Vital system updates
The alpha Syntauri is just one of the music computers available from a unique and expanding business...
Hidden away in a basement flat in West London is one of the most sophisticated centres of musical technology in the country, dealing seemingly with all the systems a conventional music shop couldn't cope with and mopping up more and more of the desirable new products from across the water with every passing day.
Computer Music Studios started when its main man Terry Lloyd became interested in the alpha Syntauri music system, which being Apple-based was originally sold by a computer company. Not having anyone musical on the staff they were unable to demonstrate it convincingly and a few phone calls to Syntauri in California secured the UK dealership. Simultaneously Terry became an Apple dealer, ensuring the best possible technical backup and software services through an associated company.
One of the basic advantages of the alpha system is that it's infinitely expandable, and after only a few months the first software additions duly turned up. The most important of these was the MetaTrak system which gives the alpha the capability of eight-track, recording, composing and editing. This is strictly within the limitations of the voice cards which fit inside the Apple, and so if eight different sounds are playing at once they'll all be monophonic. The system plays as many simultaneous voices as possible however, allowing the quietest voice to drop out if necessary. Some of the pre-recorded demos prepared by Herbie Hancock, Laurie Spiegel and other alpha users are enormously complex and impressive — and they're often based on live performances without any editing or re-arranging.
The alpha has many other 'pages' of software which give features already familiar from the Fairlight and PPG. Waveshapes can be defined by a process of adding harmonics, and a stored waveshape can be combined with an existing one to create very complex sounds. Libraries of sounds can be created and labelled with fanciful names ('Doom' being a favourite for a huge Gothic organ chord) and external controls can be connected for portamento and other special effects. At least one disc drive is vital for all these operations, two being ideal for faster access to sounds. The Apple can cost around £800 or less and the alpha hardware (keyboard and voice cards) cost about the same, with prices subject to the dollar exchange. New software such as MetaTrak costs typically £300, and there's an active user exchange programme for ideas and modifications. The latest introduction is a sampling system designed by an independent company, Decillionix. Confusingly entitled DX-1 (Yamaha owners please note — this is not a huge FM synthesizer but an inoffensive little floppy disc) it can store a total of 10 seconds of sound on a standard Apple, and this length can be divided between up to eight sounds at a time. The obvious application is for percussion sounds and a good selection of drums, handclaps, shakers and finger clicks come supplied, along with various short sound effects. Frequency response is extremely good and samples can be taken quickly and easily off a microphone or line input. The next software will allow the keyboard to control playback of samples — at the moment a huge range of pitches can be assigned but not necessarily in musical intervals, and playback is always from the computer keyboard in real time, in percussion sequences or in repeating arpeggiolike patterns.
Computer Music Studios have recently become agents for MXR equipment, specialising in the rack-mounting effects and the Drum Computer. This digital drum machine offers a wide range of sampled sounds with more to come — two expansion modules are on the way, one to extend the memory and one to increase the range of sounds available.
Another major product is the Octave-Plateau Voyetra Eight, an earth-shaking polysynth which is going to become an established part of many studios as well as live rigs. It consists of a splittable velocity and pressure sensitive keyboard with a joystick for bend and modulation and a pair of programme stepper buttons, coupled to a 19" rack-mounting synth unit. This is a microprocessor-controlled synth with analogue oscillators and filters and a huge variety of parameters and modulation options. These are so extensive that a control panel containing pots for all of them would be around 17 feet long, so the controls are arranged with multiple functions in 'pages'. Once you've caught on to the fact that your Glide control isn't Glide at all if you're on another page the system becomes relatively fast and logical to use, and the sounds are shattering, being vaguely reminiscent of a Prophet with the added advantages of touch-sensitive vibrato, filter opening, cross-modulation and stacks more.
The Voyetra's fully equipped with MIDI and also an interface to the IBM Personal Computer. A recent addition is a polyphonic, pulse-time sequencer (software, not hardware — isn't science wonderful?) which makes the Voyetra a powerful compositional tool quite apart from the massive composing capabilities of the IBM. The advantages of a synth which can hide away in a rack-mounting unit and offer a mobile, touch-sensitive keyboard capable of screaming leads or the most subtle string and synth effects can be incalculable, and it's only a pity that the price of the unit — something above that of a Jupiter 8 — puts it well into the professional class.
An evening at CMS can provoke severe attacks of greed and envy, so be warned. For those who haven't the cash to treat this painful condition it's possible to hire equipment occasionally, or to record in the studio with a choice of equipment. At the moment a changeover to 8-track is underway together with the establishment of a record label to deal with some of the product recorded there. Other possibilities for the future include the addition of a PPG Wave 2.2 and Waveterm and the separation of the studio and demo areas to give a better flow of business. With the company based on music systems such as the Voyetra and alpha which are almost infinitely expandable, there's no real end to the possibilities in sight.
Computer Music Studios, (Contact Details)
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