Well, its been a busy month for me, but I managed to spare some time to have a look at a couple of computer shows to see what's happening in the world of mainstream computing.
The most remarkable thing about this show was how busy it was; people were queuing around the block to get in, and it was absolute bedlam inside. Westpoint Creative had a stand and were showing their new 16-bit sound card, the Sound Blaster Pro 16. The new sound card is of interest to the computer musician since it can be enhanced with the Wave Blaster module. This gives you CD-quality audio along with wavetable synthesis using the Emu Proteus chip-set, as used on the Turtle Beach MultiSound card. Unlike the Turtle Beach card, however, the wavetables have been re-voiced with a 'true' General MIDI sound set. I'm hoping to get my hands on one of these cards soon, so I'll keep you informed of developments. Westpoint Creative can be contacted on (Contact Details).
Apart from this, the most interesting products were the multimedia authoring packages which were springing out of the woodwork. I managed to pick up a number of demo versions, so expect to hear some more about these in the coming months. Mind you, you don't have to stick to Windows to get into multimedia, it seems. The new Presentations package from Word Perfect seems to incorporate at least some of the elements required for this task; simple animations plus sound, MIDI and graphic tools. They also have a presentation 'player' so that you can distribute your multimedia extravaganza to anyone who has a PC with a VGA monitor and a sound card. And it all runs under DOS — not a window in sight! Word Perfect can be contacted on (Contact Details).
This used to be called the 16-Bit Computer Show, and seems to be mainly aimed at the games market. However, there was a fairly strong music contingent with Zone Distribution, City Music and MCM showing their products, and Roland and Yamaha pushing their sound modules. There were even some bargains to be had from Brixton Exchange Mart. Zone were showing off their entry level music package, SeqWin, which I have been involved with for a while (I wrote most of the original manual). The interesting thing about SeqWin is that it intelligently manages the MIDI aspect of your music set-up, allowing you to concentrate on creating the music. Zone are now developing version 2 of the software, which will handle Windows multimedia data alongside the music, turning SeqWin into a low cost multimedia authoring system. There will even be a stand-alone player that will let you run your multimedia sequences on any Windows PC.
Yamaha were pre-viewing their new Hello! Music! (sic) sound module. This unit is essentially a re-packaged TG100 in a beige box and without most of the front panel controls. Like the TG100, the module can be connected to the serial port of the PC and — unlike the Roland SC7 — has both MIDI In and Out ports. You can even use the Hello! Music! module as a MIDI interface if you want, thus adding a full MIDI capability to a laptop PC. There will be some software given away with the package, which will include an entry level Windows sequencer, a patch editor/librarian and a MIDI file 'juke box'. The whole lot will cost less than £150, and should be available later this year. Although this package is not primarily aimed at the musician, it is another example of how the consumerisation of music products can bring down prices for everyone.
Staying with Yamaha for the moment, they have released a Windows-based patch editor/librarian for the TG100 GM sound module. Again I must declare an interest, since I wrote the software, so brick bats and rude noises should be aimed in my direction. The software is free — since Yamaha have released it into the public domain — and allows the TG100 owner to edit all the voice parameters as well as maintain a library of voice banks. If you want a copy contact Jim Corbett or Peter Peck at Yamaha in Milton Keynes ((Contact Details)), or you can download it from the CIX route66/progs conference ((Contact Details)).
Digital Music have announced two new products of interest to Windows users. The first is WinCanvas, an editor/librarian for all Roland Sound Canvas derived GS sound modules. The software is Windows 3.1 compatible and allows you to play a MIDI file while you are editing the voice parameters, so you can hear the effects of any changes you make within the context of a piece of music. As well as saving the patches in its own file format, WinCanvas can save the information as a MIDIEX file, which is a public domain format for storing System Exclusive MIDI data. WinCanvas is available in two versions; a £7.95 shareware version which has the save functions disabled, and the £39.95 full version.
The second product is an entry-level sequencer called PowerTracks from PG Music, who are perhaps best known for their Band-in-a-Box, auto-accompaniment software. The program supports 48 tracks and is designed to be used in conjunction with Roland GS sound modules as it has a full Sound Canvas editor built in to the sequencer. The software can also read and write MIDIEX System Exclusive files so you can incorporate these into your sequence. You actually get both a Windows and a DOS version of the software, so it can be used by all PC owners. The DOS version supports the Roland MPU interface standard, all the Music Quest cards, the Sound Blaster, and Key Midiator as well as the Yamaha TG100 and the Roland SC7 sound modules (connected to the PC's serial port). PowerTracks looks like quite a bargain at £49.95. Digital Music can be contacted on (Contact Details).
Arbiter have announced the release of the Windows version of Musicator GS, a notation-based sequencing package. Like PowerTracks, it has built-in support for Roland GS sound modules, giving you control over the reverb/chorus settings, envelope, filter, resonance and vibrato, as well as the overall effects setting. Unlike most sequencers that have notation pages, Musicator GS is designed to produce a 'publishable' score, allowing you to add standard musical symbols and text (for instance lyrics). Other features include 'piano roll' note editing, a drum editor page, part extraction and all the other features you'd expect to find in a professional sequencer costing just under £300. To find out where to get a copy of Musicator GS, contact Ash Kamat at Arbiter on (Contact Details).
Kim Boulton at Optech informs me that Advanced Gravis have sent him the latest software updates for their UltraSound sound card (reviewed last month). The new software includes improved patch files and updated Windows drivers. UltraSound owners who haven't received an update should contact Kim on (Contact Details).
See you at the MIDI Music show!
Feature by Brian Heywood
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