The Amiga has a lot of catching up to do if it is to outgrow its past as a games module. In Amiga Magic, however, Paul Overaa finds much to attract the musician.
Despite getting Amiga Magic packs out into the shops at last, Escom and Amiga Technologies are still not having an easy time of it. There seem to have been a few software compatibility problems with the new A1200 machines, (namely some older software, and a few new titles refusing to load). Some sources say that the difficulties stem from the anti‑piracy code used with certain programs, so the chances are that it is drive timing‑related. Amiga Technologies have announced that drive modifications to eliminate the snags are already in hand!
These sorts of minor hiccups are neither here nor there, but the trade are already moaning that the £499 Amiga Magic pack comes with software that won't run properly without an extra 2Mb of RAM. It looks as though warning stickers about this are going to be slapped on Magic Pack boxes from now on. Memory problems can, of course, also happen with any number of heavyweight Amiga packages; one example being Blue Ribbon's Bars & Pipes Professional sequencer. Once you realise how good the software is and start finding memory‑hungry uses for it, it's all too easy to find yourself short on memory. Unfortunate, of course, but Mac and PC users have been in exactly the same predicament for years — so Amiga users shouldn't be too upset that additional memory is needed for some sequencing and graphics applications. Relative to other machines, Amiga software remains generally very memory‑efficient!
One last current gripe seems to be the attitude (or perhaps the lack of knowledge) of some assistants in some Escom shops. Escom are supposed to be pushing the Amiga back into the limelight, but by the looks of it, many shop staff know little or nothing about the Amiga, pointing potential Amiga Magic pack purchasers in the direction of a PC instead. Now PCs are fine, but it costs far more to get a workable PC system up and running than an equivalent Amiga‑based setup. In fact, as DOS gets dumped (which is going to happen over the next few years), and increasingly memory‑hungry Windows 95 applications continue to arrive, PC users are going to find that they'll be forking out more on just upgrading their PCs than they would need to spend to get a complete Amiga system. This price factor alone ought to ensure that the Amiga remains a viable platform for a long time to come.
Make no mistake — the Amiga is the most cost‑effective multitasking machine that has ever appeared, and since Workbench 3 was introduced, the software in many areas has gone from strength to strength. It's true to say that in many ways the real potential of the Amiga was only just becoming apparent as the Commodore liquidation fiasco broke. Thousands upon thousands of loyal Amiga owners already know that the Amiga is great — all they ask is that Escom and Amiga Technologies give it a long‑term future. One thing that would surely help would be to get Escom sales staff fully clued‑up about the product!
News on the Amiga front in other areas is much better. To start with, a new Amiga pack called The Surfer is about to be released, which consists of an A1200 hard drive machine complete with modem and internet software. With interest in the internet showing no signs of slowing, this idea shows that Amiga Technologies are on the ball in some areas. With the right marketing, this Amiga‑based communications package could do really well. No prices announced as yet, but you can bet your life that The Surfer will be far more cost‑effective than similar offerings on other platforms. In the longer term, there has also been news from Amiga Technologies that plans for super‑fast RISC‑based Amiga models and upgrade boards are already in the pipeline for users of top‑end Amigas.
This is a brand‑new sound synthesis program from Blachford Technology, which uses a synthesis approach best described as the software equivalent of an analogue synth with modern digital waveform generation. As far as signal routing and sound modification pathways were concerned, the early patch cord connection methods of working were more flexible than those found on most modern synths. It is in this spirit of mix'n'match that Aural Synthetica's sound‑generation is designed, with its menu of 'virtual' oscillators, envelope shapers and other sonic building‑blocks.
The lower half of the main display is the DMS (Digital Modular Synthesizer) window, most of which is taken up by the buttons for accessing the sound generators and sound‑shaping modules. All the other sample control facilities, namely the Wave Editor, the Basic Synthesizers window and the program's Patch Programmer, are also reached from this window. Oscillators can use either combinations of the dozen basic waveforms, or up to 24 user‑defined ones. With six sliders controlling waveform, amplitude, delay, note and octave, and detune facilities available for each oscillator, there is plenty of flexibility. You can also add waveform, phase shift, pulse width and frequency modulation effects.
The waveform editor similarly allows endless possibilities. You can brighten up a waveform by increasing the number of harmonics in it, change the harmonic content with time, reverse, invert, add varying amounts of noise, and so on. One of Aural Synthetica's most complex windows is a patch program, which is chock‑full of buttons allowing the user to arrange the various oscillators, envelopes and filters in any way desired. A bit of a nightmare if you had to program each patch from scratch, but luckily you don't have to: there are a large number of 'basic synthesizer' presets available to get you started.
A lot of work has clearly gone into Aural Synthetica but, whilst the program is clearly capable of producing good results, I'm not sure that it's the sort of program that all Amiga musicians will take to. Aural Synthetica's sample generation is not performed in real time, so you can't just alter the controls and expect to hear the modified sound. In fact, so many calculations are needed to produce the final waveforms that sample rendering, even on an A4000/040, can take several minutes.
The result, initially, is always in 16‑bit digital form, and the program can save this waveform in one of five ways: SAFF, AIFF (the 16‑bit file format), PC WAV files, MAUD (for Wavetools soundcard users), and 8‑bit IFF 8SVX format. Needless to say, you lose resolution if you have to work with the 8‑bit IFF format, because only every other byte of the sample's waveform will be saved. Once a sample has been saved, incidentally, it is often necessary to do a touch of editing, to remove clicks or other glitches that tend to appear at the beginning and end of Synthetica‑generated samples.
One thing that was apparent right from the start is that Aural Synthetica provides a bewildering array of controls, and if I have any worries at all, it is that the average Amiga musician will be daunted by the sheer number of options and variables available with this program!
Blachford Technology's Aural Synthetica requires Workbench 2.04 or higher, and 2Mb of RAM, although additional RAM is recommended. It costs £30 (+ 50p p&p), and is available from Seasoft Computing (tel: 01903 850378).
- WORLD OF AMIGA
The venue and dates for the always popular World of Amiga Show have finally been officially announced. It's being held at the Novotel, Hammersmith (a well known Amiga show venue) on the 12th and 13th of April. Tickets are £7 for adults and £5.50 for children. Ticket hotline: 01369 706346.
F1 Licenseware are relaunching (under license from Europress) the AMOS Pro 2 compiler for just £14.99 (+50p P&P). This can take AMOS source code files and turn them into stand‑alone executable programs. All you lucky AMOS users can get details from F1. Tel: 01392 493580.
- VIDEO AMIGA PACKAGE
Springfield Multimedia (SMM) have produced an Amiga Magic‑based pack especially for video users. It consists of an A1200 with a 170Mb hard drive, a 4Mb trap door expansion board, and the superb LOLA L2000 YC/RGB Genlock. The package is offered with a half‑day training session at SMM, and costs £1150. You do, of course, also get all the usual Amiga Magic pack software, including Scala MM300, Personal Paint, Photogenics and so on. Further details from SMM. Tel: 01245 227588.
- A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY
Golden Image have launched a £249 quad‑speed CD‑ROM drive especially for A500 users. The unit requires the AlfaPower hard drive interface, which Golden Image can also supply. If, however, you add a hard drive at the same time (an 80Mb AlfaPower drive will cost £149) you'll get a £20 discount. Details from Golden Image. Tel: 0181 900 9291.
- MUSIC UTILITIES
MIDICraft have just released a second special utlity disk containing music file converter programs: MIDI file format 1 to format 0, OctaMED to MIDI file, tracker mods to MIDI file, SMUS to MIDI and so on. There are eight programs in all, and they are stored in LHA format, with documentation accessible from the regular MIDICraft magazine menu. The price of the utility disk 2 is just £2.50. Details from MIDICraft. Tel: 01928 563762.