Magnetic Music Prism
Software for the IBM PC
As musical interest in PC-compatible machines grows, more American software is finding its way into the UK. Harvey Newquist sequences the PC way.
I HAVE A pet theory about budget software, it goes something like this: if you don't like it, you can reformat the disk and not be too upset about it. On the other hand, if it works and you do like it, then you've got yourself one hell of a bargain. Admittedly, buying such software does involve a little bit of gambling, but you should look at it as being more like playing the Trivial Pursuit machine in your "local" rather than the Russian Roulette in The Deer Hunter.
Fortunately for my introduction, this PC sequencing software costs £99, so I'd put it into The Price Is Right category for anyone having found themselves wanting to make music with an IBM PC (or compatible) computer. The software in question is called Prism and it comes from an American company called Magnetic Media. Although it's been available in the States for a while, as far as the UK market is concerned, it's one of the newest sequencing packages available for the IBM PC. And as a matter of interest, Magnetic Media are the same group of people who gave us Texture. And Prism, like Texture, is the brainchild of ex-Utopia keyboardist-turned-software-developer Roger Powell (I understand that former Utopia leader Todd Rundgren is also currently following a similar path), so you can rest assured that the writer not only has his musical chops together, but knows what musicians actually want from a piece of software.
Prism has all the usual editing features found on software sequencers - quantising, copying, transposing - with two very important pluses: it behaves very much like a Macintosh program, and it has an excellent manual.
Prism works on all classes of PCs and compatibles (IBM PC, XT, AT and so on) and also on IBM's most recent offering, the PS/2. It requires at least 384K of RAM within which to run (although 512K is the practical minimum), as well as a graphics card and any available MIDI interface. Magnetic Music are also eager to publicise the fact that the package runs on Yamaha's impressive C1 Music Computer (see MT, December '88 for full review and check out current prices - they're lower than when the C1 was introduced to the UK). Consider it publicised.
Prism relies exclusively on Mac-like scroll bars and pull-down menus, and like almost all current generation PC sequencers, requires a mouse for operation. The program allows you to create up to 16 Tracks (pretty standard on PC packages these days) as well as 32 separate Patterns with up to 50 links between them. One neat feature which separates this program from other sequencing software in the same category is its ability to designate multiple MIDI channels per Track. Many sequencers allow you to specify one channel or all channels, but nothing in between.
One of Prism's most immediately impressive features is its use of graphics to control note velocities, time swing, and other MIDI parameters. While changing the peaks and troughs of the graph, you can hear the result as the sequence is playing - no need to stop, edit, and then start again. And one of its most unique features is the fact that graphs are used to create templates. In effect, these templates are the foundation for Track sequencing, and eliminate a lot of the Track editing that must be done after recording.
As I hinted earlier, the manual is by far one of the best I've seen for PC packages of any sort, with liberal use of examples and analogies to make each function of Prism clear to the novice and expert alike. Complete with diagrams, this manual is almost worth the price of purchase all by itself.
I like this sequencer - I like it a lot. Its use of the features that make icon-based software so pleasant to work with raise it up a notch over many other PC music programs. And given the fact that more PCs are finding their way into musical usage, even more PCs, PS/2s and their clones are going to be showing up in music environments ranging from homes to studios to stages. For £99, I can't think of any reason why Prism shouldn't be right there with them.
Price £99 including VAT.
Review by Harvey Newquist
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