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PC Notes

I've had a busy month, what with the MIDI & Electronic Show, various deadlines to hit, and a steady flow of hardware and software to check out. Hi ho, onward and upward!


This year's MIDI show was at Wembley and seemed to be busier than last year. There were a lot of PCs on the stands — in fact, there seemed to be more PCs on display than any other personal computer — although this is probably due to the amount of new product available rather than anything else. SDT were showing off their new Soundscape hard disk recorder and there was at least one Digidesign Session 8 on display, although I didn't personally see it working.

In general, there were a number of smaller companies handling software and providing services for the PC.


Soft Zone were previewing the new multimedia version of their entry-level sequencer SeqWin, which will be available towards the end of this month. The new version builds on the current user interface but allows you to handle Windows multimedia events within the MIDI sequence. This means that you can synchronise Windows Video clips (ie. AVI files), sound samples and even audio tracks from music CDs with your sequences. The new version will also have improved synchronisation facilities, which means that you should be able to use SeqWin as a multimedia authoring package.

Also on show was the Pianist package from PG Music, the Band In A Box people. This program should arouse interest amongst classical music fans, since it consists of over 200 classical piano pieces recorded in real time by professional concert pianists. This means that the performances have been essentially 'recorded' as MIDI sequence files, but unlike an audio recording you can change the tempo, transpose the key, and generally have fun playing around with the arrangement. Since the music is stored in standard MIDI files, you can also import the data into your favourite sequencer or use it as part of a multimedia presentation. The Pianist program displays the piece being played on an animated piano keyboard as well as showing you information about the music and its composer. There is even a built-in musical trivia game. The software costs a mere £29 and is available from Zone Distribution on (Contact Details).

"...the Pianist consists of over 200 classical piano pieces recorded in real time by professional concert pianists as MIDI sequence files..."


Users of this high-end music DTP program will be pleased to hear that there is now a European company supporting this powerful, but complex, software package. New Notations have been around for a number of years providing a bureau service to composers and music publishers who use Score. They now also sell and support this product from their Wandsworth headquarters, to the point of producing software utilities that enhance the capabilities of the Score system.

The company has two products that allow you to convert a Score file to — and from — standard MIDI file format: MIDISCORE (£175) takes a Score file and turns it into a MIDI file, complete with dynamics, articulation and expression; while MIDISCOREWRITE (£195) performs the conversion in the opposite direction, allowing you to import music from many other programs. New Notations produce a newsletter that they distribute free; if you are at all interested, then you can contact them on (Contact Details).


There is a new version of Power Chords, the innovative sequencer from the Canadian company Howling Dog Systems. The main feature of the software is that its user interface is modelled on a guitar rather than a piano keyboard (see December 92 PC Notes). The new version adds features such as improved cut and paste, better chord support, MIDI thru and Gravis Ultrasound sound card support.

The upgrade costs just $15 and can be obtained from Howling Dog Systems, (Contact Details) or by faxing your Visa details to (Contact Details). Howling Dog can also be contacted via electronic mail on CompuServe using (Contact Details) or (Contact Details) using InterNet.


A reader in Israel has written to say that he couldn't get through to me on the electronic mail address published here a few months ago. If you're having difficulty I can also be contacted using PAN, in which case the InterNet address becomes

Whilst on the subject of electronic mail, users who have access to InterNet can now access a free MIDI support service available from PAN. The service gives you 'hot lines' to a large number of software/hardware vendors and a large number of magazines (including SOS). You access the service by telneting on to and then typing 'MIDISUPPORT' at the 'Username' prompt. Once logged on you can type '?' at anytime to see a menu and 'bye' will log you off.


Harman Audio were showing a preview of Cubase Score for Windows at the Northern Music Show in Manchester recently. Apart from giving PC Cubase users all the facilities that Atari and Mac owners have had for some time, it is the first Windows music package that I've seen that has a dongle. A 'dongle' is a hardware copy protection device that needs to be attached to the PC — in this case via the printer port — for the software to run. The use of dongles has a chequered history on the PC, users generally giving them the 'thumbs down', so it will be interesting to see if Steinberg can buck the trend.


Since mentioning this product in last month's column I've had a chance to play around with a pre-production prototype of the system. I only had it for a couple of days and there were only about nine 'track minutes' of free hard disk space to play around with, but it was a bit of an eye-opener nonetheless.

The basic Soundscape system unit comes in a 2U rack module that handles 4 tracks of digital audio data. The units connect to an 8-bit expansion card in the PC via a 40-way ribbon cable, each card being able to handle two modules (or eight physical tracks). Each unit has 2 inputs, 4 outputs implemented in both analogue and S/PDIF formats (with AES/EBU digital as an option). The units have MIDI In/Out/Thru connectors and the input MIDI stream is echoed to the MIDI Out and merged with any internally generated synchronisation data, which can be either MTC or MIDI Song Position Pointer (SPP). All the audio connectors are phonos and the analogue input sensitivity can be switched between -10dBv and +4dBv.

The system supports 44.1kHz and 48kHz as default sampling rates, but you can define any value you like. The recording format is 16-bit linear encoding, the ADCs are 16-bit sigma-delta (64x oversampled), the DACs are 18-bit sigma-delta (64x oversampled) and the internal signal processing is performed at 24-bit resolution. The signal-to-noise ratios are quoted at >90dB (unweighted) for the inputs and >100dB (unweighted) for the outputs.

The system uses standard IDE (also known as AT bus) hard disk drives that need to have an access time faster than 18 milliseconds. A 130 megabyte drive will give a recording time of just over 25 track minutes at a sampling rate of 44.1kHz. Each unit can take two IDE drives, which appear as one drive to the software. You need Windows 3.1 to run the control software, which offers extensive editing facilities and up to 64 'virtual tracks'. The data can be backed up to DAT via the digital I/O for archiving. A single unit (4 tracks) costs £2,500 (inc VAT) whilst an 8-track system costs £4,750 (inc VAT).

The main thing that impressed me about the Soundscape system was not the technical specification — which is impressive enough — but the way it changed how I worked. It allowed me to integrate the operation of my sequencing and recording activities, dealing with the digital audio in terms of bars, beats and ticks, and applying purely musical operations such as quantisation and transposition. With Soundscape, I could ignore the difference between my computer-based sequence data and the audio material on the hard disk, using the 'snap' and 'cut' functions to quickly manipulate the audio, in the same way that I use Cubase to manipulate the sequencer tracks. This certainly has to be the wave of the future. Keep your eyes peeled for a full-blown review in a future issue. If you can't wait, the Cardiff-based distributors Soundscape Digital Technology can be contacted on (Contact Details).


Yamaha have just released a DOS-based System Exclusive librarian for their QY20 personal sequencing system. The program allows you to use your PC to manage the internal memory of your QY20, storing songs and patterns on your hard disk. The program supports the TGI00, MPU-401, Sound Blaster MIDI port and the KEY Electronics MIDIator-101 MIDI interfaces.

Yamaha also have a new Windows driver (v1.3) for their TG100 GM sound module. You can check your current version using the 'drivers' icon in the Windows Control Panel. Both pieces of software are available free of charge from Peter Peck at Yamaha UK. Call (Contact Details).


Brian Heywood has a Masters from the Music Department of City University, London and uses PCs professionally in audio production, as well as providing consultancy in the musical applications of the PC. He is coauthor of the PC Music Handbook (available from the SOS Bookshop) and is a technical consultant to the UK MIDI Association. Brian can be contacted via email on CIX as (Contact Details) or on PAN as BRIANHEYWOOD.

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Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.


Sound On Sound - Jun 1993



Feature by Brian Heywood

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