It's that time of year again, so I thought I'd give you a few ideas for how to spend those seasonal pennies. The good news is that whether you're a dedicated muso or just an interested bystander with a shiny new machine, getting into Amiga music can be much cheaper and simple than you might imagine.
To start we'll look at the market from the bystander's position, highlighting the cheap and cheerful products which, for as little as £2, allow an absolute beginner to create music on a par with anything found on commercial games software.
As you've probably guessed, we're talking PD and more precisely Med, a program that's been the premier PD soundtracker clone for longer than most Amiga musos would care to remember. Due to the prolific success and countless updates — courtesy of its creator Teigo Kinnunen — the PD libraries are literally fit to burst with countless revisions of the aforesaid Med. However, if you're after the very latest offering, Amiganuts United is undoubtedly the first place to look, primarily because they've obtained exclusive rights to distribute the licenceware 8-channel version, which when complete with manual comes in at a less than PD price tag of £30.
Although eight channels may sound more attractive than the 4-track shareware alternative, the additional tracks do not play samples — they merely sequence Commodore 64-style synth sounds. For the beginner these additional tracks aren't essential. As a result, the 4-track version is perhaps the ideal beginners' choice for testing the water prior to the larger investment in the licenceware alternative.
As mentioned above, almost all the major PD libraries — with the exception of Amiganuts — carry the 4-track version for around £2. When ordering, be sure it's the latest version, v3.20.
Like all the soundtracker clones, Med employs standard 8-bit samples as its primary sound source. You can create these yourself, or alternatively there's a wide selection of pre-recorded effects and instruments that can be bought direct either on disk or CD from PD libraries or dedicated sample suppliers. If you're happier with pre-recorded sounds, quality commercial sources include the Zero-G Datafiles, which carry both CD and disk-based collections. They're available direct from Time and Space ((Contact Details)).
Although of excellent quality, the vast majority of the Zero-G samples are heavily dance-oriented with assorted scratches and popular hook lines. For any would-be DJs or rave fans, the collection is ideal — however if you're planning to build original tracks from the ground up a set of sounds called the Sample Series is a more attractive proposition.
This comes from those loveable Mancunians at Gajits Music Software. Unlike the Zero-G collection, the Sampler Series is comprised entirely of sounds borrowed from the latest synths. If you're interested in a more purists approach to plagiarism you can obtain the aforesaid collection from Gajits Music Software ((Contact Details))
If you've still got a few pennies spare from Christmas, Blue Ribbon Soundworks offer an intermediate package which allows the user to employ their own or pre-recorded samples as part of an automated 6-part accompaniment. The software, entitled SuperJam, allows you to begin building a bridge between the internal sounds of the machine and the world of MIDI. The package works by allowing you to assign any one of numerous styles which then form the framework within which your five automated musicians will literally jam along.
All you need do is add the chords of your choice, and of course play your part as the lead soloist. No matter what chord progression you add, the other members will automatically play a suitable accompaniment.
For example, if you specify a rock style with a chord progression of say E minor, G and A, your automated bass player is almost certain to rip straight into 'Smoke On The Water'! (OK, nobody said the package is perfect, but with a bit of practice you can easily generate perfectly acceptable lift music, which can then be worked into a pseudo-original track, or used directly as backing music on various multimedia exploits.)
Besides the fun and functionality of the package, the beauty is that it's equally at home with MIDI data as it is with converted Amiga samples. If you're looking for an affordable and interesting introduction to composition plus both an educational and speedy production tool, SuperJam is perfect.
Feature by Paul Austin
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