News on the forthcoming invasion of MSX home computers, the International MIDI Association, the Decillionix system and the Kurzweil digital keyboard.
May 17 saw a massive shindig in a London hotel to launch the MSX range of home micros. 'Launch' is quite an apt description, as there was enough champers doing the rounds of journalists' gullets to launch a fleet of battleships. If the truth be known, all that alcohol was really for an honest medicinal purpose, as being faced with a round-up of so many micros doing virtually the same thing was a bit like being hit with an oriental sledgehammer.
Which brings us to Sony's 'Hit Bit'. If that isn't the silliest name for a micro, I don't know what is. Methinks some Sony employee was availing himself of a colloquial English dictionary and got his knickers in a proverbial twist...
Curiously, the one micro of any interest to the more musical amongst us was missing from the MSX gathering. Wherever you looked, there were hordes of Canon, Hitachi, JVC, Mitsubishi, Sanyo, Sony, Teleton, and Toshiba, but not a sight of Yamaha. Could it be that Yamaha's inventiveness on the sound front has ostracised them from their MSX brethren? On the other hand, it could also be that Yamaha's pricing policy for the CX5 - more than £500 inclusive of minikeyboard and FM add-on - was going rather against the grain of the 'sub-£200' price tag that was being quoted by most of the other manufacturers.
The problem, of course, is that faced with such a muddle of MSX machines ('a gaggle of geese', 'a muddle of MSX' - you know, that sort of thing), my heart rather goes out to the High Street punter who'll be obliged to choose between micros with standardised specifications. In the end, I suppose cosmetic details will be a deciding factor, and from what I've seen so far, I'd say that Sony's 'Hit Bit' is a pretty strong contender in that respect, silly name or not.
The International MIDI Association, a 'clearing-house organisation for users of instruments equipped with MIDI', held the first of what's likely to be an annual jamboree from May 25-26 at the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco. This MIDISOFT conference was aimed at getting together people involved with MIDI software development, publishing, and vending. The aim is to establish a MIDI Software Group and discuss the current state of MIDI software development.
We hope to have a further report on this in a future issue, but in the meantime, the IMA also produce a very useful monthly bulletin containing the latest MIDI news and views from around the world. To receive this and join the IMA at the same time costs $15 if you're in the US or Canada, or $20 elsewhere. For more info, contact Kathy Wright or Roger Clay at (Contact Details).
No, not the Yamaha DX1, but the Decillionix DX1 sound sampling system for the Apple. I bet Yamaha love Decillionix for that bit of confusion! Dan Retzinger of the aforesaid company has told us that that they've just released a new version of the software reviewed in CM in December '83, which apparently takes our criticisms to heart and updates the system accordingly.
The major changes are that an external sync facility is now provided (via the game port), and playback pitching can be varied in real time by attaching either an alphaSyntauri or Passport keyboard and playing away to your heart's content.
Other improvements include using the extra sound storage of a 16K RAM card, an easier-to-use autosequencer, a sequence record facility, variable scale tuning, and easier loading and saving of sounds. Unfortunately, the price of the DX1 has gone up somewhat (to $295), which makes it a mite uncompetitive against the £300 or so of Mainframe's much-exposed, but four-voice, sound-sampling system. For more information about the new incarnation of the DX1, contact Computer Music Studios, (Contact Details), or Decillionix, (Contact Details).
Precisely when and where the Kurzweil 250 digital keyboard will materialise must be one of the great unanswered questions of the century. According to Don Byrd, a company spokesman, about 30 ROM-based sounds will be available in the first-release model, including 23 orchestral instruments and grand piano. The real interest in the system centres around their proprietary technique of 'contoured sound modelling', whereby sounds are digitised, analysed, and coded, taking into account timbre changes that are both pitch- and amplitude-dependent.
It's intended that the instrument will have an 88-note keyboard, with a proper Pratt & Reed action. And aside from actually feeling like a real piano keyboard, there's every likelihood that the 250 will also sound convincing as far as pianistic emulation goes. Not only is the spectral content of the sound modified over the pitch range, but different degrees of dynamics alter the brightness of the sound - an effect achieved by having something like half-a-dozen amplitude-dependent timbres for each note.
Of course, if the 250's synthetic abilities were all ROM-based, there'd be groans galore, so what eventually rolls off the production line will also have provision for sampling (up to five seconds in length). The multitracking facilities also look pretty exciting, with 12 tracks holding up to 15,000 events plus the option of having your own favourite micro do the dirty work. Other sensible features include MIDI and an eight-bit parallel interface.
Which brings us to the question of when it'll appear and what it'll cost.
Well, 'under $10,000' is what's still being quoted by those supposedly in the know, and the 1984 NAMM Bummer Market in Chicago should have given some proof to all this pudding, while in the UK, we've learnt that Rupert Hine, Peter Gabriel, and Sting are high on the list for 250s. If it's any comfort for those impatient of developments on the Kurzweil production front, we're informed that Kurzweil Music Systems have just moved to new headquarters ('in anticipation of expansion throughout 1984') at (Contact Details), and that Syco Systems will eventually be marketing the keyboard in the UK.
News by David Ellis
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