Trade Winds - BMF 1989
British Music Fair Show Report
This year's British Music Fair attracted hordes of equipment-hungry punters eager to see what the future of music might hold. Simon Trask was there asking the same question.
PROGRESS - IF YOU CAN'T ESCAPE IT, EMBRACE IT. AND WHERE BETTER THAN AT THE BRITISH MUSIC FAIR?
IN THE FOLLOWING pages you'll find information on new instruments, new software, new black boxes intended to make your life easier... In short, you'll find examples of what is generally called "progress". But what is progress? One definition provided by my dictionary is "increasing complexity". Today's hi-tech musical instruments and MIDI software are becoming increasingly complex - but is that progress?
We tend to think of progress as growth, as improvement - in other words, as something beneficial. The term carries with it connotations of moving forward (never backward), and thus of change: Unfortunately, these underlying assumptions often become confused, so that change in itself is construed as a good thing, and what is to come is felt to be automatically better than what has gone before. It's a trap which is easy to fall into where hi-tech musical equipment is concerned. Someone once phoned the MT office asking us where Korg's S1 sampling drum machine had got to, because he couldn't possibly make any music until he'd got hold of one. Well, sorry to say, that poor fellow will never be able to make any music, because Korg have decided not to release the S1 (see below).
So as you sift through the mass of information presented below, by all means plan out your next purchases - but think about what really constitutes progress in your musical life.
Sometimes we need to look back in order to move forward. Roland certainly seem to understand this. They're about to endear themselves to thousands of musicians by bringing out two new all-digital versions of the classic Fender Rhodes electric piano, the 64-note MK60 and 88-note MK80. Developed in conjunction with Harold Rhodes himself, they use Roland's latest technology, Adjustable Structured Adaptive Synthesis (a development of the system used on the company's RD series electronic pianos) to produce wonderfully realistic digital recreations of the original Rhodes sound(s). Stunning. If you've ever loved the Fender Rhodes then believe me, you'll love the new digital Rhodes.
Of the two pianos the MK8O is the more sophisticated. Both instruments come with eight sounds: Rhodes 1 (Classic), Rhodes 2 (Special), Rhodes 3 (Blend) and Rhodes 4 (Contemporary) together with concert and electric grands, clavi and vibes, but the MK8O (£1799) allows you to program seven variations on each sound using onboard tremolo, chorus, phaser and EQ together with such parameters as punch, tightness, bender depth and modulation rate. These features allow you to program a broad range of electric piano sounds, from rich, warm phased to bright and hardedged. In contrast, the MK60 (£1299) isn't programmable, loses the phaser and has simpler EQ (just bass and treble).
Both instruments are MIDI'd, of course, so the Rhodes can take its proper place among today's hi-tech MIDI setups. Oh, and on a practical note, both MKs are a good deal lighter than the original Fender Rhodes.
Interesting fact No. 1: the new Rhodes' stretch tuning feature was asked for by none other than Miles Davis (and if you're wondering how Davis came to be involved, he was one of the first musicians to incorporate the Rhodes into jazz, back in the 60s, when its sound became an integral part of the electronic jazz-rock style he was forging).
Meanwhile, over on The Synthesiser Company's stand a MIDI'd Oberheim FourVoice monosynth was busy proving that digital technology will have to work hard if it wants to beat the old analogue gear at its own game. For one thing, if it's truly wonderful fat, warm and funky synthbass sounds you're after, look no further. The Obierack, as it's known, has been MIDI retrofitted by US company Studio Electronics, the same company responsible for the MIDImoog (reviewed MT, May '89). As with the MIDImoog, MIDI velocity and aftertouch can be routed to control volume and fiIter cutoff.
The Obierack will be available on a strictly limited basis, and although at just over £2000 it's not particularly cheap, if you're rich, you're working in the studio and you need that special Oberheim sound, what's £2000? The MIDImoog can boast such users as the Pet Shop Boys, Stock Aitken & Waterman, Propaganda, Steve Lipson, Soul II Soul and Arthur Baker, and no doubt the Obierack will soon be keeping similarly distinguished company. Studio Electronics are apparently also working on a rack-mounted Prophet 5. Is there no stopping them?
Cheetah are a company who appreciate the value of analogue synthesis. Their under-rated MS6 analogue expander is, with the exception of Oberheim's Matrix 1000 expander, the only current analogue synth. Trouble is, part of the attraction of analogue gear is its nostalgia quotient; compared to an "original" analogue synth the MS6 just doesn't have that magical authenticity value.
Cheetah are forging ahead with what could be called their "second generation" of instruments: the MQ8 sequencer/performance system (£249.95), SX16 sampler (£799.95), MD16 drum machine (£299.95), new pad-to-MIDI converter (£149.95) and the Master Series 7P and 5V MIDI controller keyboards (see elsewhere in this issue for a review of the 7P). The MQ8 is an eight-track hardware sequencer with 256 sequences and 16 songs, 20,000-MIDI-event memory, realand step-time recording, footswitch-activated punch in/out, and both tape and MIDI SysEx data transfer. The MQ8 also has two MIDI Ins in addition to MIDI Out and Thru.
But the MQ8 is also more than a straight sequencer, with real-time triggering of sequences from the keyboard and eight modes of sequence playback including echo, arpeggio, embellish and vector chord - shades of Zyklus.
The company are also set to bring a whole new meaning to the phrase "affordable sampling" with their under-a-grand stereo 16-bit-linear sampler, the SX16. Coming in 1U-high 19" rackmounting format, the SX16 (which was in an unfinished state at the Fair) can sample at up to 48khz, comes with 512Kbytes of RAM as standard, is eight-voice polyphonic with 16-part multitimbrality, and has eight individual outs. The SX16's memory can be expanded to a maximum 2Mb, with a 0.5Mb card retailing at £249.95, extra 0.5Mb RAM chips at £199.95, and a full 1.5Mb card at £599.95. Samples are responsive to velocity and aftertouch, and dynamically-controlled sample crossfading has been implemented.
With an optional CRT modulator card (£129.95), a Cheetah Powerplay joystick (£24.95) and a TV you can indulge in onscreen editing of samples. Any new sampler needs a library of samples to get it off the proverbial ground; Cheetah seem to have solved this problem by allowing the SX16 to load S900 samples, thus giving it access to possibly the largest sample library of all. Very smart.
But it was their new 16-bit drum machine, the MD16, which most impressed me. Although it only arrived in incomplete form on the last day of the show, the MD16 came with a set of bright, clean, punchy sounds which instantly marked it out as an instrument with a promising future ahead of it.
Coming with over 40 sounds onboard, expandable to 256 simultaneously available sounds via chainable ROM cartridges, the MD16 has 16 velocity-sensitive pads, tunable samples (+/- one octave) eight individual audio outs (actually, four stereo jacks with two separately-output sounds per jack), ten preset patterns, 60 programmable patterns and 20 programmable songs (expandable to 200 and 50 respectively), 96ppqn timing resolution and a humanise function. With both real- and step-time programming, the MD16 also features dynamic stereo panning, dynamic tuning and dynamic envelope, together with tape sync using embedded MIDI song position pointers, and tape and MIDI SysEx data transfer. Roland R5 and Alesis HR16/16B watch out, there's a Cheetah about.
Akal are another company about to launch a new drum machine, the XR10 (£TBA, under £400), which has 16-bit sound quality, eight voices, 61 internal sounds, 15 drum pads with five preset and five programmable "drumkits", stereo output and separate effect send output pair, 50 preset and 50 user-programmable patterns and 20 songs. The company have also reduced the price of their XE8 16-bit drum module to £299, of the AR900 digital reverb to £499 and the ME30P II MIDI patchbay to £149. At the other end of the market, the company have come up with a keyboard version of their studiostandard S1000 stereo 16-bit sampler, to be known logically enough as the S1000KB. This has a 61-note keyboard with aftertouch, and a basic 2Mb of memory. An optional hard disk retrofit consisting of 40Mb hard disk and IB103 interface can be had for a further £1150.
Roland are busy readying their own stereo 16-bit sampler, the rack-mount S770 (see Frankfurt show report in MI, March 89). However, although it took part in the Roland demos it wasn't in a finalised state. Definitely finalised was the PAD5 Handy Pad, a fairly cheap 'n' cheerful five-pad MIDI Percussion Controller which retails for £159 and includes 14 preset five-voice rhythm patterns which play over MIDI (there are no onboard sounds) with whatever notes (25-94) you've assigned to the pads; tempo can be adjusted (40-250) and pads/voices can be selectively deassigned. Pad sensitivity can be adjusted, allowing you to play them with sticks or with your fingers. The PAD5 is powered from six batteries, and weighs a fairly modest 3lb 3oz.
Roland also debuted a trio of compact (1U-high half-rack) light-grey boxes which answer to the names CM32L, CM32P and CM64, look rather uninteresting but are actually well worth investigating. The CM32L is basically an MT32 in a different casing, but with double the PCM sample memory, allowing it to incorporate 33 sound effects. The CM32P is a U110 in a different guise, minus the individual audio outs but plus reverb and an audio input (so that the CM32L, for instance, can be routed through it). Extra samples can be accessed from U110 sample cards courtesy of a front-panel card slot.
But the most impressive module is the CM64, which combines the facilities of the CM32L and CM32P to give you a total of 63-voice polyphony, 15 Parts and 255 different sounds in the same size casing, complete with onboard reverb and, as on the CM32P, the ability to read samples off U110 cards. However, all this multitimbral power still has to be output through a single stereo pair. And none of the modules have any onboard programming facilities, though Roland aim to support all three with ST-based editing software later in the year. Existing MT32 editors should work with the CM32L, and with the CM32L portion of the CM64, though obviously not for the sound effects.
In case you're wondering who these modules are aimed at, I'll give you a clue: CM stands for Computer Music. Yes, Roland are pitching them at the computer hobbyists, hence the styling and the lack of programmability. But just look at the prices: £369 for the CM32L, £445 for the CM32P and £789 for the CM64. Compare these to list prices of £450 for the MT32 and £599 for the U110 and you should get the picture: if you're prepared to make a few sacrifices (notably where audio outputs are concerned) then these modules start to look very attractive.
Roland also have the LAPC1 L/A Sound Card (an MT32 on a plug-In card) for the IBM PC, and have been working with US games company Sierra on a series of computer games for the IBM PC which include a soundtrack which plays on the LAPC1 (there are also ST versions which play via the ST's MIDI Out port). I'm not particularly a games fan, but having seen Space Quest Ill: The Pirates of Pestulon (no, really) running in colour on an IBM PC fitted with the LAPC1, I have to say that the specially-composed soundtrack really does add a whole new dimension to games playing.
Other Items in Roland's computer music series are the CF10 Digital Fader (a 10-MIDI-channel mixing desk allowing realtime generation of MIDI volume and pan information), CN20 Music Entry Pad (a button-pushers' dream device for transmitting individual notes, chords and MIDI controllers via MIDI) and CA30 Intelligent Arranger (feed it a melody and chord accompaniment via MIDI and it'll come up with a harmonisation, in any one of 32 styles, which is transmitted via MIDI). In a similar vein, the RA50 RealTime Arranger is a CA30 with onboard L/A sound source and digital reverb, while the Pro-E Intelligent Arranger further adds a three-octave velocity-sensitive keyboard, six-track sequencer and 32 sound effects (12 of which can be readily triggered from dedicated front-panel buttons). Whenever a keyboard instrument with auto-accompaniment arrives at the MT offices (which is not very often) it always pulls a big crowd and generates a lot of laughter, basically because it's fun. With instruments like the Pro-E it seems that auto-accompaniment is getting quite sophisticated.
ENOUGH OF THIS play-along nonsense, I hear you cry. What about the real instruments? Well, you can't get much more real than Korg's new T series synths, the T1 (£3700), T2 (£2999) and T3 (£2399), which are upmarket versions of the revered M1. Both the T1 and the T3 made it to the show; the T3 Is expected in late September, while the T1 and T2 should be arriving in late October (the T1 in small quantities, as its price will prohibit it from being a big seller). The T1 had to be shipped back to Japan straight after the show, and the T3 wasn't in a finished state suitable for review, but if production-line models arrive in time there'll be a review In the next issue of MT.
The T series synths use the same Al (Advanced Integrated) synthesis method as the M1 but have double the amount of sample ROM (eight megabytes to the M1's four). They have the same Multisounds and Drum sounds as the M1, so anyone upgrading won't lose the sounds they know and love, but add a good deal more. Onboard sequencing has been retained, but with a considerably enhanced memory capacity of 56,000 notes (still only eight tracks, though), and the number of MIDI Outs has been increased to four (organised as two pairs, making 32 MIDI output channels). The new synths have the same polyphony as the M1 (16 voices), and the same onboard digital effects capability. An onboard 3.5" disk drive makes saving and loading of Programs, Combinations, sequences and SysEx data easy, and all three models have a sizeable LCD screen which Korg have taken full advantage of to provide many user-friendly features (such as listing the Programs in each Bank whenever you select a new Bank).
As all three T series synths are essentially the same instrument, what distinguishes them is the keyboard (and consequently the size of the casing): the T1 sports an 88-note weighted, the T2 74-note non-weighted and the T3 a 61 note non-weighted keyboard.
For technology-watchers, probably the most interesting development on Korg's new synths is the internal 512K RAP board (fitted as standard on the T1, optional on the T2 and T3) which allows any samples, not just the ones in the synth's sample ROM or on Korg's plug-in PCM sample cards, to be used a oscillator sound sources for synthesis. Samples from Korg's DSS1/DSM1 sample library can be loaded directly off disk, while any samples that can be transferred via MIDI using MIDI Sample Dump Standard format can be loaded from other samplers or from generic sample editing software. The possibilities are interesting, to say the least.
For the more budget-conscious musician, Korg have produced the M3R 1U-high 19' synth expander (£899) and optional RE1 Remote Editor (£275), about which I'll say no more as you can find reviews elsewhere in the magazine. The company will also be gradually replacing the M1R (rack-mount version of the M1) with the ExM1R, which doubles the amount of onboard ROM sample memory to 8Mb (bringing it in line with the T-series synths). Existing M1R owners (and possibly M1 owners, though don't hold your breath) will be able to get their Instruments upgraded for a suitable fee (not decided on yet).
Unfortunately the S3 Rhythm Workstation (£TBA) didn't make it to the show as expected, apparently because the designer fell ill (a likely story). But the Q1 sequencer (£TBA) was being used to run Korg's M1 demo, and shipments of both the S3 and the Q1 should be arriving in late October. Finally, the company are also introducing a £350 MIDI data filer, known as the DF1, which looks to be along the same lines as Yamaha's MDF1.
One instrument which won't be shipping at all is Korg's fabled S1 sampling drum machine, which has been so long In development that the company have decided not to release it, due to the way the market has changed in the meantime. Instead the technology they developed while working on the S1 will be used in a different instrument which the company intend will lead the way rather than lag behind (or something to that effect).
Kawal, meanwhile, are furthering their K1 product line with the K1 II (£695), the K4 (£895) and the K4R (£695). The 61- note K1 II is an enhanced version of the popular K1, in the sense that it adds a separate drum section and onboard digital effects - somewhat belatedly, perhaps, bringing the K1 range into line with most other multitimbral synths on the market at present. The drum section features 32 PCM drum sounds and can be played along with the eight synth Parts in a multitimbral setting, while the onboard effects consist of 16 types of reverb and delay effects, with effect on/off selection for individual instruments and the drum part in Multi mode, and remote effect patch selection via MIDI patch changes (allowing you to sequence them as you would other MIDI-compatible signal processors).
The 61-note K4 and rack-mount K4R represent a step up again, with a cleaner sound courtesy of 16-bit PCM samples, and a more sophisticated voice architecture with two Digitally Controlled Filters (complete with resonance) per patch, and increased modulation possibilities. The only differences between the K4 and K4R (OK, apart from the obvious physical ones) appear to be that the R forgoes onboard digital reverb but adds six individual audio outs.
Kawai have also come up with the 16-voice-polyphonic PHm Pop Synth Module (£276), which contains 200 preset K1 sounds, 16 PCM drum sounds and 30 preset rhythm patterns (synchronisable to an external sequencer) within its small but perfectly-formed casing. In addition you can create split/layer combinations of up to four sounds (the PHm provides 50 preset and 30 programmable combInatlons), or play up to four K1 sounds independently on four different MIDI channels, with the drum sounds on a fifth channel.
Taking a quick took at the Tascam stand the company's MSR24, 1/2" 24-track machine arrived safely from its NAMM show debut to make its UK debut. More upheavals on the pro recording scene are sure to follow. Also making UK debuts were the 644 and 688 Midistudios - four- and eight-track personal multitrackers respectively. The 644 boasts 16 inputs and a built-in MTS30 tape synchroniser, while the 688 has no less than 20 inputs. Looking to plug a huge gap in the current range of mixing desks is Tascam's MM1, a 20-input, 19" rack mixer with four aux sends, four stereo returns and programmable MIDI muting. At a shade under £700 it's going to be an important development in the home studio and as a keyboard sub-mixer.
Yamaha have added to their already impressive Personal Recording Series 100 range of budget studio gear with the DR100 Digital Reverb (£159), BSP100 Bass Sound Processor (£145) and DP100 Dynamic Processor (£145). The DR100 has four reverb modes and three-band EQ, while the BSP100 allows direct input to the 100 Series system for bass guitarists and includes three-band parametric EQ and an effect send/return loop, and the DR100 is a stereo limiter.
Also impressive from Yamaha on the signal-processing front is the new FX500 budget multi-effects processor (£349), which comes in 1U-high half-19" format (making it compatible with the 100 Series) and provides five chained effects: compressor, distortion; equaliser, modulation (chorus, flanger, symphonic, tremolo) and reverb (hall, room, vocal and plate reverbs; hall, random, reverse and plate early reflections; delay, echo, reverb+delay, reverb into delay and delay into reverb). The FX500 boasts 16-bit, 44.1kHz quality and 60 preset and 30 user-programmable effect programs, with real-time MIDI control of up to two effect parameters simultaneously. Full review elsewhere in this issue.
Yamaha have also decided to market the WX11/WT11 MIDI Wind Controller System. The WX11 (£TBA) Is a kind of scaled-down version of the WX7, while the WT11 (£329) is an eight-voice, multitimbral sound module which, although designed especially for the WX7 and WX11, can also be used as a stand-alone MIDI expander.
In contrast, the company were offering nothing new on the synth front. However, while synth players (im)patiently await the next technological advance from Yamaha, maybe they should cast a glance at the company's new PSR3500 (£649.99) and PSR4500 (£849.99) portable keyboards. These utilise a sound-generating method known as Dual Architectural Synthesis System, which merges Yamaha's AWM technology (sample-based sound modelling as used on their digital pianos) with an advanced form of FM known as Customised Wave Modulation. These are combined in an L/A-ish way, with AWM used mainly for the attack portion of a sound and CWM mainly for the sustain and release portions. DASS will be incorporated into all Yamaha's new portable keyboards as they are released, but will it become the new standard on Yamaha's synths, too? Reports suggest that Yamaha are lining up something even more advanced for their next generation of synths, which we might see later in the year. The other buzz on Yamaha is that they are readying an affordable" digital multitrack machine for release.
The Synthesiser Company had an E-mu Proteus tucked away in a rack full of gear; although it wasn't hooked up to a keyboard for playing, it did let forth some impressive sounds courtesy of an onboard demo sequence. Proteus is already available in the States, but we'll have to wait till Autumn for UK shipments as E-mu gear up for mass production. Peavey had a DPM3 synth on their stand but it wasn't doing anything (nonetheless, from advance reports this is one synth to watch out for when it becomes available later in the year). Ensonlq's new VFX synth was present in a low-key sort of way on the Bose stand. Why Bose? Well, Ensoniq have developed a new digital piano conjunction with Bose, who are responsible for the instrument's Acoustic Wave speaker technology. Known as the AWP4000 (E1756.97), it's based around a modified Ensoniq DoclI chip like the VEX, and has an 88-note weighted, velocity-sensitive keyboard, a four-track sequencer and ten sounds: grand piano 1 & 2, ragtime piano, electric piano 1 & 2, harpsichord, vibes, marimba, acoustic bass and electric bass. The two bass sounds operate as the lower end of a split keyboard with any of the other sounds, with each side of the split able to transmit on separate MIDI channels. Fixed chorus and "enhance" (reverb) digital effects can be switched in or out at any time, and L/R audio inputs allow another sound source to be routed through the piano.
The ever-active Philip Rees was debuting yet more of his extremely useful little black boxes (black and red, actually), with the 8M eight-way MIDI merge unit (yes, that's eight inputs), which should be available October-ish and retail at under £200, and several MIDI selector boxes: the 2S (£12.95), 3B (25.95) and 9S (£35.95). He's also working on a MIDI Line Driver which will allow the officially-specified maximum transmission distance of 15 metres to be greatly exceeded (just the thing for your bedroom studio), and is taking his first step into the world of sound-generating little black boxes with the PSP Percussion Sample Player (at an estimated price of £169.95, and around £20.25 per sample cartridge; available October-ish). This is a MIDI digital drum module with five internal sounds and a further 12 accessible from a ROM cartridge. Sound quality is eight-bit companded with 31.25kHz sample rate, the sounds are velocity-responsive, polyphony is four voices, and the rear panel has stereo outs and four mono outs. Eight cartridges are expected to be available by the launch date, and one cartridge will be included free with the PSP.
A new British company, Audio Architecture, were debuting two very sophisticated MIDI matrix boxes which go by the names of Function Junction (£395) and Function Junction Plus (£695), which offer 8x8 and 16x16 MIDI connections respectively. The 8x8 model has frontpanel programming while the Plus has a blank front panel but adds a remote editing "strip" which could sit neatly on any synth, sampler or mixing desk. Audio Architecture also plan to release editing software for the ST which, to judge by initial screens, will be well worth investing in.
The units allow routing of any input to any output(s), with merging of any number of the ins to any number of the outs, while individual inputs and outputs can be solo'd for easy monitoring. Zoning and overlapping of inputs is possible, as is fiItering of various types of MIDI data from the inputs, transposition of incoming data, delays of up to 2.5 seconds programmable in 1OmS increments or bpm values, velocity scaling, velocity crossfading across the outs, remapping of controllers... Phew! No doubt you get the message that Function Junction is more than just a straightforward routing box.
Distributors Sound Technology are keeping busy, having recently added Digidesign and JL Cooper to their books. Latest arrivals from Alesis via Sound Technology are the HR16B drum machine (£449), companion to the HR16 and possessed of some impressive new bass and snare sounds well suited to hip hop and techno; the MIDIverb Ill (£399), a 16-bit stereo simultaneous effects processor capable of generating delay, reverb, chorus and EQ all at the same time; and the Data Disk (£399), a stand-alone 1U-high 19' universal SysEx data storage device. The Data Disk stores and retrieves SysEx data directly to and from 3.5" floppy disk. Consequently, file size is limited only by the disk's 800Kbte storage capacity, whereas typically on other data storage systems file size is limited by a rather more modest input buffer size. This means that you could feasibly transfer samples to the Data Disk, and in fact it will recognise MIDI Sample Dump Standard, though I can't think why anyone would want to transfer samples to it.
FiIes are automatically identified in the unit's 32-character LCD window by manufacturer (read off the SysEx ID code), device and an eight-character user-definable name, making it easy to identify the fiIes you want to pull off disk. But will it really be able to substantiate its "universal" tag by handling SysEx data dumps from all MIDI instruments, even the ones that can't initiate their own dumps? No doubt we'll find out in due course; in the meantime, I'm inclined to agree with Alesis' claim that the Data Disk allows you to store, retrieve and copy your music without having to become a rocket scientist.
Alesis MMT8 owners should be breathing sighs of relief by now, however, as the Data Disk will allow them to forget tedious tape storage and dump the entire contents of their sequencer's memory to floppy disk instead.
TALKING OF SEQUENCERS, you may be wondering if there was anything new in MIDI software at the show (doncha just love these smooth links?). Well, Sound Technology were on the case once again with C-Lab's increasingly impressive ST-based Creator/Notator system. C-Lab have just introduced Human Touch (£149), the Combiner Key expansion interface (£199) and Softlink (which will be available as an update for existing C-Lab users for a nominal fee). Softlink is a program management system which allows software from different manufacturers to be co-resident in the ST, with some degree of multitasking. Potentially a very valuable addition to the Creator/Notator setup.
In case you think £149 is a bit much to pay for a spot of human contact, let me explain that Human Touch is an audio trigger attachment for C-Lab's Unitor SMPTE synchroniser which allows an audio pulse to control the tempo of the sequencer in real-time, with tempo changes being recorded along with or separately from a performance for subsequent playback - for demonstration purposes at the show, the audio input was provided by anyone who cared to snap their fingers in the vicinity of the Human Touch. The aforementioned Combiner Key expansion interface allows four dongles from any manufacturer to be combined.
The software for translating the incoming signal into tempo information for the sequencer is handled by the latest version Creator/Notator software. In fact you don't have to use Human Touch to control the tempo from your playing - the software can also extrapolate tempo from incoming MIDI notes. Both the keyboard and the audio input methods work extremely well, suggesting that at last the musician can become master of the sequencer, rather than vice versa.
British company The Digital Muse were demonstrating their 99-track Virtuoso sequencing software for the ST (£299). Dispensing with the ST's GEM operating system, they've written the program entirely in machine code, which does rather tend to put them out on a limb, in that they'll have to come up with all the other bits and pieces of software which make up a computer-based MIDI system these days. Featuring extremely fast and smooth graphics (such as the smoothly-scrolling grid edit display), 48Oppqn resolution, a tempo resolution of 0.01bpm, disk load/save as a background task while sequences are playing, on-line help pages and a wealth of well-thought-out features, it's a very impressive program - watch out for a review soon in MT.
Sometimes it seems there are no limits to what ingenious software writers can achieve with the Atari, but there will come a point beyond which the ST can't go but other computers can. This will no doubt be in the area of multitasking and the combination of audio, video and MIDI. Apple's Mac II will always be too expensive to break the mass market in the UK, but Commodore's Amiga and Acorn's new BBC A3000 are shaping up to be the music computers of the future.
With its custom RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) processing and 4MIPS (million instructions per second) processing speed the A3000 is the most powerful machine, but that doesn't really matter if the price isn't right and the software isn't there. Well, the price is good: £744 for a 1Mb A3000, £229 for a 1Mb upgrade and £56 for a MIDI upgrade makes it a cheaper option than the ST. Acorn are keen to show that they're interested in the music software market. Not only are they the first computer manufacturer to join the Music Industries Association, they had their own stand at the BMF as a showcase for the companies working on music software for them. EMIR were the first company to write music software for the computer, concentrating mainly on educational applications (Acorn having had a strong schools angle ever since the BBC micro). Pandora Technology have decided to champion the A3000 (in addition to supporting their range of ST-based patch editors), which means that Acorn could soon have a serious piece of sequencing software on their hands in the shape of !Intuition (yes, you did read that right). We'll keep you posted.
The cutely-named Armadillo Systems have been concentrating on the digital sampling side of things with their impressive 16-bit sampling package which is set to blossom into a stereo digital audio hard-disk recording system before the year is out. Now, if the sequencer and the digital audio recording could be made to run together...
Another computer company who have just taken out membership of the Music Industries Association are computer distributors SDL, who have set up a music division to release US company MlcroIllusion's Music-X sequencing software for the Commodore Amiga (£199 plus VAT). This is a 250-track sequencer which features a colour-coded editing system with real-time graphic input, an inbuilt generic editor/librarian, keyboard mapping, MIDI fiItering and, as the saying goes, much much more. The Amiga's multitasking ability allows Music-X to be used in conjunction with other programs such as video-editing software. The future is fast approaching.
Show Report by Simon Trask
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