A review of 'Keyboards', a software package for the BBC Model B.
Musicsoft produce a number of different software packages for the BBC micro and Trevor Jones has been putting one of them — Keyboards — under the CM microscope.
If you fancy tinkling the ivories but can't quite afford a baby grand, Musicsoft have an alternative in the form of their Keyboards program for the BBC Model 'B' microcomputer. Keyboards is an apt name since the cassette contains not one but five separate programs, each of which works independently and can therefore be considered a separate entity.
The tape arrived in the usual standard cassette packaging, with the instructions and a brief explanation of the programs contained in a small sheet of printed notes. The programs are selected from a menu which is displayed on the monitor screen along with some more detailed user instructions.
The first program is a simple real-time three-voice organ in which keys Q to up cursor on the BBC's keyboard are used for one note each, giving a range of two octaves. This range can however be extended by the shift, shift lock, and caps lock keys. In general the keyboard worked satisfactorily although I was able to produce notes using keys other than those prescribed in the instructions.
Program two is essentially the same as the first, though it differs slightly in being partly written in machine-code. The program also incorporates a pitch-bend facility, activated by use of the inequality keys. This function worked really well, a wide range of bend being possible, though on the debit side, it could perhaps have been a little slower in its operation.
All the remaining keyboards are an extension of this machine-code organ. Third in the suite of five is a three-voice organ that substitutes an envelope definer for the pitch-bend. In some respects this program resembles a mini-synthesiser, since the Function keys F1 to F8 represent pre-programmed envelope settings. Intelligent use of these keys can produce various effects, among them delayed vibrato, percussive sounds, echo, and a sort of piano-xylophone hybrid. Different envelopes can be freely selected while you're playing, so you can change from one sound to another very quickly and easily.
In addition, if the pre-programmed sounds are not to your liking, envelope parameters can be altered by following the instructions on the screen. Changing to the new sound is accomplished simply by depressing the BBC's space bar. Some weird and wonderful effects can be obtained in this mode; with the lowest octave selected, it's possible to make the sounds issuing forth from the BBC's built-in speaker bear more than a passing resemblance to those of an outboard motor running on low-octane grade fuel...
The final two programs are two variations on the chord organ theme. These operate on the 'One Finger Chord' principle, so that instead of pressing three keys to form a triad, each key pressed sounds three notes simultaneously. The relationship between these notes, and therefore the type of chord produced, is decided by the eight Function keys. Major and minor triads, dominant sevenths, and augmented fifths are among the chords available. The second of the two chord organ variants allows various inversions of these shapes to be played. Both the programs performed as per specification, though again it proved quite possible in practice to sound chords using keys other than those officially prescribed in the instructions.
One feature common to all the programs is that their author has made every effort to make them as readable as possible, and has included within the menu an option to list the programs so that the user can gain some insight into how the different effects are obtained. In addition, the programs incorporate plenty of REM statements which could be a great help in understanding how the programs work. The author even goes as far as to encourage the user to incorporate any of the routines in his own program(s) if he so wishes, and this sort of thing can only improve the exchange of information and techniques.
The five programs offered on this cassette enable the purchaser to see (and, more important, to hear) exactly what the sound chip of the BBC 'B' is capable of doing. The programs on offer are not exactly revolutionary, but they can act as an aid in the learning process as well as providing entertainment in their own right. They are also relatively straightforward to use.
Quite a bit can be gleaned simply from studying the program listings, and this fact alone should make the cost of purchase worthwhile, though I do wish the author had found some method of disabling those keys not used by a particular program. It's also probably true to say that the graphics leave room for considerable improvement, but these points aside, I'd say the package is well worth a listen.
Review by Trevor Jones
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