Poly MIDI Means It
POLY MIDI 1
A budget sequencer
There's nothing like a bit of competition to stimulate the old music glands, and the Poly-MIDI 1 is about to break the monopoly held by Roland's MSQ700 on the field of affordable polyphonic MIDI sequencer/recorders.
Let's start with some conclusions. The PM1 doesn't quite have the polish of the MSQ, and does lack some of the fine details of programming. But it has a couple of very useful facilities denied to the MSQ and is slightly cheaper, so it's a close-run battle. Yamaha DX7 owners will be particularly interested... so read on.
The PM1, which has been somewhat restyled since its initial launch, hails from France and is being imported by OSC, the manufacturers of the OSCar synth, and by Rod Argent's Keyboards for London. It comes in a smallish metal case and has three main controls and one switch, together with a set of black and white buttons laid out as a one-and-a half octave keyboard.
The keyboard layout is hardly relevant most of the time though. In Real Time Mode you just go into Load and play information in from a MIDI synth, stopping recording with the Stop/Continue button or a footswitch. In SS Mode you still play in real time, but locked up to a drum machine through the rear-panel Clock socket to make it easier to loop sequences.
You can clock the PM1 from MIDI, but it's not easy under the MIDI spec to transmit a clock signal from a drum machine at the same time as transmitting note information from a synth, so you're reliant on a simpler click (for instance the Clock output of the SCI Drumtraks used for the demo on tape) for recording. Switching to MIDI clock on the PM1 for playback gives you the benefit of the Drumtrak's programmable tempo facility in Song Mode.
The PM1 also allows you to record in Step Time, and there are seven possible note values in this mode. The handbook, which is fairly witty in the Oberheim tradition and not overcomplicated, misses out here though; it asks you to press a note and the (<) key at the same time for Step programming, whereas in fact you need to hold the note down first and then press (<) — or the sequencer, he say "non comprendo senor".
You can record five sequences which can each contain completely different information on different MIDI channels, although due to the control layout the PM1 can only address MIDI channels 1 to 5. On the MSQ 700 you have to send information in on the same channel as you want it to replay on, which can be a pain if you're using a DX7 which only transmits on Channel 1. On the PM1 you have to assign the MIDI channel to a sequence after recording, which can also be awkward but could have advantages. One Disadvantage is that the Clock Speed Select routine is closely linked to the MIDI channel assignment routine, so you often find yourself changing the clock speed accidentally when assigning MIDI channels (only if you're incompetent like me I suppose).
From your five sequences you can compose two Chains; each Block of a chain can include any sequences playing any number of times with any transposition independent of all the others. For example, if you have three sequences of different lengths, Block 1 could consist of (Seq.1 x2) + (Seq.2 x4) + (Seq.3 x8 transposed from C to G). Transposition is done on the synth keyboard when you're entering chains, a process which is on the whole absurdly easy to do (listen to the demo on tape) and chains can be long enough to give you a very substantial composition. The PM1's total note capacity is 6,500 divided between the five sequences.
The PM1 dumps to tape and can be synchronised to standard clock, to MIDI and to a self-generated tape click. It also has one or two other useful features, the first of which is a one-key Chord Memory which unfortunately can't be combined with sequences but which is very useful for live playing. Ever heard a twelve-note chord played on a particularly scrunchy DX7 noise from one finger?
On the subject of the DX7, the PM1 also converts MIDI patch information to a tape signal, so you can dump DX7 sounds to tape, and also those of the Sequential Six-Trax and many other MIDI machines not fitted with tape dump. Tape dump may be slow, but it's cheaper than those RAM cartridges if you want to build up a huge library of sounds...
Rounding off, you'll be glad to hear (in print as well as on the demo) that the PM1 fully records Pitch Bend, Modulation, Patch Changes, After Touch and Velocity, the last of these being selectable due to the amount of memory it can eat up.
Now, the Poly-MIDI 1 looks a bit Heath Robinson-ish at first, like an old-fashioned crystal wireless kit perhaps. But don't let that put you off; it seems highly reliable, it's got some good ideas and it's only the price of a boxful of DX7 ROM's. If you need any further convincing the demo on tape was the result of only a couple of hours' learning and composition work, and apart from the OSCar lead line and a couple of effects, was played live to stereo tape from the Poly-MIDI 1. And that piece only represents a fraction of its capabilities...
Distributors: Oxford Synthesizer Company, (Contact Details).
London Dealers; Rod Argent's Keyboards, (Contact Details).
Review by Mark Jenkins writing as Tony Mills
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