PC Show Report
A chance to catch up on what you missed, music-wise, if you weren't among the 104,000 people who attended this year's Personal Computer Show at Earl's Court.
Report on the 1988 Personal Computer Show, Earls Court
The 1988 Personal Computer Show saw a healthy contingent from the music industry exhibiting for the first time in the Sound On Sound sponsored 'music village'. The appearance of so many companies dealing in music software and hardware reflects clearly on the extent to which computers are becoming an integral part of so many musicians' composing and recording environments, and those present ranged from the obvious software houses, through retailers specialising in computer music applications, to Roland, who kindly loaned some of their gear to enable other companies to show their own off to better effect.
Almost without exception, everyone reported either roaring trade or at least a good deal of interest. Apart from the inevitable vid-kids expecting to be sold a disk that would enable their computer to play the collected works of either Kylie Minogue or Megadeath, the people wandering round the music village could be split roughly 50/50 between those approaching the field of music and computers from the computer side and those from the music side. The former were in the main computer users who either owned, or had a son who owned, a couple of home keyboards or synths, and wanted some way of using their computer to get the most out of that equipment. The latter were mainly computer-literate musicians looking for a software solution to a particular problem.
MCMXCIX, in conjunction with Roland, had the largest of the stands in the music village, and their experience of the show was fairly typical of other residents. MCM's Dean Cook reported "phenomenal business - huge dealer interest in music software and a lot sold at the show". Also typical was the interest shown in scorewriting programs, from budget packages up to professional notation programs with price tags to match - not that this put anyone off.
The Amiga computers that proved so popular on the MCM stand were, of course, in plentiful supply on the Commodore stand, where Nigel Jones' demo set-up, based around Dr T's Keyboard Controlled Sequencer running on the Amiga, drew large crowds throughout the show.
Voyetra distributors Computer Music Systems (formerly ADT) also did good business, PC users being very much in evidence at the show. Starter packages and PC MIDI interface cards were particularly popular. CMS's Roger Evan felt, along with many other exhibitors in the music village, that a good deal of time had been spent - well spent that is - educating the computer public about MIDI and the possibilities it opens up. This certainly reflects our experiences on the Sound On Sound stand. It seemed quite a revelation to many seasoned computer pros just how reliable, and universal, MIDI is. 'Standards' in the computer industry have a habit of being anything but, and MIDI is an exception in actually doing what it is supposed to do!
One notable feature of the PC Show was the appearance of several cheap sampling packages for the Atari ST and Amiga. The most interesting - and musical - of these seemed to be Microdeal's Advanced MIDI Amiga Sampler (£99.95) and Replay for the Atari (£79.95), both of which support MIDI and allow variable sampling rates, with several samples held in memory simultaneously. The AMAS holds samples in banks of 10, each bank requiring around 250k of memory, so the total number of samples is limited only by the memory of the host computer. Sampling rates of up to 28kHz are possible, and the program features 4-voice polyphony. Replay is now available in version 4, featuring a maximum sampling rate of 50kHz, an effects section and Drumbeat sequencing software.
Eidersoft also had something to offer in this area, their monophonic Pro Sound Designer (£79.95) running on both the ST and Amiga. Better still, Mouse Music (£179.95) provided 4-voice polyphonic, stereo MIDI sampling on the ST. Amiga, Mac and PC versions are planned.
Armadillo Systems, already producing the A448 8-bit sampling board for the Acorn Archimedes, announced the imminent release of the A616 16-bit board (£99), which should be available in November.
Given the interest shown in scoring and notation software, it's no surprise that Personal Composer, a pro-quality sequencing and scoring program for PCs from Jim Miller Software of the USA, attracted so much attention on the System Support stand, who distribute it in the UK. On a more budget level, the Comus/Digigram Studio 24, now distributed by Soundbits Software, offered more basic facilities on the ST. From the same company, the Big Band auto composer, arranger and orchestrator also generated a lot of interest.
Mission computer specialists Alphatonic, sold quite a few of the DHCP manufactured MIDI interface/sequencer packages at the show. Some other DHCP hardware may soon be seen by millions - they have recently been modifying Jean-Michel Jarre's famous laser harp for his Docklands concerts.
As well as showing off what the Promidi direct-to-disk recording system can do, MIDI Music were demoing Steinberg's Pro24 sequencer throughout the show, which not surprisingly drew those in search of a good ST sequencer. Serious musicians were obviously in good supply, as MIDI Music reported healthy sales of scoring and voice editor programs.
Popular though the Amiga demo was, the prize for the biggest musical crowd-puller must surely go to Mike Beecher for his demo of EMR's Studio Plus 24 on the Acorn Archimedes.
For those keen to look deeper into the subject of computers and music, the Sound On Sound sponsored Conference was the only place to be. Contributions from SOS authors and assorted experts gave a coverage of the field that was both comprehensive and in-depth where necessary. Particularly memorable was Ed Jones' music and picture presentation.
The general impression from everyone involved was that the show was a great success: the music village was popular with the public, both those with a vague idea about computers and music who looked for, and certainly got, an education on the subject, and musicians interested in specific computer applications.
And the answer to the inevitable question "Will you be here next year?" was a resounding "Yes!".