FRANKFURT PREVIEW '85
A special preview of some of the new goodies that'll be on show at the Frankfurt Musik Messe - Europe's premier music fair - when it gets under way in the second week of February.
While a general scarcity of precise technical information, itself a result of many leading manufacturers playing their cards distinctly close to their chest, means we can fit what we know about the expected newcomers at this year's Frankfurt Musik Messe into very little space indeed, none of us at E&MM is in any doubt that, come February 9, there'll be another lorry-load of new hi-tech music gear to drool over and daydream about.
Actually, most of what we already know is more down-to-earth than that last sentence might suggest. For instance, Casio will have their CZ1000 polysynth (reported on in last month's Newsdesk) on show, and at an expected RRP of £449, that can hardly be classed in the 'daydream' category. The Cosmo computer music system described in this issue's Outer Limits report may be some way from becoming a commercial reality, but we fully expect the Japanese industrial giant to be up there with the Big Boys with a complete range of synths, drum machines, sequencers and computers by this time next year. And on the evidence of the CZ101 and 1000, that's a mouth-watering prospect.
Yamaha have already turned the hi-tech music industry on its head, of course. Their master plan for world domination began in the summer of '83 with the release of the DX1, DX7 and DX9 FM synthesisers. At Frankfurt they'll be adding at least one more, the DX5. As its numerical designation suggests, the 5 will slot between the phenomenally successful 7 (£1300) and the rich man's plaything 1 (circa £8000), with a 76-note keyboard similar in construction to that of the former and the sound-generating hardware of the latter - at an expected RRP of between £4500 and £5000. That's not the only trick Yamaha will have in store, either, because they'll also be unveiling a MIDI Mother keyboard (88-note, weighted action, pressure and velocity sensing, you know the sort of thing) entitled the KX88. Mind you, it won't be cheap at an anticipated £1500, which we still can't help thinking is a lot of money to pay for an instrument that can't actually make any sound of its own. If you choose to buy a KX88, Yamaha will no doubt attempt to furnish you with a TX816 rack of eight FM sound modules (first exhibited a year ago as the T8PR, incidentally) or failing that, a TX216, which is a quarter of the size, price and sonic capability.
If, on the other hand, you're one of the millions that have already bought DX7s, Yamaha are about to introduce an add-on keyboardless expander by the name of TX7, which should hit the shops at around the £700 mark. And to go with it, there's the new QX7 digital keyboard recorder, effectively a scaled-down version of the company's QX1 multitrack sequencer. Capable of receiving input in both real and step time, and storing up to 8100 notes sans velocity information (6000 notes with), the lesser QX looks like it could be a bit of a snip at just £500. We shall see.
The other Japanese majors - Korg and Roland - aren't being quite so forthcoming about releasing new product information in advance of the show itself. Little is known, for example, of Korg's new DW6000 poly, other than that it exists and that it'll be accompanied by, among other things, a MIDI Pedalboard by the name of MPK130 - certainly a novel idea, that, and it should prove of not inconsiderable value to keyboardists who are forever running out of fingers on stage.
We wouldn't have known much about Roland's JX8P poly, either, if it hadn't been for Roland UK getting a single advance model in the country at the very tail-end of 1984, and Paul Wiffen doing his darndest to uncover its every hidden function elsewhere in this issue. It's really anybody's guess what Roland will have on show to back the 8P up, but we do at least know they've got a couple of new home pianos (the HP350 and 450) and yet another addition to the Boss product range, the DB66 Dr Beat metronome. No, we don't think it'll set the world alight, either.
What may be of more earthly significance is the increase in the number of computer-related products this year's Frankfurt extravaganza will almost certainly witness. Goodness knows how many new MIDI software companies will make their presence felt (and heard) in the giant, maze-like exhibition halls, but we can at least tell you what a couple of the established software houses will be shouting about.
Italians LEMI will have an update of their much-praised Future Shock Apple-based MIDI Package, featuring intelligent quantisation and an option to defeat incoming velocity data if desired - it increases the note capacity by some 1200. The company should also be displaying some DX7 expansion software that incorporates a voice dump and puts those hidden parameters on screen where they can be seen, a Drumulator expansion board that allows you to put three sets of sound chips inside the machine instead of just the one, and an interface box called the Mastersync - an update of LEMI's year-old Masterclock that'll incorporate both SMPTE and MIDI Interface standards.
Obviously working along similar lines are Germany's Jellinghaus Music Systems, who have now finished design of their MIDI Master Synchronizer (you can use it with just about any commonly found clock pulse, or in conjunction with a click track off-tape). Add to that the company's CG-X analogue-to-MIDI interface and a software-based music transcription system called Score Writer, and it shouldn't be hard to see that, as far as this area of music technology is concerned, the Europeans have a clear lead over their Oriental brethren.
Siel, another Italian concern who seem to be taking MIDI very seriously indeed, aim to help keep things that way, too. They're planning to unveil another avalanche of MIDI software for Spectrum, Commodore 64 and BBC micros, the most promising of which looks to be a Database package capable of creating digital delay effects as well as performing more traditional software feats.
The Siel story doesn't end there, either, because the company will also have a brand new polysynth by the name of DK80 on show. The advance press info suggests this employs a bi-timbral system similar in concept to the multi-timbral principles behind Sequential's SixTrak and MAX polys, except that it works two ways rather than six. Still, those two channels will be fully independent, MIDI channel-assignable and linkable to the DK's built-in polyphonic sequencer. There's going to be an Expander 80, too, plus editing software to go with it that promises to be every bit as good as Siel's last voice editing package, reviewed in E&MM December 84.
And finally, Music Sales are all set to expand the range of Commodore 64-based packages they launched with the wonderfully-named Music Maker towards the end of last year. Most of the new programs remain dependent on the Commodore's scarcely scintillating SID chip for their sound sources, but Frankfurt will see the public debut of a Sampler program capable of sampling sounds and replaying them over a ten-octave range. MIDI compatibility and built-in Fourier analysis are said to be among the Sampler's other assets, but the biggest one will probably be its price - just £50 (you heard) inclusive of, well, everything.
Lingering on the subject of British innovation, we find the Oxford Synthesiser Company, whose sole product since inception has been the OSCar monosynth. Until now, that is, because Frankfurt will be the setting against which the company launches an eight-voice polyphonic Advanced Sound Generator. Housed in a 19" rack-mounting module, the ASG will be MIDI-controlled, responding to velocity and pressure information and incorporating elements of both analogue and digital synthesis. Centrepiece of the module is said to be a large, high-resolution graphic display that makes parameter editing a doddle, and the system is of course fully programmable, with a total of 256 memory locations onboard. It's multi-timbral, too, and because many of the controlling routines are software-based, the system will be readily expandable to accommodate future updates that'll include sound-sampling, sequencing and music printing. Looks like OSC are going to be sharing a stand with LEMI, so if you're going to Frankfurt and want to get a look in on all the goodies, you'd better book your appointment early.
Finally, the world of electronic percussion is unlikely to remain unchanged by events at the Frankfurt show. Dynacord should have their complete system up, running and in production, Simmons are bound to have something up their corporate sleeve, and those cunning Swedes over at ddrums will be exhibiting a complete kit and rack for the first time - the perfect complement to what are still some of the best digital drum sounds around.
Well, that's just about the limit of what a few weeks' detective work has uncovered about Frankfurt in 1985. It should be better than ever, but sad to say, we still aren't any the wiser as regards the new Fairlight, which should be there in all its glory. Guess you'll just have to read next month's full report...
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