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a preview of '84's secret gear

The News before it happens. Our friend Freff in Chicago previews the upcoming Namm music fair and reveals what the major instrument manufacturers are keeping under wraps.

Ah, NAMM — part carnival, part wonderland, part crass commercialism, and regular bi-annual shot in the music industry's arm, as a locust horde of buyers and musicians descend upon the various manufacturer's reps with demands for newer, cheaper, better, bigger, louder, longer...

Even staid portions of the industry like piano companies are beginning to be influenced by the technological changes that are sweeping the world, and as you wander from booth to booth you never know just when you'll stumble across something you've never heard of before, but which suddenly you can't live without. That's NAMM at its best and the current exposition, the NAMM Summer Market in Chicago, bids fair to having more than ever before.

The biggest action, no doubt about it, will be in the land of microprocessors and interfacing. The last NAMM was buzzing with MIDI-equipped instruments, but short on software. This one should start filling the gap.

Look for another demonstration of Yamaha's Personal Composer package, currently optimised for the IBM PC, multiple DX7s, and drum machines it will let you control massed MIDI gear through musical notation written on the PC's screen and have the computer record what you play on the keyboards and then automatically translate it into score form. There's also a hint that Yamaha might release interface packages for a variety of computers that will allow uploading and downloading of DX7 voice data from computer disc which will be much cheaper than their current ROM cartridge approach. (Hybrid Arts, one of the new "garage guys" — small companies that have sprung up to meet the demand for MIDI software — should be showing a preliminary DX7 package that does just that.)

Roland is unleashing 32 new products, many of them heavily MIDIfied. Look for a stand-alone synth module called a Super Jupiter, and two performance keyboards with dynamics. They also have dynamically sensitive MIDI pads for drummers, an MSQ700 update to 13,000 note memory, a batch of new effects pedals, and a really interesting little sync box that will read and write SMPTE time code, sync all MIDI instruments, and — here's the kicker — lock onto an external signal supplied through a microphone so that it can sync to live performance.

Separate controller keyboards seem to be coming on strong. Oberheim will be showing their el mondo programmable analogue Xpander synth module, and talk is they plan a separate keyboard. Octave-plateau, who started it all with their Voyetra Eight poly-synth, will be showing a new piano-action wooden keyboard. Roland, mentioned above, is also taking that approach, and it is only a matter of time before companies that only make controllers, not synths, like Big Briar (current home of Bob Moog), start commanding real attention.

In other keyboard, synth, and drum machine booths, look for: the fabulous Emulator II (with seventeen seconds of sampling)... E-Drums (drum pads with dynamic sensitivity that play digital sound samples)... Drumulator control software for the Apple, all from E-Mu Systems. There are new drum sounds for the Sequential Circuits DrumTraks and Commodore 64 MIDI software for the SixTraks that will let you split the keyboard, record sequences multi-timbrally, increase sequencer storage size to 4000 notes, and create and store 100 groups of programs through manipulation of the "knobs" on a Commodore VDU readout... a Memorymoog update and slightly improved Commodore 64 "Producer" software from Moog, who appear to be losing creative steam... a new drum computer from MXR, with twice the RAM, longer sounds, tuneable toms, adjustable decays on the hi-hats, and a MIDI interface, and of course the Kurzweil 250 digital synthesiser, which will sound fantastic and may or may not be shipping yet (depending on who you ask). And which may or may not be worth the bucks (depending on who you ask).

Good stuff will also be found in the recording world. SMPTE code generators will be coming down in price, and Synchronous Technologies will be showing the actual production model of its SMPL system (a combined SMPTE code generator and computer auto-record control for small studios and home recordists, based on a modified VIC-20).

Fostex will be showing a nifty battery-or-AC-powered combined compressor/5-channel mixer designed to go with its X-15 cassette multi-tracker. And if you hunger to get into video, fear not: it will be a growing presence at this NAMM and at NAMMs to come. The Panasonic Industrial Video division is offering a complete mini-studio including two gen-locked cameras, two recorders, and all necessary basic mixing, editing, and monitoring facilities for less than $15,000, and the price ought to drop with increasing competition.

In the more conventional end of things, look for lots of new guitars, amps, basses, drums, and lord knows what else. Electric upright basses made a strong showing at the last NAMM — expect at least two more. Steinberger-style basses will also be multiplying in vast numbers. And Gibson (in the best guitar news I've heard in ages) is offering a new line of acoustics, the "newest" feature of which is that they've gone back to making them the way they used to, with archtops and x-bracings identical to the classic Gibsons of several decades ago.

No article this short could do justice to NAMM. There are too many treasures to be found. But one piece of advice, before we part... in the midst of all the electronic magic and cybernetic brouhahha, as amazing as it is, don't miss out on the small goodies. There's always somebody with a better mousetrap. At the Winter Market NAMM it was the Jakstak company, who were showing a piece of plastic that plugged into the second (usually unused) IN jack of a guitar amp and served beautifully as a guitar stand. Cheap, elegant, effective, and useful.

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In Working Order

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TED Digisound Digital Processor

One Two Testing - Copyright: IPC Magazines Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.


One Two Testing - Jul 1984

Donated & scanned by: Simon Dell

Show Report by Freff

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