Yamaha Portasound MP-1
The MP-1 breaks new ground by providing a simple-to-use music printer which can transcribe melody notes and chord symbols from memory or live playing. Very few other machines are capable of doing this until the alpha Syntauri or Synclavier class is reached, and so for those who wish to learn music notation, copyright their compositions or keep a written record of musical ideas, this instrument could be ideal.
In most respects the MP-1 is identical to the PC-100, which was reviewed in E&MM November 1982. It doesn't offer the Play-card facility which is the PC-100's own gimmick, but voicing and accompaniment sections are similar with ten 8-note polyphonic sounds, ten rhythms, Automatic Arpeggios, Automatic Bass Chords with One Finger Chord facility, Transposition over an octave, Synchro Start of rhythms and a 4-Bar variation on percussion and bass.
The rhythm voices are quite reasonable, with a metallic touch to the cymbal and snare and a fairly powerful bass drum. Variations and bass lines are well composed, particularly on the 16 Beat and Swing patterns which together with Disco, Jazz Rock, Rhumba and so on add up to a good selection of backing patterns.
Some of the polyphonic voices, such as the Hammond-like keyclick Organ and the delay-vibrato Trumpet, are quite attractive although obviously not in the same league as Yamaha's FM voicings as on the CE and DX instruments. The miniature 3½ octave keyboard, similar to that on the CS01, is fairly firm and pleasant to play. One feature not found on the PC-100 is the Duet button, which adds a harmony note to the melody line based on the left-hand chord being played at the time.
The MP-1's printer, installed at the right-hand end of the instrument, is a micrographic roll-type device using miniature ball-point pens and 2¼" wide paper in rolls of 8 yards or so. The pens use water-based ink lasting for about 480 bars of music, after which it is quite simple to install another one of the pens provided. Changing paper rolls is also quite straightforward. The printer gives extremely clear representations of the stave, of notes, time signatures and chord names, and is clearly superior to any similar thermographic or carbon-based printer design.
The simplest mode in which the printer can be used is Play & Print. A rhythm is selected and the Play & Print button depressed. A melody with single-finger chords is played, the printer starting as soon as the first key is touched. When the melody is finished the Play & Print button is released, and the printer will continue until it has finished transcribing the whole tune.
The information given on the paper roll by this method is as follows; the name of the rhythm used; the bar number in multiples of four starting at Bar 1; a Treble clef; a time signature; a Chord Name below the stave every four bars or wherever there is a new chord; the notes themselves, with appropriate ties, flats and dots to indicate increased length; a key signature when the starting key is not C.
The chord and melody sections have memories which can be programmed and replayed separately or together. Each has a Play, Off and Memory button, the Melody section also having a Sensitivity button which switches off the MP-1's built-in tendency to round off melodies to the nearest beat and so allows more complex patterns of rests and ornamentation to be printed. Any tune programmed using the Play & Print mode automatically goes into the memories; any tune put into the memories 'live' or one step at a time can be printed as desired. Mistakes made in entering one step at a time can be deleted if desired, and the lengths of chords entered in this way can be defined as what Yamaha call Whole Notes, Dotted Half Notes, Half Notes or Quarter Notes by referring to the labelling over the top 5 white keys. The fifth of these keys produces ¾ time, while the highest black key cancels a chord entered in error.
Turning off the power or entering a new melody always clears the memory. Before music printing from the memory or from live playing begins, a key signature can be defined to avoid excessive use of sharps and flats on the printed paper. Two buttons beneath the printer make this possible; if, for instance, the 'flat' button is pushed three times, the music will be printed in E flat major with the appropriate key signature.
The MP-1 is designed for a highly specialised function and performs it excellently. Quite rapid ornamentation can be performed and printed accurately, although obviously it is possible to confuse the machine by playing too fast or in a particularly sloppy manner. The printed music is highly legible and neat, although the paper strip format isn't practical for reading back and the rolls would have to be cut up and card-mounted or photocopied. Once this is done the plastic case provided can act as a music stand as well as a means of protection for the instrument.
As usual the keyboard is light and portable, with a number of power options, built-in speaker, headphone, foot volume and output sockets. It gives every indication of being highly reliable and will no doubt prove a godsend for the many musicians who still work with conventional musical notation.
The Yamaha MP-1 is available from Yamaha UK, (Contact Details) at a recommended retail price of £480.00 including VAT.