Amiga MIDI Tools We Can All Use

Fred Ericksen investigates the Amiga Music/MIDI scene, and tells what's out there for all current or would-be Amiga musicians.

By Fred Ericksen, Music and MIDI Editor,

So you have an Amiga (or two), and are into music? MIDI is the professional environment to work in. If you have MIDI Instruments, Keyboards, Sound Modules, or Drum Machines, then hooking them into Ami is a great beginning. Here is a little roundup of some of the Pro Quality MIDI Sequencing packages that have been available to the Amiga platform. Most have been around for quite a few years and should be fairly easy to come by used, even if they have become discontinued for the Amiga. Many Amiga programs actually pre-date any version available on the other two computer platforms, and some even are as powerful as pee-cee type stuff that is available now as "State of the Art." Microsoft has recently purchased the rights to Blue Ribbon's Bars and Pipes and Super Jam. Bars & Pipes has yet to be ported to the clone, and IMHO, the Microsoft version of SuperJam is less than super compared to the Amiga version.

The following is a list of programs I have, or currently use, on my A2000 & A600. I have no accelerators or graphics cards on my machines, and most programs I use can run on 1.2 through 3.1 OS. Some are RAM intensive, and need more than the 1meg on most ECS machines. I'll provide special notes for each one, and recommended minimum setup.

Sequencing software:

These programs, like most Amiga sequencing programs, are no longer available commercially. Bars & Pipes Pro (Hereafter known as B&P), and SuperJam, however, are available on CompuServe for free downloading. If you don't have these programs, and have access to CompuServe, GET THEM! They are located in the Blue Ribbon area of MSHome (Go BlueRibbon).

This is THE premier Amiga MIDI sequencing package, and with SuperJam and all the available accessories Blue Ribbon had, you would have spent upwards of $500.00 for this package.

If B&P and SuperJam have any drawbacks, it is that they have the most powerful tools of any MIDI sequencing program on the Amiga I've seen. With so many options and tools, it can discourage many, yet it is very easy to use once you get to understand how tools interact with tracks. I currently use it with the Triple Play Plus interface Blue Ribbon made for the Amiga. It has one MIDI in and three separate MIDI outs, each addressable from the main program, so I have 3 outs X 16 MIDI channels each for a total of 48 MIDI channels! Add to this the One Stop Music Shop, Blue Ribbon's internal sound card based on the E-mu Protias chip with it's own MIDI interface, you have a whopping 64 MIDI channels! Also B&P integrates nicely with third party 16 bit sound digitizers like the Sunrize and the Toccata. It's a shame this setup will not go forward, but we can hope someone will carry the torch on for our platform and maybe take an innovative approach with Amiga MIDI software/hardware like Blue Ribbon did. You can bet I'll be talking more on this subject, and more on using Bars & Pipes and SuperJam in later articles, including using SMPTE to sync to tape machines.

Bars & Pipes could do well with a graphics card, as I've noticed that without it I can get some timing glitches during playback, unless I close the tracks window. It definitely needs 2 or more megs fast RAM, and I don't think I'd try to run it with only 1 meg chip.

Next up is Music-X, the sequencing program that started it all for the Amiga.

Music-X is a fine program, and as far as I know, the only professional MIDI sequencing package still commercially available on the Amiga. If you like to think in terms of tape tracks rather than drum machine style, measure and loop when sequencing, Music-X is the program for you. You can do the loop thing with Music-X, but it's great for straight recording and punch-in. It also currently comes with a notation program called Notator-X, although I haven't used Notator-X much yet (Again, more on this subject later).

I'm a long time Music-X user, as it was the second sequencing program I bought for my Amiga all those years ago. It is currently at version 2.0, and I've been informed by Hollyware, the company that owns the rights to it, that there will be no further updates to the program. They have also informed me they will be porting it over to the pee-cee machines, like so many other successful Amiga programs.

Music-X will run on ANY Amiga with at least 1 meg RAM, and I've used it for many a year on an A500 w/OS1.2 and 1 meg RAM. It's bullet proof!

That brings us to the first MIDI sequencing program I bought for my Amiga, Sound Quest Texture.

For those of us old enough to remember, and those who are not, here's a bit of music history:

Back in the late 70's and early 80's a New York record label named Bearsville had a number of hits from an up and coming artist, none other than Todd Rungren. Todd later formed a band named Utopia, and the keyboardist, Roger Powell, started the whole sequencing craze with a program he wrote called Texture. Todd, being an innovator, utilized a number of Amigas for audio/video productions, and MTV and Interactive CD-ROM was born. Texture was ported over to Amiga from Roger's original.

Texture is another fine program: although it is old, I still use it today. It will run on any Amiga, and even with only 512K. Don't let this fool you; it is a pro program, but minus the graphic note editor Music-X or Bars & Pipes have. It is still available from Sound Quest, so I have to take my earlier statement "Music-X....... the only pro MIDI package still available for the Amiga" back.

Passport has long since dropped the Amiga version of Master Tracks, But it is quite a good little program. I was using a demo of MTPro to add pitchbend to tracks via the mouse before I bought a secondhand copy. The most recent version is 3.7.

If you are thinking of sequencing with your Amiga, you may find some secondhand copies of any of these programs, sometimes including a MIDI interface for as little as $50.00. Master Tracks could be a good first choice. It will prime you for going to Music-X or Bars and Pipes Pro or MANY of the programs available on the Mac or Pee-Cee's. The transition is minimal. They all have the same basic tools and windows on them. Tracks, Transport, Piano Roll style graphic editing etc.....

I have only briefly used DMCS, and only have it because it was included with an Amiga 2000 I recently acquired. It is a good program, although not a powerful MIDI sequencing program. It was meant more to use as a simple notation/playback type program. I like the idea of drag & drop the notes onto a staff and hit play to hear what you've input, but it lacks too many features to be considered a desktop-quality printing program. It does have MIDI, but the version I have has no quantization, so it's nearly impossible for it to be accurate as a transcribing tool.

You will no doubt run into quite a few DMCS format song files in many libraries at any given Amiga site. I like the ease of putting a song into it from a book to hear what it's supposed to sound like. It does sound a bit stiff, but can actually play the score from the Amiga's internal 8-bit sound chip. I haven't used the internal sounds on my Amiga for anything but playing a metronome click, now that I have an Akai sampler, and many Amiga users are into .MOD files. Many .MOD files sound quite good using only the Amiga's 8 bit sound, but I haven't any experience using them.

Any Amiga user who wants to use their Amiga to print quality music: this is the one for you! Unfortunately, again this program is no longer supported. If you see a copy, get it! I got very lucky, and after wanting it for a number of years, and finding out Dr.T's was no longer selling it, I found a new copy in a mag for $79.00. It originally sold for around $200.00.

With the Copyist DTP you can set up your page any way imaginable. This is a no-holds-barred environment where your music can look like a Beatles ballad or a John Cage nightmare. It has a good balance between using the mouse and the keyboard to get the music up on the screen and can be used with Dr.T's KCS, Tiger, Tiger Cub, etc. in an integrated environment. Dr.T's uses MPE (Multiprogram Environment) where the program shares it's information. You can have several screens, each displaying the song you're editing in a different way: the Track screen, a Graphic editor using a piano roll type notation grid; and a screen for QuickScore, which comes with the KCS program. QuickScore lets you grab and save out a performance to import to the Copyist.

So these are the main tools I have in my arsenal, and next time I'll talk a little about........who knows? Maybe more Amiga Music ;)

Feel free to send your EMail to The Amiga Monitor. If you're into MIDI and the Amiga, I'd like to hear from you.

-Fred   """|
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