The most comprehensive review of Europes biggest Music Fair
Every year the music industry's attention focuses on the town of Frankfurt for the International Music Messe - Europe's premier showcase for new products in the field of music. Micro Music were there in force to gather info on what you will be able to buy during the next year
Every trade exhibition tends to have its main theme and its stars. However when you're dealing with a market as complex as music, where bassoons are on show alongside digital multi-effect processors, you can appreciate the problems we faced covering such an event.
The show itself was Big - four floors, each the size of Earls Court, spread across two interconnected buildings. Despite these staggering odds against us, we still managed to see all the new products from the major manufacturers that will hit our shores during the next year, plus some new and exciting products from companies as yet unknown over here.
Not surprisingly all the major hardware manufacturers were there and all had either new products or upgraded versions of existing bestsellers on show.
Roland were a case in point.
Heading up the Roland line was the W-30 Music Workstation (you're gonna hear that word a lot in the next few pages), a five octave aftertouch sensitive keyboard with built-in 16 track sequencer and 16-bit sampler with 3½" disc drive all in one box for £1600.
Also launched were two new master keyboards. The A-80 and A-50. Both feature four independent user definable zones which have their own MIDI channel, key range, program change and controller parameters. Traditional Modulation and Pitch Bend wheels are provided as well as Roland's own toggled modulation set up, two MIDI INs (mergable), one MIDI THRU and four MIDI OUTs, 64 patch internal memories which can be dumped down onto RAM card for storage. The A-50 costs £1395 and has a six octave keyboard while the A-80 at £1599 has seven octaves of piano weighted keys. For Guitarists we have the GK-2 synth driver for £110 which fits on to any guitar and allows you to drive the GR-50 guitar synth module (£799). For the Guitar purists there's the GS-6 which is a digital guitar pre amp and signal processor all in one box for £560. Also incorporated into this 1U high piece of Rackmounted module is Hum canceller and noise suppression so expect to hear some very clean guitar sounds in the future.
For the drummers Roland have two new drum machines - the R-8 Human Rhythm composer (£665) and the cut down R-5 (price to be confirmed). Both feature sampled sounds and combine them with human feel parameters (variations in timing, velocity etc). Three additional ROM cards are available containing Contemporary percussion, Jazz brush and sound effects. More cards are planned including the best of the older Roland Beat boxes like the TR-808.
Those of us on a tight budget have not been forgotten either with the launch of the D-5 - a D-110 sound module and a five octave velocity sensitive keyboard all for just £599.
Casio had some rather nice products in their '89 range as well. Most significant of these was the launch of a series of rack-mounted sound expanders with multi-timbral capabilities.
At one end of the price range we have the CSM-1 which features 16 voice polyphony and four Timbres at any one time. The unit features 100 presets (28 instruments, 23 effects and 49 PCM drum sounds. All for just £179. Also available is the CSM-10P which is a touch-sensitive piano module which also features harpsichord, vibraphone, electric piano and pipe organ. Price £229.
Casio are not, however, content producing portable keyboard-style sound units, they're waging war in the pro quality rack synth market as well with the VZ-8M. This unit features eight voice polyphony plus eight Timbres at any one time, Sounds familiar so far but this module also features keyboard, guitar and wind modes which alter some of the performance parameters to cater for whichever MIDI controller you happen to be using. The VZ-8M also has a comprehensive panning utility which allows you to fix where the stereo image of your sounds are or use the unit as an auto panner. RAM cards will be available and the unit is totally programmable and all for less than £500.
For the Semi-pro's Casio have come up with an upgraded version of their rack-mounted sampler. The FZ-20M features everything the FZ-10M had but also includes a SCSI port so you can hook up a Hard drive thus making life much easier for sample users. Not cheap but certainly good value at £1899.
Not content with the success of the DH-100 Digital Horn (see the review in this issue - Ed), Casio have come up with the DH-800 which will hold ROM packs with auto-accompaniment parameters. If the DH-100 wasn't the ultimate busker's instrument the DH-800 surely must be.
All the above products from Casio should be available by the time you read this although the VZ-8M and the FZ-20M will be in short supply initially.
Following on from the success of the M-1 workstation, Korg have taken the "everything in one box" ethic and implemented it in a number of different ways. At the top end of the line we have the T-1 which is a refined M-1 featuring more of everything including 88 weighted keys, a 56,000 event sequencer and built-in disc drive. Although at £3700 it'll probably be a few salary checks away from most of us.
At the other end of the price range is the M-1R - a rack-mounted version of the M-1 with all its bigger brother's features (bar the keyboard of course) for around the £1300 mark. In the same price bracket is the S-3 production workstation at £1150 - a 16-bit sampled drum machine with built-in digital effects (reverb, delay, chorus, etc), eight track MIDI sequencer and SMPTE timecode generator. Korg have also come up with a Guitar synth system in the shape of the Z-D3 Driver (£179) and the Z-3 synth module (£799).
For the studios there's the A-3 multi-effect processor which allows you to chain up to six digital effects together. Parameters can be edited and stored internally or on RAM card for later use. The cost of this little unit is £950.
For the one man bands Korg have resurrected an old idea in the shape of the PSS-60. It's rather like an up-market auto-accompaniment section of a portable keyboard with MIDI as well, at a price of £827. Mind you judging by the information leaflet that was given to me at the show it either has some dodgy translation or the unit includes a Pose key which is "for making stop for a time".
Yamaha decided to have their stand in a completely different hall to everyone else. For some reason they felt they should be in the same place as the Bongo Drums and Tubas.
Nevertheless they did have some rather nice products to show off including, yes you've guessed it, a workstation. The V-50 features 16 voice polyphony, eight Timbres at once, a five octave, velocity and pressure-sensitive keyboard plus 61 sampled drum sounds, an eight track sequencer. Digital effects and disc drive built in, for £1239.
The coupling of synth and sequencer circuitry also comes together in the shape of the budget-priced (£449) TQ-5 FM tone generator. This has 100 internal sounds plus eight track sequencer all in one box.
Generating a fair bit of interest was the Yamaha C-1 music computer. A lap-top 640K MS-DOS compatible with two MIDI INs, eight MIDI OUTs and built-in music software. However many exhibitors I spoke to seemed to think it was too expensive for amateurs (£2999) and not quite good enough for pros. We shall see!
Yamaha also launched a new mid-priced (£399) drum machine in the shape of the RX-8. Sporting 43 16-bit samples, the unit also has four audio outputs and of course all data can be dumped onto tape or RAM card.
Rounding off Yamaha's items of interest were two effect units. The SPX-900 and the SPX-1000. Both offer all the effects we come to expect from Yamaha (reverb, delay, flange, phase, chorus, etc) as well as small scale sampling and the likes of compression, distortion and aural exciting. The 900 also has an optional infra-red remote control which gives you a duplicate bank of front panel controls. The 1000 is the flagship of Yamaha's effect range and features some rather impressive two channel effects which change from one effect to another from left to right. Clever stuff.
Relative newcomers to the fold, Kawai had quite a few new boxes based on the K-1 architecture. At entry level is the PH-m, 200 K-1 presets, 50 multi-timbral combinations plus rhythm section.
On the Programmable side we have the K-1m and the K-1r. Both the same circuitry but available in desk top or rack mounted versions. Not to be out shone the K-1 also has a bigger brother in the shape of the K-1 II which features built-in reverb and improved drums. Three new departures for Kawai were also on show.
The MX-8SR is a rather nice rackmounted eight channel 16 input audio mixer with two auxiliary sends and a stereo output, and all in a 2U high space. The thinking behind it was that as most synths and drum machines were stereo it made sense to pair up inputs. On the MIDI utilities front Kawai have produced the MAV-8 MIDI patchbay - a four IN eight OUT MIDI matrix with all the sockets round the back for tidiness, with the exception of one IN and one OUT at the front in case you still need to plug things in and out (as I do). And the price of this is a mere £99.
Finally from Kawai is the KML-SG Group Lesson system. An audio and MIDI-based monitoring system designed with schools in mind.
There wasn't very much new on the Akai stand - some software updates for the S-1000 sampler which allow time stretching and up to 16 voices in memory. There was also new software for the Akai/Roger Linn production centre. Yes you've guessed it, workstation software.
For those of you wanting to get into multi-track on a tight budget Akai might just have the answer. The U-5 Trackman is a walkman-style unit which plays on tracks one and two but also records on tracks three and four. Furthermore the unit has built-in echo, chorus and distortion. Should retail for about £199.
Those sages of the signal processing world, Alesis, had on display a departure for them, and no it wasn't a workstation, it was, in fact a 16 in, stereo out audio mixer with six auxiliary sends and four stereo returns. Thanks to the newly developed Integrated Monolithic Surface technology, this rack-mountable mixer should be one of the quietest affordable mixers on the market. Price is to be confirmed but looks like it should be under the £800 mark.
Fans of the HR-16 drum machine will no doubt be interested in the launch of the HR-16B. Same drum machine, same price (about £350), but a new bank of 49 sounds at your disposal. The emphasis this time is on composite samples with as many as five different drums and effects on any one sound. The sounds are great as an additional arsenal but if you want the bog standard kits you would need another Drum Machine of multi-voice sampler to provide them.
The signal processing world has not been forgotten this year. Alesis have come up with the Quadraverb. Much like the enormously successful MIDIVerb II, it allows up to four effects to be chained together in any order and is a snip at £449.
In the Micro series two new units have been added to the range. The Micro EQ - a three band parametric, sweepable EQ unit and the Micro Cue Amp which allows two people separate headphone access to a pair of line level inputs. Useful if you have paper walls and less than understanding neighbours.
Dynacord continue to amaze the "old boys" of the industry with their ever increasing range of Hi-tech equipment. Causing the most interest was the new range of 16/20-bit samplers which not only read Akai S-900 discs but also, to several people I spoke to, sound better than the S-1000, particularly on quieter sounds. There's a keyboard and a rack-mount version with an optional hard disc available for both. All that and it has an in-built eight in eight out mixer with six auxiliary sends. How long before they come out with, dare I say it, a workstation!
Not being ones to rest on their laurels leading lights in electronic percussion, Simmons, have come up with a new range of trigger interfaces, like, for instance the ADT - a new, improved audio to MIDI interface for £450 plus... a workstation (argghhh!!) which looks a little like a MacDonalds cashpoint but costs considerably more (£5645!).
The Portakit - 12 pad triggering unit that's set out in much the same way as a traditional kit, should prove a worthwhile addition to any die hard rhythm purists out there, especially as it's less that £500 which now includes a bracket and stand. Very thoughtful guys! In a similar vein are the Drum Huggers - small electronic pads that perch on the edge of conventional drums. The Drum Hugger master unit plus four slave units for about £320.
Also available is the Trixer which is mentioned in some depth in the Rhythm Section in this ish and should cost about £900.
LA-based Stick Enterprises had probably the most sophisticated Guitar-type MIDI controller currently available. Called simply The Stick, it offers free tuning capability, excellent sound separation and a logical, comprehensive MIDI implementation. Stand by for a full review in the next issue.
With the current trend in the charts of DJs and producer having hits, Harrison Information Technology (H.I.T.) have produced a sound sampler aimed at DJs that can store and play eight samples, forward or backwards plus or minus one octave. No figures are given on sound quality but I would imagine bandwidth is quite low (as it would generally be used for vocal st-st-stuttering effects) so hopefully the unit will be priced accordingly.
Apart from all the people you expect to see at these shows, there's always a handful of people whom you've heard very little about but who have nevertheless come up with some stonking good stuff. For instance...
Lake Butler Sound (distributed in the UK by Dixie's Music in Huddersfield) have produced a couple of MIDI foot controllers aimed at Guitarists but of equal use to any musician with his hands full. The RFC-1 allows you to send any MIDI information you like across any or all of the 16 MIDI channels at the press of a footswitch. 128 of these can be stored internally and can also be rearranged into three different set lists. Very handy for live use.
The CFC-4 has a slightly different approach. This is a set of four continuous foot pedal controllers that can be assigned to alter MIDI controller information. You can also program in eight different response curves which allow you to blend from one effect to another. So, for instance, you could increase the rate of modulation whilst decreasing the level of aftertouch, with the same pedal. With four of those going you'd better buy your micro some extra memory because you're sure as hell going to need it with that much controller information going into your sequencer.
German company Vertrieb (as yet no UK distributor but they're open to offers), can not only sell you a rather nice, grey wood modular rack system which can be expanded by slotting in more side sections, but can ruggedise your ST into a rack unit (and add things like hard drives or better MIDI interfaces at the same time if required). They have also come up with a rackmounted modular mixer system which can comprise any permutation of input, EQ, Aux send/return and output stages all of which can be computer controlled (ST currently, Amiga and PC to follow).
If you're a saxophone player and what some companies call wind controllers leave you cold, then maybe Swiss company Softwind have just what you're looking for. A genuine Yamaha alto sax with a full MIDI retrofit for about £2000. The tracking is excellent and modulation, pitch bend etc can all be controlled accurately by manipulating the reed. Sounds incredible but it's true.
California-based company Zeta Music Systems who specialise in MIDIing acoustic instruments have released version 2.0 software for their Mirror 6 Guitar Synth. This implements six continuous MIDI controllers which include an Accelerometer motion sensing device that allows you to create various effects by shaking your guitar around.
Also just released is a cut-down version of the Mirror 6 which retains the same MIDI spec by using cheaper pick-ups and no tremolo.
Incidentally there is also a MIDI Violin retrofit available from these guys which, to my knowledge is unique.
Hertfordshire-based MTR Ltd have two new products of their own plus a range from American company ARX Systems. From MTR comes the PM21 MIDI patchbay and the Soft Rak flight bags that allow safe and comfortable portability for rack-mount gear.
From ARX (under the MTR flag) comes the Sixgate - a six channel noise gate in a 1U high rack unit and the DI-6 - a six channel active DI Box, once again in a 1U rack unit.
Rane Corporation had a modular rack effect system on show not unlike those marketed by Tantek and Rebis a couple of,years ago, the units include Input modules. Active Crossover, Parametric and Graphic equalisers, Compressor/Limiters and Line Driver/Transformers. All of these fit into a 4U high rack-mounted cradle.
That's one side of the show covered but we haven't even begun to look at what's new on the Software side. Over to you Clive...
There were a lot of new software packages being heralded for the first time (as far as Europe was concerned). The trend towards score writing packages continues, and, in addition to DR-T's copyist (reviewed in this issue), there were at least a half dozen appearing for the Atari ST, the Mac and, at last, the IBM PC.
Gleefully displaying their banner "The Computer Music Revolution is Here", German Distributor M3C Systemtechnik were showing off the Erato software corporation's ERATO Music Manuscriptor - an IBM AT piece of software, it utilises a plasma screen for crisp and clear stave editing - looking like the last word in music publishing and layout on a computer, we'll be bringing you a review of this as soon as we can get Erato to send in one.
At present, the software can be controlled in real time from a MIDI synth with a sensitivity option for chord recognition - automatic rhythm assignments can be linked with the music you are playing (ie, it keeps track of what you're playing) or it can be set up as a constant tempo from the built in software MIDI clock.
To make note placement and entry really easy, this package includes a mouse/touch tablet with predefined areas on the board for accessing notes, rests and other music notation. Normally associated with top end art packages, this system of note entry and placement looks to be really accurate and easy to use.
On the hardware requirement front you'll need a hard disc and a numerics co-processor, a lot of top end tackle, but most people know how annoying it is to use a sluggish machine and with state of the art stuff like this, I'm sure you'll understand why I reckon only professionals and educationalists will opt for this package.
Still, on spec alone, it seems able to do more than I have yet seen possible on the Atari ST.
Passport were in what they called the software "ghetto" showing off their latest hardware (?) and software. For example, their latest version of the Transport MIDI interface - designed to sit under a Mac Plus or Mac SE. As a starter this unit offers two MIDI INs and four MIDI OUTs. It can interpret and stripe SMPTE in 24, 25, 30 and 30 drop formats as well as convert SMPTE to MIDI Time Code for locking in with Clicktracks and Master Tracks Pro (Macintosh Versions).
Why no EBU compatibility guys?
Passport were also showing off the latest version of Sound Track System, their film and video production software for the Mac. Linking in with the SMPTE elements of the software. Passport intend making some more space for themselves in the burgeoning computer/SMPTE link up for film and TV music composers, and while other Atari products seem to be getting into a little bit of a rut as far as SMPTE is concerned, Passport seem to have the right attitude by adding-on SMPTE across their range of older products.
As mentioned elsewhere, the IBM-PC software really made it big, especially with version 3 of Master Tracks Pro - now running on STs, Macs, PCs (and the Yamaha C1) and, to be released later, on Amiga computers, the latest version now has MIDI song position pointers on all versions as well as MIDI Time Code.
Encore for the Mac wowed the pen and ink diehards with their new real time scorewriting package. Dave Kusek - chief of the Passport tribe commented that "Like a great many score writing packages, they either divide themselves into wholly sequencer based, or as music publishing (writing without any form of musical feedback) - we're trying to change all that with Score-Writer".
And to add credence to his words, Passport also have Note-Writer - a music notation package that has recently been upgraded and which relies more on your ability to read and write scores, supplying options in a Mac Draw-type interface.
Encore seems to sort out a great many of the problems associated with real time score writing by reading files from Master Tracks Pro (and MT Junior) but it can take MIDI information live from the keyboard for complex note entry.
It uses Adobe's Sonata font for Linotronic compatibility - and at around $495, Passport's Mac software will certainly go something towards making the Mac an acceptable competitor against similar ST based products.
Hybrid Arts had a nice stand showing off their latest packages - not a whole lot was really new apart from a few important updates and again, revisions for SMPTE and additions to existing packages including MIDI song position pointers.
Of great interest was Ludwig, the real-time composer for the Atari ST. BASICally a sort of automatic composition system, Ludwig offers a "fresh approach to organizing music", but it also offers such features as "Human Feel" as part of the Algorithmic composer - interestingly enough, this package has a real time adaptation control facility, so you can modify your music as you are listening to a sequence either generated by Ludwig, or by another sequencer package (Hybrid Arts quote their own here).
As a "sort of" sequencing package, Ludwig offers an eight track sequencer, compatibility with any other Hybrid Arts sequencer, and is compatible with Hybriswitch - Hybrid Arts' very own switcher package.
Le Puissance De La Simplicite was how FretLess International introduced their new PC Based sequencer package - requiring a basic IBM PC compatible XT (or AT series) with the Roland MPU 401 interface (or, as I mentioned earlier, the Passport interface).
There are 100 tracks available with a direct to disc recording facility (for sequences only) with a real time or step by step mode of operation, it has selectable MIDI event filters with a punch in/out facility for two memories.
Offering mouse control (for those who have it), the package looks to be quite easy to get on with. Other packages from FretLess International include their Use Fool series of editors and librarians. Ranging from DX-7 and DX-7 II, through to TX-81Z and the Roland D series of synths (not forgetting the D-110 and the MT-32) with 3D analysis and waveform editing, FretLess look to be in the offering for some classic sequencing software.
Thanks for the Demo version of the disc by the way, we'll get a full review as soon as can.
On top of Creator and Notator, C-Lab's oldest products, comes X-Alyzer a DX Library editor and DX-to-sample utility for the Atari ST. More than just a simple librarian, X-Alyzer offers a complete database approach to storing sounds for the DX series of synths.
Programming the DX is, as many people know, a real pig to achieve in real life, so with the ability to modify waveforms in real time (as opposed to the long-winded FM synthesis approach), X-Alyzer offers a simple, no-nonsense approach to programming the DX-7.
Intelligent waveform analysis is achieved through a Fast Fourier transformation (as usual!) but also a gaussian random waveform generator to at least plonk in a few points from which to start!
On the hardware front comes Unitor, Human Touch and Combiner. Combiner has been floating around on the periphery in the UK for some while - enabling users to use more than one package at the same time when using a switching system, but brand new (as far as I was concerned) was the Unitor and the Human touch hardware interfaces; the former offering SMPTE and EBU synchronization, the latter offerring a audio trigger facility so that humans (remember them?) can get in on the act. Triggering sequences from Human touch enables instruments from Basses to Drums even to voices vie Notator and/or Creator to be partially controlled from the Human Touch unit.
Software star of the show (at least the public thought so) was the latest package from Steinberg - hailed as a "New Way Of Looking At Things" - (direct translation from the German) their new sequencer seems to be a sort of integrated approach to songwriting in an all-in-one package.
Offering what Steinberg call VISP (Visual Song Processing), Cubit can record up to 1024 tracks with 384 PPQ notes which is accurate I suppose, but really is it good enough for pros? Many packages offer a higher PPQ ratio than 384 (at least branching into the 400s), but as an all-in package with notation, sequencing, event editing and with a very pro twenty-four approach to drum pattern editing - I am not sure who Steinberg really are aiming the software at.
Clearly more sophisticated than the Steinberg Twelve, the Cubit package seems more integrated than Pro-Twenty Four, Cubit seems to offer a whole lot of facilities that are available elsewhere in their product range, but perhaps they are listening to users complaints about key-locked protection systems running more than one program in memory.
A good looker nonetheless.
Just as a quickie, out of the blue comes Avalon, a universal sample processing and Resynthesis system for the ST (again! - at least it'll keep the bloody workstation fans happy!).
Operating across MIDI, this package takes system exclusive data from the sampler in question, and uses that data to be edited in graphic format.
Utilizing such features as "time domain editing" and other such juicy jargonistic delights as "frequency domain editing" and God knows what else Steinberg see fit to call a simple sample editor a... wait for it... Sample Editor! (not workstation software? - Ed)
With a forthcoming D/A board (optional) with 12 bit quality and CD/DAT transfer options and a AES/ EBU interface - Avalon looks set to be quite a jolly spiffing product.
Finally, the biggie for most pro users was M.ROS - a MIDI based operating system for the Apple Mac, the Atari ST and the IBM PC. Admittedly at the show, Steinberg were only showing off the version for the Atari ST, but I am told that prototypes are ready for the other two machines.
Steinberg are not alone in paging out the operating system of the ST (ie the ghastly GEM interface) which is more of a hinderance than anything else when it comes to making music. For the ST, M.ROS operates as a multitasking environment (like the Amiga) and allows more than one package to be run at the same time - thus hopefully liberating users from the headaches of switcher and those stoopid dongles.
But for the Mac? I am not so sure. You see the Mac has such a standardised interface that I am seriously worried about how effective a new OS would be for such a classically standardized machine (see Paul Wiffen's comments about the Macintosh MIDI standard in his NAMM report) to see what I mean.
Patching immediately in with M1 synthworks, Cubit and Mimix, M.ROS will be a godsend for Atari ST users bitching about the limitations of GEM, and wanting more performance from a well tried, but let's face it, ageing machine.
From Little Acorns Grow EMR
Mike Beecher represented the only computer manufacturer at the show this year - yes, the normally low profile Acorn Computers, suddenly stepped into overdrive with the latest version of EMR's Studio 24 Plus package. Looking less like the Steinberg offering version 1 came into the world as Studio 24 Plus has been adapted to work under RiscOS, the multi tasking operating system for the Acorn Archimedes, and it certainly attracted a few people - namely those colour-blinded by Macs and STs.
I think the most important thing about Studio 24 Plus is the fact that it represents very powerful MIDI sequencing - not really above what the ST can do at the moment, but certainly it is more powerful than the current offerings for Amiga, many people couldn't fail to be impressed by the software running on Acorn's 32 bit machine.
Released as three different versions, in much the same way Voyetra have partitioned their software for the IBM PC, Studio 24 Plus offers a viable link with MIDI as well as SMPTE and Video Production which, as many a Beeb man will tell you, is what the BBC B is quite good at.
In addition to EMR, Armadillo Systems were demonstrating their latest software for the Armadillo Sound Sampler - soon to metamophose into a full 16 bit system, the software will offer CD quality data capture in a MIDI context - sounds interesting.
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