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MIDI: Tone's Computerized Band

by Frank Angstead

Recently, a fellow musician attending a TPC meeting asked me about the MIDI rig I use in my live show (in the Barley Mow, 1st floor Tokyo British Club, among other venues). After writing an e-mail to describe it to him in some detail, I thought some others might be interested in how I work my modest MIDI setup. If you're not, read no further! (g) My setup:

(#1) Computer:

Compaq Contura Aero 4/33C. A 486/33 with 4MB RAM and a 170MB hard drive. Any basic computer with a serial or parallel port and a decent-sized hard drive will do fine. Need at least a 386/25 to run Windows 3.1 reasonably, though, but it's entirely possible to do MIDI music using only DOS applications software. More RAM never hurts, either, if he decides to go with Windows software.

(#2) Interface:

Key MIDIator 124. Plugs into serial port. Very outdated, many better available now. He should look at whether he wants a serial or parallel port interface (portable to laptops and desktops), or a PC card interface (more robust and more features, like internal metronome and synch-to-tape). Make sure there are drivers available for whatever software he decides he wants.

(#3) Software:

Cakewalk from Twelve-Tone Systems of Massachusetts. I use the DOS version 4.0A and Windows version 3.0 (Under Windows 3.1). Newer versions of both are available. I also own CAKELIVE, which is an automated MIDI file playing program. It's very useful for live work, but it doesn't sound like your friend will be doing a lot of that right away.

Soundware of Menlo Park, California is a good source of MIDI software and interfaces. International Sales FAX# 415-328-0611. Might not be current, I haven't used them in a couple years. Address: 200 Menlo Oaks Drive, Menlo Park, CA 94025. They take credit cards and wire transfers for international orders.

They also sell bundles of software and interfaces, which of course takes care of the problem of making sure the software has drivers for your particular interface. Windows drivers are generic, BTW, they're not dependent on the software. The communication between the software and the hardware is handled by the Windows MIDI Mapper.

(#4) Module:

This is the thing that makes the sounds. Any GM-compatible tone generator (module) will do. (GM means General MIDI, and is a catch-phrase for a standard architecture for MIDI modules. don't buy anything that's not GM-compatible.)

I use a Roland Sound Canvas SC-55 Mk. II. I recommend Roland as I think they sound the best, but your friend should go to a music store and have a listen. Many models available, priced anywhere between ¥25,000 and ¥100,000. Large variations in sound quality, both between manufacturers, and between different models of the same line.

(#5) Keyboard:

I use a Roland U-20. Outdated. The keyboard you will use for input of MIDI data (music) doesn't matter much. Just make sure it's MIDI compatible, and has touch-sensitivity. This phrase means that if you play harder on the keys, the sound gets louder, and if you play less hard, the resulting sound gets more quiet. A sustain pedal input, MIDI-routable data input sliders and a joystick for controlling pitch bend and modulation are nice additions to have, too. Most modern-day MIDI keyboards include all of the above.

Another option would be to purchase a keyboard that includes a General MIDI tone generator already built into it, consolidating items #4 & 5. This has the advantage of saving some money, and simplifying the setup. the disadvantage is that you can't play back MIDI files without the keyboard there. If he's not going to move his stuff around, then this is probably the best option. If he wants to go this route, I'd suggest he look at the Roland XP-10. It retails for ¥79,800 and sounds very similar to the Sound Canvas series (actually almost exactly like the SC-55).

This is just a rough outline of the setup I use for MIDI, and some very general suggestions. There are any number of variations in computer hardware, music hardware, and software. It's expensive to experiment at home, shop around a lot before you buy anything. Compare sounds of different synthesizers and find one you like. Compare the feel and touch of some keyboards to find one that's right for you. And don't forget to compare features and "look & feel" of various software packages before you buy.

Any more questions or comments, send 'em my way. Glad to help.

© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

December, 1996

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor

Tokyo PC Users Group, Post Office Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN