Christmas is coming, and Brian Heywood is rounding up some PC goodies you might like to find in your stocking...
Well, by the time you read this we'll be sliding down the slippery slope towards Christmas (or religious festival of your choice) with all its attendant enforced jollity, over-indulgence and typical British weather. In all an ideal time to lock yourself away in your music room and have a bit of fun making music!
Considering the time of year, you might be looking at getting some new goodies for your studio; well here are some suggestions....
The top of anyone's present list would have to be this new piece of software from Musitek in the US. MIDISCAN converts a scanned image of a piece of music into MIDI format, essentially an OCR (optical character recognition) system for musical scores. Musitek claim that their software will translate up to 98% of the score, ignoring non-note information such as lyrics, titles and guitar tablature. The program does recognise note pitches, durations (including rests), chords, ties, accidentals, bar lines, clefs, key and time signatures — it will even correct skewed images and handle poorly printed scores.
In use, the software displays the scanned image in a window at the top of the screen with the translated version below it, allowing you to correct any mistakes or mis-translations using MIDISCAN's palette of scoring symbols. You'll need to have a scanner that can read to a resolution of 300 dpi to make the best use of this software, but Musitek say that a hand scanner is quite adequate for the task. Although it was announced a while ago, MIDISCAN has only just hit the streets and is available in the UK from the nice people at Digital Music ((Contact Details)) for £335 inclusive of VAT.
This program will probably evoke unalloyed joy (or absolute horror) from anyone who works with scores a lot, but if the text based OCR experience is anything to go by, you'll probably find that you'll need to do a fair amount of work to get the score in a listenable state. And of course it cannot inject the most vital ingredient, the interpretation of a human being to turn the music into a performance.
What MIDISCAN should do is remove some of the tedium of note entry, allowing you to concentrate on the music aspects of the process, and probably teaching you a lot about the scoring process at the same time. For people with access to a modem, a demo is available on CompuServe (from the MIDI B Vendor Forum library) or from CIX (from the 'route66/progs' file list).
While we're on the subject of Digital Music, they're doing a number of special deals — no doubt to celebrate the winter solstice. First, to celebrate four years of distributing Music Quest, they're offering a number of price reductions on their PC MIDI interfaces, with prices down to £49 — if you already have a soundcard — or £69 if you're starting from scratch. Digital Music are also hopping onto the hard disk recording band wagon with their 'Dream' system. This bundles DALCardD hardware with SAW — Software Audio Workshop — software to give an MPC system with SPDIF digital I/O. At just under £3,500 for a complete system, which includes a 486 DX PC with 8 Megabytes of RAM and a 340 Megabyte removable hard disk, the Dream weighs in at just under half the cost of professional systems, or if you already have a PC, then you can upgrade for £1,725.
Another contender for the Christmas present list is Voice Server for Windows from Applied Voice Technologies (AVT) in Islington. This package allows you to control your Windows PC using voice commands, thus addressing the perennial problem of the one-person studio, with the operator performing and controlling the equipment during recording. This could be especially useful to musicians — such as guitarists or wind players — who are unlikely to have MIDI controllers for their main instruments.
The Voice Server consists of an expansion card, a microphone and an application which scans the menu structure of the currently active program and lets you define a 'vocabulary' of words for controlling it. Each word needs to be defined a number of times and I found that it was pretty reliable, as long as I managed to say the word (or phrase) naturally when I recorded the initial word definition. In use, the Voice Server does have a number of problems, the first being that it can't control any program feature that doesn't have a menu option, another being that you need to use a headset microphone to get the best results in noisy environments. Both these problems are being addressed by AVT, the former by a new application that can associate any Windows event with a voice command and the latter by a radio mic/headset system that also adds audio 'feedback' (no, not that sort) to the system.
The Voice Server is available direct from AVT for just over £290. If you want more details, contact Mark Redwood at AVT on (Contact Details).
A slightly more modest item to add to your list would be a set of MIDI files for the sequencer in your life. At the recent 'Live 93' show, I was knocked out by Heavenly Music's version of the Stevie Wonder song 'Sir Duke' off their Motown Collection. The thing that really impressed me was how they captured the feel of the piece; as Mr Wonder sings in the song; "you can tell right away at letter A, when the people start to move", and there was a lot of foot tapping going on amongst the listeners (well this is England isn't it, you can't expect dancing in the streets!). The MIDI files can be individually selected or there are a number of collections ranging from Techno grooves right through to the complete Tubular Bells and Holst's Planets Suite — there are even Christmas carols. To get your hands on a catalogue of their stuff call them on (Contact Details).
Whilst still on the Yuletide MIDI file theme, Yamaha are still giving away a selection of festive MIDI files as part of their Hello Music! promotion. Owners of Yamaha's new GM package get the disk along with a number of other useful programs when they send in the product registration card, but anyone sending in a blank 720K floppy disk will get a copy. Blank disks should be sent to Peter Peck, Yamaha Pro Music, (Contact Details).
And for the hard disk recordist who has everything, A. L Digital sell a useful utility which allows you to grab audio tracks off your CD-ROM and save them as MPC soundfiles (ie. .WAV format). This means that you can store sound effects, drum samples, even complete tracks into .WAV files and then import them into your digital audio editor. The SADiE, Session 8 and Soundscape systems all allow you to import .WAV files, so you could build up a library of offline sound bites, especially if you have some form of removable hard drive like a SyQuest. The software — called CDGrab — is a DOS application costing £58.75, and is available from A. L. Digital on (Contact Details). The company is also developing a Windows version of CDGrab and software for transferring samples between your PC and a number of Akai samplers via their SCSI interface (using SMIDI); both of these should be available early next year. I'll keep you informed of developments.
Well the next column won't be till 1994 now, so have a safe, joyful year end and I'll see you early next year with a veritable cornucopia of new musical activities that you can perform with your PC in the privacy of your own home.
Feature by Brian Heywood
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