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Amiga Notes
Published December 1994

More tips and gossip on the current Amiga scene from Paul Overaa...

I was hoping to start this month with details of a successful Commodore UK management buyout. Unfortunately, the only thing we know at the time of writing (late October) is that it is still going to be a few weeks before any definite news is known. The delay has nothing to do with any lack of effort on behalf of the UK Commodore team — it's due to legal wrangles over manufacturing, licensing and a variety of other corporate finance issues. Whilst obviously worrying for developers and end users alike, the chances are still high that a resurrected UK company, Amiga International, will emerge from the ashes.

Now, I know that many computers have hit the dust during just such corporate hiccups, but one of the reasons why almost everyone is confident that the Amiga will survive is that we are talking about a machine with a strong technical foothold. Despite being a relatively low‑cost machine, it has a multi‑tasking O/S, ARexx communications, and a graphics system that makes machines like the PC and Atari look archaic. What's more, Amiga developers don't just program the Amiga, they fall in love with it. The machine has also attracted a large following of loyal coders from the scientific and technical community, many of whom, like Willy Langeveld, have even been happy to give away the excellent software that they write. Then there's Fred Fish, whose efforts in compiling Amiga PD disks (around a thousand at the last count) have produced a library that's the envy of other computer users all around the world.

The reason I'm telling you all this is that these sort of people do not just get attached to any old machine that comes along — they deliberately chose the Amiga above all others for very sound technical reasons. More to the point, when almost a whole community of developers and technical users remain convinced that the Amiga will not die, then you can practically count on its survival. So, ye of faint heart — don't even think of 'panic flogging' your Amiga in the near future!

Talking Of Times Being Hard...

One thing that has shown no sign of slowing down is the number of Amiga users adding hard drives to their machines. Those of you thinking of upgrading to a hard disk machine, or adding a hard disk to your existing Amiga setup — don't just think about it, do it! It really will make the world of difference. As well as increased storage capacity, you'll get many other benefits, including the fact that never again will you see those annoying 'Please Insert Workbench Disk' requesters because the Workbench files are always permanently on‑line. Incidentally, large sequencer packages like Bars & Pipes Pro 2 and Dr T's KCS work like a dream from a hard disk.

New Hisoft Sampler

A 12‑bit sound sampling package, called Aura, is about to be released by HiSoft for the Amiga A1200 and A600 computers, and the breakthrough is that it uses that magic PCMCIA slot to achieve extremely good sampling performance (relative, that is, to the standard 8‑bit Amiga samplers). Aura is fully Workbench 2/3‑compliant and can record, play and edit mono or stereo samples in 16‑or 8‑bit mode. Better than that, it can also sample directly to hard disk, which gives you yet another reason to upgrade to a hard disk machine. Direct‑to‑disk sampling can be done at rates of over 40kHz, but if you are sampling to memory, rates of over 60kHz can be used.

The Aura software provides 15 programmable real‑time single source (one tap) sound effects, and over 60 fully programmable multiple source effects. There's a Fourier 3D FFT display (never a particularly useful option, but it certainly looks good on screen), and some advanced digital filtering facilities. Also thrown in for good measure is a block‑oriented sample sequencer and real‑time playback of samples under MIDI control.

Now a note for the techies amongst you — you don't need to worry about the '12‑bit' sample portability issues — Aura's 12‑bit samples are actually stored using the standard 16‑bit Audio IFF files, so you can, if necessary, actually edit Aura samples using any 16‑bit sample editor package. Aura's price, incidentally, is £99.95, and you can get further details by telephoning HiSoft on 0525 718181.

Search Me

'Search' is the AmigaDOS search utility and, as most Amiga users will know, it is normally used to find particular words or phrases within text files. This month, I've got a rather sneaky, more musical use for you — I'm going to show you how the same command can be used to search disks and rapidly locate MIDI files, 16‑bit Audio IFF and 8SVX sound samples, and a variety of sequencer files.

At this stage, you might be asking why you need bother with the Search command just to look at a few file names, so let me give you an example where a bit of search automation comes in handy. Public domain disks have always been a rich source of ready‑made sound samples, and if, for instance, someone gives you a disk containing filenames like crash.8svx, bang.snd and wallop.aiff, then you hardly need to be a genius to deduce that there's a good chance of those files being sound samples.

You'll often hear good sounds being used in PD games or other programs, but in these cases the programmer may well have given his samples less intuitive names, such as xxx1, d785, or w12s. In theory, you could try and load every file on such a disk into a sample editor to see which files are sound samples, but with a disk containing dozens or perhaps hundreds of files, this could take ages. Your Amiga can do the job far quicker, and far more efficiently, than you.

The key to this computerised searching magic is to realise that many files contain internal 'identifiers' that provide an indication of the type of data held in the file. By looking for these identifiers, it is often possible to identify the file type without even bothering about filenames (which, as mentioned, can be misleading). 8SVX sound samples, for instance, include data chunks whose identifier is '8SVX'. We can look for this identifier very easily, by opening a shell window, inserting the disk to be searched into (say) drive df0: and then typing the following:

1> Search df0: 8SVX all quiet (remember not to type the 1> shell prompt)

Typing 'all' forces all directories to be searched, and 'quiet' ensures that only those files of interest will appear in the display. The result will be a list of all the files on the disk containing the identifier 8SVX — in other words, a list of all 8‑bit IFF sound samples on the disk. By the way, if you have a single drive machine, then it's probably easiest to copy the Search command to ram: and then make ram: the current directory before inserting the disk to be searched. You can do this using the following commands:

1> copy sys:c/search to ram:

1>cd ram:

MIDI files can be located in just the same way, but in this case you need to look for their 'MThd' header chunk identifiers, so the command line becomes the following:

1> Search df0: MThd all quiet

Table 1 provides a list of some common music‑related file identifiers. Use the same type of command line that I've illustrated, but change the search characters to suit the type of files you are searching for. Little can go wrong, providing you remember that these identifiers are case sensitive. In other words, a MIDI file search must look for the characters 'MThd' — trying to locate MIDI files using say 'MTHD' or 'mthd' would fail to locate anything. Other than that, everything should be straightforward, and of course the output can be redirected to the printer or to a disk file just like any other AmigaDOS command. So, next time you are hunting for particular types of music files, give your fingers a rest and let your Amiga do all the hard work!

Amiga News In Brief

    Canada‑based Asimware Innovations have recently released a program called Master ISO that is used for controlling CD‑ROM recorders and creating CD‑ROM/Audio disks. The program supports many of the leading CD‑ROM writers, including the Pinnacle RDC 202, Philips CDD521 and the Yamaha CDR 100, and produces ISO 9660 CD‑ROM format material from conventional Amiga disk files. With a price of just $550 (about £350), the package is likely to appeal to many smaller Amiga developers. There's no UK supplier yet, but additional details can be obtained from Asimware Innovations, 101 Country Club Drive, Hamilton, Ontario. Canada L8K 5W4 (tel: 0101 905 578 4916).
    Another new Canadian offering, called 'Making Music With Bertie Bunny' has been released by a company called WindShadow. It's been designed to allow kids to develop their musical talents at an early age (2‑12 years) by getting them to associate sounds with particular instruments, learning tunes and so on. Nothing like getting them young! UK price of the program is £24.99, and it can be ordered directly from Mr Gordon Wilkes (tel: 0101 905 836 4400.)
    The forthcoming new release of OctaMED, version 6, is going to include full support for HiSoft's Aura sound sampling cartridge. It will also have a 100% Aura‑compatible 16‑bit sampler/editor!