...and Phil South stays friends with his Amiga.
Finally, a column for people who have the Amiga at the centre of their creative universe! No, I didn't say that; you did when you opened the magazine to this page, and quite right you are too. It's more than enough time since the Amiga came out, and by and large although the products for it are not yet as advanced as those on the Mac and Atari, many good people support the computer. Dr T's are unflinching in their support, and Steinberg have grudgingly accepted it, albeit on a rather small scale.
The Amiga, for all its faults, is an exciting and creative computer, and it's not just music per se that we'll be covering in this column — items like the NewTek Video Toaster certainly deserve exposure. The Toaster is a video studio on a card; it fits into Amiga 2000s, and lets you do wipes, fades, cuts and blow-dries (OK, no blow-dries) plus 3-D computer graphics and 24-bit painting. It only works with NTSC (the US video standard) at the moment, but watch out for the PAL version in late '92/early '93. But more of that later. Let's catch up with what's happening right now.
Like a Carry On film, this popular program by Micro Illusions has had its knockers, but many people stick with it despite the lure of bigger and better programs on the ST. Why? Well it runs on the Amiga for a start, and that's a big bonus in my book. Second it allows you to use Amiga samples at the same time as sequences, and you can do this even in an unexpanded machine. (Obviously bigger sequences require a tad more memory.) Also, it multi-tasks without the need for anything like MROS, enabling you to format disks, rename them, run another program to load sounds into your synthesizer, and so on. Besides that, the program has extensive re-mixing capabilities, and an on-line editor/librarian tool for a range of modern synths.
The program does have faults, however. Some features haven't been supported as well as they should have been — the library editor for example. Upgrades containing editors for more modern synths were promised, but never appeared. Music notation modules were also promised, but also never appeared. Most importantly, the program has been stuck on version 1.1 since the beginning of time, or so it seems. This is bad news for Music Xfans, for apart from these niggling problems it's the best way of doing MIDI on the Amiga — so far, at least.
The good news is I that just got off the phone to Micro Illusions' UK office (The Software Business, (Contact Details)) and they tell me that Music X 1.5 (it might even be called 2.0) is due, and should in fact be shipping by June this year. The new version of the program has many new features, including the promised music notation, and printing of some kind will also be possible. No more is known about this at the moment, but rest assured I'll keep you in touch with what happens. In the meantime lookout for the add-on protocols disk, containing sounds and protocols for about 10 modern synths, and a new modules disk containing new ways to treat the music you put into the program. I should have a copy of these by next month.
Although a reasonable bit of kit, Sequencer One by Gajits Software isn't as powerful as Music X, although it's somewhat more reliable and has the enormous benefit of being written by a UK company. The new version, Sequencer One Plus is out now priced at £129.95. Users of the original program (even those who picked it up on the cover of a recent Amiga magazine) can upgrade to the new version for only £49.95. The updated program includes a Juke Box screen (sounds a bit iffy), a 'diamond drag' note editing system, tempo maps, auto count in, MIDI SysEx handling, track solo, extra quantising options, and much more.
"The Amiga, for all its faults, is an exciting and creative computer, and it's not just music perse that we'll be covering in this column — items like the NewTek Video Toaster certainly deserve exposure."
AMAS 2 is out now, and it looks very attractive indeed. The sampling performance isn't bad at all, and it has a MIDI interface built in. Link it up to your synth and run your favourite music program, and you can have a sampler and sequencer on-line at the same time! OK, so the sampling is only 8-bit, but then again so were the first Fairlight and Ensoniq samplers. As well as the stereo sampling capability, which is very handy, it incorporates some neat effects. Pitch shifting, phasing, tremolo and so on are all accessed by a special FX menu button. The effects are fairly poor quality, but would perhaps be adequate for demos.
I had a great time playing an assortment of tapes into AMAS 2, then pitch shifting them. Did you know that some of the female voices on Prince's 'Diamonds and Pearls' are actually the great man himself, speeded up?
The sample editing is rather good, and you can produce some good clean samples for use with Dr T's KCS 3.5, Sequencer One or Music X. There are the usual things, like a Fourier transform display in 3-D (why? Because Fairlight did it) and various 'scope' functions, but to my mind these are cosmetic rather than really useful. Having said that, they look good on video, and watch out for the AMAS software doing just that — looking good — in the video for Paula Abdul's 'Cold Hearted' next time it rolls around on MTV or The Chart Show's archive slot.
A lot of creative types use the Amiga to create works of art. Both Todd Rundgren and Laurie Anderson, for example, use the Video Toaster to produce their promo clips and on-stage video art these days.
Sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke, although not a regular visitor to the charts, is also an avid Amiga-head, as is the film score composer Danny Elfman. Dan wrote the scores for Batman, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Dick Tracy and even The Simpsons using an unnamed sequencer package (probably MusicX) and his Amiga. He's also apparently just taken delivery of a Video Toaster, although with what purpose is as yet unknown.
Feature by Phil South
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