show is organised by the Musical Retailers Association and to all intents and purposes it is only members of the MRA who can exhibit. This is why many people were upset to find that many overseas companies were not there. For example, you couldn't find Sequential showing their prototype Prophet 3000, or indeed E-mu Systems with their new SP1200 and Emulator III. Software companies such as Steinberg and System Exclusive, who market Iconix, were not to be seen and Take Note had to hire a room around the corner in the Nomis Complex. Likewise Sonus, a giant American music software company, were staked out in a hotel up the road.
Interestingly, Sonus look set to take the UK market by storm with a selection of sequencer programs and synth/sampler editors which run on almost every make of computer and cater for almost every popular keyboard/sampler.
To end our BMF round-up, here are just a few closing thoughts on the event.
Best Stand Design: goes to Ensoniq, who displayed giant-size wooden models of their products.
Best Effort By A New Company: goes to Philip Rees Technology and his range of MIDI boxes.
The "I promise it will be here by 12 noon" Award: goes to Cheetah Marketing for their late arriving drum machine which, after several days and promises, turned up and proved to be well worth the wait.
Disappointment Of The Show: reading about the new Alesis HR16 drum machine last month and then not being able to hear it at the show. Plastic boxes only, but it did look good.
Finally, the attendance this year was up slightly from 31,500 to 32,500.
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