By Owen Philp...
A short history of MIDI is always useful, so lets travel back to the early 80's. In the earlier days of Electronic music, every manufacturer had their own interface standards. Unfortunately every company used a different standard, which meant that it was difficult and cumbersome to join a system by one company with another.
Around 1981 the Musical Instrument manufacturers did something that computer makers should take note off, they formed a committee and came up with 'M.I.D.I.' . MIDI stands for 'Musical Instrument Digital Interface' . This ensured that any device fitted with MIDI ports could communicate with any other instrument that was equipped with MIDI. This communication takes no regard of the Hardware or operating system employed by manufacturers, which allows companies to specialise in certain areas without worrying about compatibility, Unlike DOS based computers.
Luckily for us Atarians, The first ST was blessed with MIDI ports thus ensuring that the Atari would go down in history as the first real power station for musicians of all standing. This fact will also ensure that the Atari will still be used professionally for several years longer - which can only be good news ! But I'm racing ahead of myself - We'll cover the high end applications of MIDI in a future article.
In 1991 a new standard was introduced to MIDI. This became known as GM - or General MIDI. There was a good reason for this. If I sent a MIDI file of my work to a friend and he played it on his system the resulting sound would be chaotic. Why? Well program No:1 on my system could be a piano where as on his system it would be drums, and the screeching guitar solo would be performed by a nose flute - not what I had originally intended and not very harmonious.
So GM set down several standards which a unit had to have before it could have the GM badge displayed on its case. One of the most important rules was that program No: xx would call up the same sound on any GM module. So if I set channel 1 to program No:1 it would play a Grand Piano, irrespective of the Tone modules manufacturer. This was a real breakthrough. At the end of the article I've listed the groups of instruments. If you want a full list it's your next time.
The rest of the standards are as follows, these are the minimum as some units have far greater specifications available : A GM module or keyboard must be able to play 24 notes at once, this is called polyphony. It should also respond to the following MIDI controllers. Modulation Wheel (1), Data Entry (6 & 38), Volume (7), Pan (10), Expression (11), Sustain Pedal (64), Master Tuning (100 & 101), Reset all Controllers (121), and finally All Notes Off (123). The numbers in brackets are the Controller Numbers. A GM module should also respond to data on all 16 MIDI channels at once.
Before we continue I'd better explain the difference between a GM Keyboard and a Keyboard controller. A GM Keyboard is a complete sound source, so if I press a key a sound will be produced - where as a Keyboard controller only produces MIDI data that tells a module to play this note, it doesn't contain any sound generators itself. One other point, a MIDI controller does not have to be a Keyboard, it could be a guitar, a wind controller (Like a clarinet), even the human voice. These controllers are specialist and tend to reflect this in their prices. A small side note, The French composer Jean Michel Jarre had a 'Laser Harp' constructed, this instrument is based on a fan made of laser beams, and when Jarre - in asbestos gloves - interrupts a beam, a MIDI message is sent and plays a sound. This will cost you slightly more than the average family semi, and limit your gig locations.
So where do you buy your GM Module or Keyboard and what sort of price are you looking for. The second hand market is awash with many cheaper units from around £70 to £300. Names to look for are the Yamaha TG100 or SC7, Roland SC55. These are all readily available for a reasonable outlay. You'll also need a keyboard to control your module with. Again there are several reasonable buys around, look for models by Fatar, Roland, Novation and Cheetah. Check out the Keyboard music mags - they'll have pages of readers ads, with bargains galore. If you're not sure - ASK ! The average musician loves to show off and talk about his equipment's abilities (I know I do !) - So go and make his day, Ask.
You've now got your Tone module and MIDI controller or GM Keyboard, and you just know you will have to set them up with your Atari - heavens, I hope it's easy. Well lucky old us, it couldn't be simpler. All you need are 2 MIDI cables. Ensure you buy MIDI cables not 5 pin DIN cables as the later can cause problems.
If you have a GM Keyboard skip this paragraph and jump to the next one, otherwise here we go - You connect the MIDI Out on the Atari to the MIDI In on you Module, then you connect the MIDI In on the Atari to the MIDI Out on your MIDI controller which is most probably going to be a keyboard. You are now ready to Rock and Roll - Nearly . You can now jump ahead to choosing a sequencer.
Hello again GM Keyboard owner, hope you didn't find that too much of a jump - You connect the MIDI Out on the Atari with the MIDI in on your keyboard, then connect the MIDI In on your Atari with the MIDI Out on your Keyboard. You too, are ready to Rock and Roll - apart from your software.
You now have your hardware configured, so it's time to choose a sequencer. I could go on forever about sequencers but I'll try and keep it short and sweet !! I'll break it up into Medium resolution and High rez, that should cover all eventualities. I'll do a small review of each package and tell you the minimum memory requirements.
There are many excellent set-ups, such as Cubase and Notator Logic. But I've decided to cover public domain and shareware offerings, with the occasional Cover Disc freebie thrown in. Two of the best packages in the public domain which are worth looking at are the following.
The first is the Cosh sequencer, it is a basic 16 track sequencer with a basic Quantize function - an excellent beginners package, and comes ready supplied with some excellent songs. Runs in colour and Mono resolutions (and on the Falcon) and the Minimum memory required is 512K.
Next up we have Alchimie , a Swiss sequencer that is pattern based, has a substantial No: of tracks and is an excellent way to upgrade your sequencing power - A fine piece of code. Requires 1Mb and a Mono monitor, it will also run with a Mono Emulator if needed. Alchimie is 'shareware' but the author is in hiding, so I'm unable to give an address for a very professional piece of software - support the authors and new software will continue to be released.
Next are the commercial boys ! And I have to say all three of the programs featured here are good MIDI engines for running a small to professional studio. I've used all three and two of them are still my work horses - I'll explain in a minute.
1st comer is Concerto, a well written pattern based sequencer that works well in Mono and Colour - So no problems there. A basic score page is included, as well as a Drum Editor and a List editor. I would personally say these were essential for any real MIDI activity. They cover Step Entry, writing using the mouse and straight forward recording with equal ease. 1Mb is recommended. It has appeared on the now deceased ST Format cover disc).
Next of the big boys! is Cubase. Version 3 is the one to go for - a stable and reliable piece of kit. It has every type of editor required and a huge following, so there will always be someone who can answer any query. A very intuitive program that only needs reference to the manual for the more powerful functions.
Last, but no means least comes Notator Logic. An extremely busy program with some very strong points. The most useful of which is software patching of your MIDI leads, suddenly your set-up becomes a controllable animal, instead of a nest of cables.
I use both Notator and Cubase for my sequencing needs, Cubase comes into its own for straightforward MIDI recording and editing in a very easy to use shell. Notator on the other hand is more complex, but what you can't do with this package you probably will never have the need to do. It covers every angle of MIDI music, but is likely to bewilder a first comer, whereas Cubase is a more accessible package from the start. If you have access to 42BBS, connect and download the running Demo of Cubase ( Needs 1meg and a Mono monitor) [CUBDEMO.LZH - Ed].
There are many other sequencers, but space won't allow them but the merest mention - This is not by way of rubbishing them, I'm just not familiar enough with them to criticise or praise. Some of the many are 'Breakthru' and 'KCS 1 & 2', 'Sweet Sixteen' and 'EZ Track'.
In the next article I'll explain how to set up your sequencer so it's perfect for your set-up. Have fun and make lots of noise, music's for sharing - not locking up in the computer room/bedroom. Some one, Some where is waiting for that melody that sums up Life, and you just might be the composer.
I'll gladly try to answer any queries that you have, just ensure you tell me what equipment and program your using. Well, I'm off now, I feel a song coming - and it's only 2.43.A.M. ! The neighbours love me, they really do !!!
Oh Yes, a summary of the GM voice map. It's yours, take it.