Theme And Variations
Frankfurt Musikmesse 1989
Rain, sub-zero temperatures and sleazy hotels - who'd go to Frankfurt if it wasn't for the trade show? Simon Trask finds more than warmth and shelter at the Musikmesse.
Each year the Frankfurt music fair provides a battlefield where time-warped "widdly-widdly" guitarists deny the existence of MIDI, and the musically educated deny the existence of guitarists.
NO SOONER THAN the dust had settled from the NAMM show in Anaheim, than the music equipment industry were busy setting up their stands in Germany. What had changed in the intervening five days (apart from the weather)? We were eager to find out.
New software to be found at Frankfurt included Steinberg's upmarket Cubit sequencer which marks a new generation of Atari ST sequencers. Cubit employs another Steinberg innovation, M.ROS (MIDI Realtime Operating System), which its writers claim endows the ST with multitasking abilities. It boasts 1024 tracks, 384ppqn resolution, reads MIDI Time Code, is Pro24 and MIDI File compatible and makes impressive use of interactive graphic editing techniques. No UK price had been fixed at the time of the show.
Also making its debut on the Steinberg stand was a stereo sample processing program called Avalon. The program supports all samplers and includes resynthesis techniques. An optional D/A card offers AES/EBU interfacing to CD and DAT.
Intelligent Music have a particularly impressive and intriguing ST sequencer in the form of the 256-track Realtime, which provides a unique blend of familiar sequencing techniques and the sort of intelligent composition techniques for which the company are so famous.
A new British company called The Digital Muse chose Frankfurt to unveil a new Atari sequencer called Virtuoso (£TBA), which has been written entirely in machine code and is capable of multiple concurrent task-processing. Virtuoso has 99 tracks, a 480ppqn resolution, a tempo resolution of 0.01 bpm, custom-designed graphics, open-ended modular design and the ability to load and save to disk as a background task.
On the hardware front, Oberheim introduced a new keyboard synth in the form of the 61-note OB8k (£1099), which is essentially an eight-voice multitimbral version of the Matrix 1000 expander with a built-in Systemizer providing controller-keyboard facilities. The company also introduced the third in their line of Perf/x Performance Effects: Navigator (£245), is a MIDI mapper which allows you to do things like reassign and filter controllers, build custom drum-kit maps, rescale velocity and controllers, map up to 32 notes to patches and synchronise patch changes on up to 16 MIDI channels.
E-mu provided perhaps the biggest surprise of the show with the introduction of their Proteus 16-bit multitimbral digital sound module, a 1U-high 19" rack-mounting unit along Roland U110 lines. Drawing on the Emulator III sound library, the Proteus offers 4Mb-worth of 16-bit samples (expandable internally to 8Mb), 192 presets, 32-voice polyphony, up to 16-part multitimbral operation, six polyphonic outputs (which can also be used as three stereo pairs) and two stereo effects loops. You can combine parts of one sound with another or with any selection of digital waveforms which are stored in Proteus' sample ROM. In keeping with the instrument's multitimbral nature, E-mu have included a broad range of sounds. The samples are impressive: clean, bright and with plenty of presence and sparkle.
Proteus features Midi Patch software, which gives you direct real-time access to over 40 of a sound's parameters, either from a MIDI keyboard, from other MIDI controllers, or from the instrument's internal LFOs and envelopes. At around £799 the Proteus is set to make a strong impact in the marketplace - but you'll have to wait until April/May time to get your hands on one.
The company also furthered the impact of their samplers by introducing the Emax SE with SCSI interface, which is expected to retail at under £2000.
Alesis were showing their 16-bit Quadraverb Simultaneous Digital Effects Processor (£449) which allows sounds to be processed through up to four effects drawn from pitch, delay and reverb types together with three-band parametric EQ.
The company have taken an interesting direction with their HR16B drum machine (£479), which is an HR16 with a new set of sounds and additional software for a combined HR16/HR16B system. The HR16B price includes an extra chip for the HR16 which Alesis' UK distributors' Sound Technology will fit free of charge.
Alesis also introduced the first two products to use their revolutionary Integrated Monolithic Surface circuit-board technology, the 1622 mixer (£799) and MEQ230 60-band 1/3 octave graphic EQ (£199), both available May/June. The compact size of the latter has to be seen to be believed. This could be the start of something big in miniaturisation (if you see what I mean).
Casio are consolidating their existing hi-tech range with the introduction of the FZ20M (£1899), essentially an FZ10M with SCSI port, the VZ8M (£499), a 1U-high 19" rack-mount version of the VZ10M with eight instead of 16 voices, the PG310 MIDI guitar (£999), and DH800 digital horn (£219), which adds a rhythm and chord accompaniment facility and recorder-type fingering to the basic DH100 spec.
Akai provided one of the more offbeat products of the show in the form of the U5 Trackman (£199), a Walkman-styled four-channel cassette recorder with one mic input and two instrument inputs which allows you to play back any tape recorded on a standard cassette deck while simultaneously recording two more channels. Built-in echo can be added on the vocal input, distortion and echo/chorus on the instrument input. Destined to go down a storm with the karaoke set, the U5 could also become a useful practice tool for musicians. Available as from March.
Akai also introduced the AR900 16-bit PCM digital reverb, which comes complete with a wireless remote control. The AR900 offers 20 preset reverb programs and the ability to create numerous variations by adjusting pre-delay time (0.01-210msecs) and reverb time (1-16 secs) settings on the front panel. The results can be stored in any of 79 user memories, making a total of 99 programs including the presets. The AR900 also has a dual seven-band programmable graphic EQ section, which can be used independently of or in conjunction with the digital reverb.
Frankfurt also saw the release of version 2.0 software for the S1000 and for the MPC60/ASQ10. The new S1000 software (free of charge to users) introduces time-stretch capability, which allows you to change the length of a sample without changing its pitch. There are two modes: Cyclic (best used on single notes) and Intelligent (best used on music and speech samples).
The new MPC60/ASQ10 software includes the 2nd Sequence function, which allows you to run two sequences concurrently, and the ability to record on all 16 MIDI channels simultaneously and to play back on up to 64 MIDI channels via the four MIDI Outs. There are quite a few other new features in the upgrade, making it a must-have for existing owners. The software comes on ROM, and the good news is that Akai will fit it free of charge.
Korg, meanwhile, are continuing to build up an extremely impressive hi-tech product range. Announced at Frankfurt were the S3 Production Workstation (£1150) and the T1 Total Workstation (£3700). The S3 is a neat addition to the company's S1 sampling drum machine and Q1 MIDI sequencer (which, incidentally, still aren't available - what is occurring here, chaps?). It's a 16-bit drum machine (non-sampling) with an onboard eight-track MIDI sequencer, onboard digital multi-effects generator and SMPTE read/write capability. Drum sounds can be transmitted via four individual outs as well as the usual stereo outputs. Editing of the S3's drum sounds is posible courtesy of a multi-point digital amplitude envelope, and it's also possible to reverse the samples. Additional sounds (including stereo samples) can be added via two PCM ROM card slots, while a RAM card slot is available for storing patterns and sequences.
The T1, meanwhile, aspires to be a "total music workstation" (hence the "T" tag). Using the same AI synthesis system as the M1, the T1's internal sample ROM is twice the size of the M1's (four as opposed to two megawords), allowing for an even broader range of sounds as the basis of synthesis. The T1 uses the same 88-note weighted keyboard as Korg's SG1D electronic piano, and features an extensive set of MIDI Master Control Functions, 32 MIDI channels, eight-way splits and velocity layers, and independent velocity curves for internal and external voices. An onboard sequencer offers 65,000-note capacity, while a 3.5" 2HD disk drive is provided for storage. Programming is via a sizeable 256X64-dot LCD, and an optional RAM board allows new sample data to be loaded from disk for even more sonic possibilities.
Korg also introduced a first for them: the pitch-to-MIDI Z3 MIDI guitar system (£799 + £179). The Z3 uses a new pitch extraction algorithm which Korg claim works out the pitch in half a cycle. The ZD3 hex pickup can be attached to any guitar, and connects to the Z3 1U-high 19" rack unit, which contains a four-op FM synth module with built-in reverb. An optional FC6 pedalboard allows you to select Z3 patches remotely.
The company's latest effects unit is the 16-bit A3 Performance Signal Processor (£950). In current fashion it's a multieffect device, allowing you to combine up to six effects and store the combination in effect "chains" for instant recall. Forty-one effect types are provided, including reverb, delay, exciter, distortion, chorus and rotary speaker. The A3's range of effect types and effect chains can be expanded by plugging in ROM cards. Exciting stuff.
Unfortunately, of the new gear only the A3, Z3 and the M1R (rack-mount version of the M1) were available for public inspection. The rest of the gear was tantalisingly on display in glass cases. The A3 and Z3 are scheduled for February/March availability, but you'll have to wait till June-ish for the rest of the new products.
Kawai are another company consolidating their existing range (in this case the K1 synth range) rather than introducing new developments. The K1 II (£745) is, as its name suggests, a mark two version of the K1, adding 16 onboard digital effects (reverb and echo) and a separate "drum kit" section with up to 32 dedicated PCM drum samples assignable across the keyboard (tuning, volume and pan are programmable per key). The 16 digital effects can be selected remotely via MIDI patch changes, which means that they can be sequenced along with any dedicated digital effect units you may have.
The "glass case" syndrome appeared again with the K4 synth, which is expected to retail for under £1000 and won't be available until much later in the year, so don't hold your breath. The 61-note K4 employs the same synthesis method as the K1 series, but takes it into the realm of 16-bit fidelity. Other "sixteens" on the K4 are 16-note polyphony and 16-part multitimbrality. The synth will have an onboard digital effects processor, 128 sounds, and assignable drum sounds along the lines of the K1 II.
Roland were debuting the W30 Music Workstation (£1599) and the GR50/GK2 Guitar Synthesis system (£950 + £125 - both the subject of a news item in MT, February '89), together with the D5 LA synth (£599), R5 drum machine (c. £399) and the sophisticated A50 and A80 controller keyboards (£1395 and £1599 respectively). The D5 is essentially a D10 minus the rhythm track but plus a few performance features like chord play, chase play and arpeggio. The R5, meanwhile, is a scaled-down version of the R8, in both size and facilities (smaller LCD, no card slots and so on), but seems to preserve all the most important aspects of its bigger relative.
Tucked away in the backroom was Roland's stereo 16-bit digital sampler, a 3U-high rack-mount unit which is apparently based on a recently-completed sampling chip. The S770 will offer 24 voices with digital filtering; 48, 44.1 and 24K sampling rates; 2Mb of RAM as standard, expandable up to 16MB; a removable 40Mb hard disk; six polyphonic individual outputs in addition to the usual stereo pair; digital inputs and outputs; a large LCD and, following in the footsteps of the S50/550 and S330, a monitor output. It seems that the S770 will also have LA synthesis capabilities and will allow you to create your own sampled partials. But don't all go running down to your local music shop just yet. Quite apart from the fact that the S770 wasn't up and running at Frankfurt, Roland have yet to fix either a price or a release date.
Anyone bringing out a controller keyboard now will have to look to Cheetah, who augment their existing range with the Series 7P (£699.95), their most impressive controller yet. Employing an 88-note velocity-sensitive weighted keyboard, the 7P has eight zones (with up to four notes/channels layered per key), four MIDI outputs, a choice of 26 attack velocity and 26 release velocity curves, 80 performance memories, three continuous wheels and footpedal sockets, 2 foot-switch sockets, MIDI input with merge, and remote MIDI start/stop and clock facility. Phew!
The company were also debuting the eight-track MQ8 MIDI Sequencer/Performance system. The MQ8 has an 8000-event capacity, 16 songs, 256 patterns, and allows you to choose from eight effects including vector chord, echo, embellish and arpeggio. The memory is battery backed, which is probably a good thing as, like Alesis' MMT8 sequencer, the MQ8 uses tape storage of sequences. As always with Cheetah, the emphasis is on affordable pricing; at £249.95 the MQ8 is definitely the affordable face of sequencing.
Yamaha (hey, we've spelt their name right this year) had plenty of new gear to show, though nothing which demonstrated a move beyond FM. Clearly they feel there's still plenty of mileage to be had from the packaging, and perhaps they're right. Leader of the pack is the V50 (£1200), which essentially comprises two DX11 synths, an eight-track sequencer, 61 PCM drum samples, a digital multieffects unit and a disk drive - all in all a very capable workstation-type instrument, if you go for that type of thing.
The DS55 keyboard (£499) is a YS100/200 type of instrument, but more into the "home keyboard" territory, with an Auto Performance function which provides 43 rhythm and accompaniment patterns and three variations in a range of styles from blues to disco.
The company's newest drum machine, the 16-bit RX8 (£350), won't exactly set the world alight, but looks to be a very competent affair, with 43 PCM sampled drum and percussion voices, 100 patterns and 20 songs, and two assignable outs in addition to the usual stereo pair.
The TQ5 expander (£450) is another variation on the four-op FM theme, this time combining 100 preset and 100 programmable FM sounds with ten digital effects and an eight-track sequencer which can store 10,000 notes and eight songs. Colour buffs will be interested to know that the TQ5 forgoes Yamaha's usual black finish for a less sober silver-grey.
WX7 owners can now buy a four-op FM expander which is dedicated to their needs; the WT11 (around £400). In fact it's similar to the TX81Z in organisation, but is more compact, easier to use and comes with 96 preset performance sounds.
The 88-note PF1500 electronic piano (£1600) has five AWM sounds (two acoustic pianos, one electric, harpsichord and vibes) together with three digital reverb effects, and 2X20W speakers built in. With their Clavinova range, Yamaha aren't short on electronic pianos, but the 1500 sounds particularly impressive, apparently employing a special process which further cleans up the sounds.
It could have been another computer dodo for Yamaha, but all the signs are that the company's C1/20 IBM-compatible portable computer is set to make a big impact at the pro end of the sequencing market - and at £2999 that's the only end of the market for it. The C1 comes bundled with a powerful 400-track sequencer from Yamaha themselves, though prospective owners needn't worry about lack of choice - the number of US MIDI software companies who have rallied round the C1 is impressive.
Yamaha have obviously been listening to the comments of their DMP7 users, because they've developed a nifty new programming unit for the DMP7/11. Apparently UK-originated, the RTC1 (£600) attempts to bring some knobs-n-sliders friendliness to programming the DMP7/DMP11, which seems like a pretty admirable objective to me. Basically it makes the controls for a single channel available in a more familiar mixing-desk layout; you just select the channel you want (1-32 ie. four units) and slide and twiddle to your heart's content.
Yamaha continue to impress on the audio front. Along with a new six-input portastudio, the MT3X (£549), they've developed two powerful new digital multi-effects units, the SPX1000 (£629) and SPX900 (£999), each of which allows up to five effects to be used at the same time. The company have also added to their 100 series of compact personal recording equipment (which currently consists of the MT100 portastudio and R100 digital reverb) with the Q100 stereo graphic equaliser (£109), GSP100 Guitar Processor (£129), MV100 mic/line mixer (£129), A100 50W per channel power amplifier (£179) and S100 speakers. Definitely worth checking if you're setting up a home studio on a tight budget.
As the MT crew caught the first 737 out of Germany we opened our diaries: it was just over a month until the AES show opened in Hamburg...