Born In The USA
The Musical Micro
Tony Mills gets up to Yankee panky with some Stateside software
Although there's some wonderful computer music gear coming out of the UK now, the biggest market has always been in the States, and American computer-based music — both in the professional and the amateur worlds as well as on the academic side — is years in advance of anything we have in the UK. But the US has a completely different computer market, bulging with Commodore 64s but completely devoid of Sinclair Spectrums, thick with upmarket Apples but also packed with budget computers such as the Ataris and Tandys which don't make much of an impression over here.
But if you want to get the musical best out of a computer, you have to be aware of what's available in the biggest marketplace in the world. This month we've taken a look at the American market and will point out a few recent highlights together with some of the problems in getting the gear over here and using it effectively.
One major problem is that IBM Personal Computers, Apples and similar expensive systems are relatively common in the states, so much of the best software is written for these systems. Apple sales to musos over here have increased with the advent of the Greengate DS:3, but either system still represents a healthy investment. Computers And Music of California write software for both machines, however, and this is supported by the appropriate Passport MIDI Interface, which is available in the UK through Rittor Music.
Computers And Music have a "Voice Librarian" series for the Yamaha DX7, Roland Juno-106, Oberheim OB-8 or Casio CZ-101/CZ-1000 synths. The packages allow you to create, store and recall sounds to your synthesizer via a Passport (or similar) interface for the Apple, or via a Roland MPU-401 unit for the IBM.
Computers And Music also market an Apple IIE MIDI Development System which allows you to write your own software for MIDI control via the Apple. The MIDI interface supplied with the package is Yamaha, Passport and Korg compatible, and codes are supplied for both sending and receiving MIDI information. A short program included allows you to list and display the MIDI codes sent out by any instrument (useful for checking out unorthodox implementations of the MIDI specification).
The Voice Librarian software is $49.95 in the US, and remember you'll need an interface to run it. Specify which computer and synthesizer when ordering. The Apple IIE board and software cost $125, the software alone $25. Computers And Music live at (Contact Details).
There's another Casio editing package available from Dr T's Music Software, a Massachusetts-based company. Their 'CZ-101 Patch Librarian' is also compatible with the CZ-5000 and CZ-1000 and, more importantly, runs on the inexpensive Commodore 64, with an Apple version due about now. The Patch Librarian allows you to store sounds on disk, name them and display or print out all their parameters, which is handy if the concept of Phase Distortion and esoteric objects such as Digitally Controlled Waveforms confuse you as much as they confuse me. Envelopes can be automatically copied, and sequences created with Dr T's Keyboard Controlled Sequencer package can be played directly from this program.
The KCS package sounds pretty awesome; it offers three ways to enter notes including full realtime entry with 16tracks and overdub, editing capabilities including dynamics and expression of individual notes, and copy/merge/move/delete/transpose/invert/auto-correct/time-reverse commands. Sequence tracks can be looped independently and multiple song storage is offered. You can even transpose the pitch of sequences as they're being played back, a highly unusual and useful feature. All this for only $125.
The versatile Dr T also offers a Yamaha DX7 Patch Librarian, which is compatible with the TX7 Expander and gives a graphic display of all parameters, which is very handy if you can't keep track of all 147 at the same time. Disk storage is also an advantage given the cost of RAM cartridges. Price is $75.
Computerised echo seems to be the coming thing, and Dr T's Echo-Plus recreates echo effects by repeating notes played in via MIDI with appropriate changes in volume. Echo Plus can cope with four keyboards independently, and effects available include doubling, echo on the original keyboard or another keyboard, keyboard splitting, one finger chords and scales, short sequences, arpeggiated chords, infinite loops and preprogrammed patch changes. Price is $90.
Nobody seems to be importing Dr T software to the UK, but the company does welcome enquiries from dealers. Contact them at (Contact Details).
Decillionix are a well-established company who started out by providing supporting hardware and software for the alphaSyntauri Apple-based synthesizer system. One of their major products is the DX-1 sound sampling system, but this is an unusual case of the UK being way ahead of the US — Greengate's DS:3 offers four-note polyphonic playing whereas the Decillionix is monophonic.
However, the Decillionix system can be tied to MIDI using one of their interface products, whereas the DS:3 still lacks a MIDI card, although one is expected to become available soon. Decillionix do have other interesting products though, and they'll send you a catalogue free if you write to them at (Contact Details).
Musicworks are producing software for the Apple Macintosh, which is ideally suited to musicians since it has a highly visual approach and needn't involve much typing or technical jargon. MegaTrack is a MIDI recorder and sequencer package which gives you "unlimited independent overdubbing of tracks" for $150, while the MegaMix MIDI console is an automated mixdown simulator for MegaTrack compositions which will allow you to turn out a perfectly mixed final product. Price is $100.
MIDI Writer is an editing and printing option for MegaTrack for $150, while the Musicwork Studio pulls together MegaTrack, MegaMix and MIDIWriter into a "convenient custom environment" for $100. With sales talk like that you'll be surprised to learn that the company comes — not from California, but from Boston, and you can contact them at (Contact Details).
Hybrid Arts are one of the companies providing MIDI interfacing for the Atari range of computers, which no major company in the UK seems to do. Of course, Atari isn't very big over here, but it's a popular range in the US, equivalent to our own Sinclair Spectrum perhaps.
Hybrid Arts also write for the Commodore 64, IBM PC and other computers, and have a wide range of packages on sale. MIDITrack II is claimed to be the best MIDI recorder available at any price; it features external synchronisation, 16-track recording, punch in and punch out, auto correct and sync to tape. Price is quoted as under $600 including computer.
MIDIPatch for the DX7, DX9, TX816 modules, Casio CZ-101/1000, Sequential and other synths allows you to store and recall up to 512 patches per disk side and comes with 256 factory patches supplied. You can also buy a range of session sounds created by various studio musicians for the DX7 and Casio synths, and a Session Player package which includes "pre-recorded tracks for your use or study" (whatever that means). It works with MIDITrack II only.
MIDICom is an interesting development which allows DX7 patches and MIDITrack II songs to be exchanged by telephone all over the world. Hybrid Arts have a free bulletin board service on computer which gives DX7 patches and other MIDI information; you can get on line to the service on (Contact Details). If you'd like to speak to a human being instead, try (Contact Details).
Another company which seems to be doing innovative things with computers and MIDI is Key Clique, which relies on a synthesizer programmer called Bo Tomlyn who's worked for Toto, The Jacksons, Springsteen and Lionel Richie. It takes about half an hour to wade through their ads to discover that the 'Advanced DX7 Library' service is a little expensive however; if you want The Floppy Disk Of Sounds (128 sounds and a newsletter every month) you have to subscribe at $50 per month, $240 for six months.
Key Clique also manufacture a software package called SYS-EX; this allows you to store both drum and synth programs on one floppy disk, and claims to eliminate the need for separate software for each piece of equipment you own. SYS-EX can be used to load The Floppy Disc Of Sounds files, which are compatible with Apple, Atari, Commodore and Macintosh computers and the Yamaha QX1 Sequencer and CX-5 Music Computer. The Floppy DOS needs a Key Clique MIDI interface card or another card for your specific computer, and if you don't want to use their SYS-EX program to enter files you can use DX-Pro, DX-Heaven, Mimetics, Hybrid Arts MIDI Patch, Personal Composer or MusicWorks software (confused yet?).
Anyway, we've mentioned some of these packages above, but the rest will have to wait for another time. Meanwhile we leave you with Key Clique's company slogan... "dedicated to musicians at a time when equipment is becoming harder to understand" (snappy, huh?). If only their advertising was a bit easier to understand too. Key Clique Inc, (Contact Details).
Feature by Mark Jenkins writing as Tony Mills
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