The Tapeless Recording Studio
Making tracks with MIDI
Magnetic tape has had a good run for its money, but according to Paul Wiffen, where electronic instruments are concerned technology has moved on.
Thanks to MIDI, it is now possible to multitrack synthesizers (whether played from keyboard, guitar or bass) and drums (from machines or pads), together with delay and reverb effects, for stage performance or ready for mixdown to stereo, without the need to record each instrument and effect separately on tape. How long before everything is done this way?
With the exceptional value combination of an MSQ-100 and a TR707, you have the nucleus of a MIDI recording set-up for less than £1000. With this package, you can record and playback (with velocity sensitivity if you use an instrument like the JX-8P, GR700 or PAD-8) multitrack performances which can be loaded in real or step-time.
Not only can you sync the drums and sequences together accurately with this package (using the MIDI or SYNC connection) but by taking advantage of MIDI Song Pointers, you can start playback and overdubbing from any point in your song, without needing to 'run from the top' each time as you have to with more conventional sequencers.
Until someone comes up with a MIDI retrofit for the human vocal chords this package will not record vocals, nor other acoustic sounds, so for the time being we still need to use tape to record these sounds. However we do not need to record all our other parts alongside. By using a sync code recorded on tape we can synchronize our sequencing to whatever else is happening in the piece of music (vocals, sax solo, etc). The MSQ 100 has such a tape sync code itself which you can record directly from the machine onto tape and playback straight into the sequencer for perfect sync. Unfortunately, using this system you have to go back to the beginning each time to achieve sync. Wouldn't it be nice if you could drop in anywhere like you can when using the MSQ and TR707 together without tape?
Well, by using the SBX-80 Sync Box you can! Unfortunately, MIDI signals require too great a band width (32K) to be recordable on tape, so the MIDI Song Pointers cannot be recorded. However, by using SMPTE code (the industry standard for music, film and video), the SBX-80 can convert the timing which SMPTE gives into MIDI Song Pointers, allowing perfect drop-ins every time.
Of course, the huge advantage this gives you is that you can change the sound of the synthesizer track or the effect recorded on them without needing to rerecord a perfect performance. You could also go back and rerecord a drum part from scratch if you wanted to, all without losing sync.
Of course, the day will come when the 6,500 note capacity of the MSQ-100 will seem a bit limiting. The ideal move up then will be the new MC-500 sequencer, which thanks to the convenience of an on-board 3½" disk drive allows 40,000 note sequences to be recorded and saved in a convenient format. The inclusion once more of MIDI Song Pointers gives the same 'drop-in' flexibility but this time with much greater control of realtime recording (eg, auto-correct) and step-time programming (extensive editing facilities).
To add variation to the range of synth and drum sounds available to you there is a whole range of 19" rack-mounting units available. An ideal choice to start with might be the MKS7, which has available on 4 separate MIDI channels digital drum sounds, four note chords, bass line and disphonic melody line, all for just £950. For top-flight professional sounds there is the MKS-80 Super Jupiter module, and the DDR-30 digital drums. The new MKS 20 module gives you a choice of digitally recorded piano sounds with unprecedented realism at £1400.00. By using the MM4 you can independently sequence up to 16 of these modules in any combination you want.
But it is not only your musical notes you can sequence in this way. It is also possible to sequence signal-processing along with your musical performances. The MIDI capability of the SRV-2000 Digital Reverb and the SDE2500 Digital Delay allows the sequencer to 'swap' between memories at any point in the piece of music.
Everything we have looked at so far is possible now. Keyboard, Drum and guitar recording, signal processor switching, all these traditional multitrack studio techniques can now be achieved without tape. And sampling points the way to the ability to record acoustic sounds without tape. As digital memory becomes cheaper, it will be feasible to sample entire tracks into RAM to be played back in sync with synth and drum parts. The tapeless multi-track studio is not far away. Watch this space for details.
Roland Newslink - Spring 86
Feature by Paul Wiffen
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!