Paris Music Fair
Our roving reporter Mark Jenkins takes a look off the beaten track at some of the more interesting French equipment shown at last month's Paris Music Fair.
The Salon de Musique de Paris, to give it the full title, has been running for thirteen years now, but seems to gain very little attention from the UK side of the music industry. This could be because the show isn't traditionally used by the major manufacturers as a launching point for new gear, or perhaps because it's very much a retailer's show, with many stands taken by stores or chains dealing with perhaps twenty different product lines.
But France is a treasure house of instruments still obscure to UK musicians, with names such as RSF, Polyfusion, Micro Performance, Vigier and many others attesting to the imagination of the French instrument designer. Of course, equipment from Yamaha, Roland, Simmons, Korg and all the familiar companies is consumed in great quantities - but let's take a look at the less familiar releases for a change.
This year's show was being held at Paris' giant La Villette complex for the second time.
It's an interesting venue, with the main Grande Halle distinguished by its overhead mezzanine level and walkways used both for exhibitors and for bypassing the bustle of the ground floor.
One of the largest ground floor exhibits was that of Musicland, the most respected Paris music shop and the one patronised by Jean-Michel Jarre; Musicland set up a distribution wing (MLD) a while back and now have franchises for Kurzweil, Simmons, E-Mu and many other hi-tech lines. New to Europe was the Kurzweil Ensemble Grand, which was previewed at Chicago's NAMM show but missing from the British Music Fair. It's basically a sampled piano with upright styling and added organ, synth, string and other sounds. To the right of the control panel is a programmable drum section with a selection of preset patterns and auto-fills available, and there's a huge real-time memory with dynamic assignment of voices and sounds based on the Kurzweil 250's sequencer.
While the Ensemble Grand could substitute for the conventional bar-room jazz trio, the Photon guitar could provide a little competition for the Shadow and Roland models. It uses infra-red pickups (honest!) for very fast reaction to string movement, and will be around £1500 if marketed in the UK. However, detractors claim that it's impressive at first hearing but far from perfect for the discerning player - perhaps the Stepp DG-1 (shown only in private to a few select French musicians) is the answer.
One of the highlights of the Paris Music Fair was the introduction of the MC5, a multitrack MIDI sequencer similar to the Roland MSQ700. The difference is that every note you programme can be printed out simply by connecting an Epson-compatible printer - and at a speed five or ten times faster than Commodore 64-based composition packages such as the Jellinghaus transcription software.
Music can be programmed in real-time using MIDI synths (Oberheims were used for the demo) or in step-time in single notes or chords using black and white buttons laid out as a miniature keyboard on the top panel. Print quality is very high, and although manufacturers Digigram didn't have any specifications on paper, the MC5 would seem to be equally useful to MIDI-oriented musicians and to those such as arrangers and users of session musicians who really need a 'hard copy' of their piece. Could be useful for copyright purposes in some cases too - and certainly cheaper than paying a music copyist.
RSF, who marketed the excellent Kobol and PolyKobol range of synths which are virtually unknown in the UK (Hans Zimmer uses a few of their analogue expander modules) launched a new sampling drum machine, the SD140 (Rod Argent's Keyboards stock their smaller DD14 and DD30 models here in the UK). The SD140 holds up to 14 user samples plus 14 built-in sampled sounds, and has 10 outputs, MIDI, velocity response and Yamaha-like styling using touch membrane switches. It was demonstrated using a whole band-full of sounds including basses, orchestra crashes and so on. UK price - about £900 if imported.
Orla were showing a new MIDI mother keyboard plus a MIDI sound module, while UK-based Syncom MIDI Research previewed the MIDI Merge 4, a four-input MIDI combiner with information filtering abilities which would allow you to record a whole MIDI band playing live onto one sequencer or computer. JL Cooper MIDI accessories were on show via Music System Distribution - they're usually thought of as being too expensive to import into the UK, but programmable MIDI matrices, MIDI lighting controllers and disk recorders for tape-based sequencers and drum machines are all pretty attractive propositions.
A large piano section included one instrument fitted with a Forte MIDI Mod to drive a Yamaha TX7 (it's sold by London's Syco Systems over here) and MIDI accordions (eleven different models including Hohner) were also out in force. Most of the new computer software was in French (an enterprising Mick Jones of Joreth Music was there to show the French version of his Casio CZEditor for the C64) and MSX and Thomson computers were demonstrably more popular than in the UK.
Solton keyboards have been seen at Frankfurt for a couple of years but nobody seems to find them an economic proposition for the UK. But their Project 100 is a very pleasant Juno 106-like polysynth, their MDR16 introduced budget disk-based sequencing a year before the Roland MC500 came on the scene, and their Programmer 24 continues to be a unique PCM/MIDI programmable accompaniment section which can make one player sound like a whole MIDI band.
Micro Performance seem to be giving their Poly MIDI-1 Sequencer a rest, but were showing their Super Bat pads-to-MIDI interface on several stands. And the Yamaha DX7 has created a whole market for itself in France as elsewhere; apart from small 3-D DX7 badges (all fashion-conscious musos shouldn't be seen without one!) you can buy a 128 memory internal expansion board for the DX7 with MIDI output channel select for 950 francs (about £110) from Enter Diffusion.
Music System Distribution
Syncom MIDI Research
Show Report by Mark Jenkins
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