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Computer Musician


Article from Electronics & Music Maker, June 1984

More MIDI meanderings...

All right, devoting this month's Editorial to the subject of MIDI when there's already the second part of a major supplement on it contained elsewhere in this issue does look a little bit like technological overkill, I'll admit, but there are one or two points I'd like to think are worth making within the context of Computer Musician.

What worries me is far removed from what happens to your music when too many events are vying for the attention of one MIDI pipeline. If you choose to send 16 notes at once you're asking for trouble, and that's true of a lot more than just MIDI. No, my concern is with the fact that MIDI equipment is being produced with pre-programmed limitations. Note that term 'pre-programmed'. This is all about software and, therefore, of direct concern to the computer musician.

At the present time, there are around a dozen polyphonic keyboards available with the MIDI as standard. However, only one of these (the SixTrak) is capable of playing all six channels of monophonic MIDI data with different voice programs. Now, I admit that there are a few others (the Prophet T8, for instance) which allow split points to be set up and, therefore, the potential of using two different programs on incoming data, but the fact remains that the vast majority of MIDI keyboards can't see beyond their feet when it comes to escaping from the limitations of mono-timbral polyphony.

In fact, there's no earthly reason why any polyphonic synth shouldn't be capable of software modification so that it'll play each voice with a different instrument when instructed to by MIDI data. Similarly, I find it maddening that just because most keyboards aren't touch-sensitive, their designers prevent incoming MIDI data, complete with velocity bytes, from having the requisite effect on their machines. Again, it's the same old story about software limitations. If MIDI is really to come of age, then manufacturers must wake up to the fact that its users aren't fools. I mean, who in their right mind would be prepared to daisy-chain four £1000 polyphonic synths together just so that they can play with four different timbres at once?

Well, it seems that people will do that, and no doubt some manufacturers are patting themselves on the head for thinking of ways around allowing the MIDI to encroach too much on their 'give them enough to keep them happy, but don't give them everything' design philosophy. Fair enough, they've got to make an honest living just like everyone else, but spare a thought for those musicians and programmers who are trying to get the most out of the standard that we've been landed with. Until the designers see sense and expand their conception of what a polyphonic synthesiser should be doing with MIDI, or until someone comes out with a modular voice unit for MIDI, we're stuck with a pretty frustrating situation. Polyphonic sequencing with just one timbre isn't my idea of what MIDI should be about.

Still, there is a solution: the add-on that sits directly within the memory map of the average home computer. None of this nonsense about sending serial data down the line - it's the direct register read/write approach that makes the real sense! And that, of course, is where something like the Programmable Digital Sound Generator project steps in - a general-purpose sound synthesis unit that can be used however you want, whenever you want, right up to the limits of whatever micro you're using. No problems about MIDI computer interfaces, no time delays between converting data to and from the bit stream, and no problems about protocol misinterpretations.

Sanity, at last!

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Publisher: Electronics & Music Maker - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

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Electronics & Music Maker - Jun 1984

Computer Musician



Editorial by David Ellis

Previous article in this issue:

> Talking Shop

Next article in this issue:

> Rumblings

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