You are here

Blue Ribbon & Dr T's KCS

Amiga Notes
Published November 1994

This month Amiga guru Paul Overaa takes over the reins on our Amiga Notes pages. What have we let you in for? Read on and you'll see...

When a magazine column changes hands, there are inevitably some changes in style and content. I certainly have plenty of new ideas, but perhaps my first job ought to be to reassure you that I know enough about the Amiga music scene to do a reasonable job.

Here then are the credentials: I've been using Amigas ever since the first A1000s hit the shores of the UK, and have over a decade of MIDI experience, which includes using just about every piece of Amiga MIDI/music software that's ever been written. I've also used a variety of Amigas for sequencing, both in studios and on stage. With regard to the latter job, I freely admit a bias towards Dr T's KCS sequencer, because I know from many years of experience that it is a robust offering that won't let you down. Blue Ribbon Soundworks' Bars & Pipes, however, has far more punch when it comes to 'creative sequencing' uses, and, of course, it is second to none as far as video and multimedia‑related applications are concerned.

If I have any real claim to fame, it is that I'm well up on the technical side of things. I've written around a dozen books on Amiga systems programming, and on C, 680x0 assembler and ARexx programming, program design and so on, and over the years have written all manner of Amiga MIDI/music utilities. OK, so I'm a techno‑nut, but this doesn't mean that I'll be cramming loads of technical stuff into these notes each month. However, it does mean that if you are experiencing any technical Amiga‑related MIDI/music snags, and you think that the solutions would be of general interest to readers, then send your letters please, to the usual SOS address!

Keeping It In Perspective

Despite being an avid fan of the Amiga, I know only too well that compared to the wealth of software available to the Atari ST brigade, and the quality of software available on the Apple Mac, the Amiga is clearly the poor cousin of the MIDI/music world. That's not heresy — it's good old‑fashioned realism, and you'll be getting plenty of that in this column. For starters, I've got to come clean and say that I would never recommend that someone wanting a computer solely for MIDI sequencing work should buy an Amiga, because there still isn't enough quality Amiga music software around.

What I can say is this; if you have bought an Amiga for other uses (whether for games, video/graphics or something else), then you will also be able to build quite a respectable MIDI studio using existing Amiga software. If your music interests lie more with multimedia applications, there's no doubt that the Amiga starts to look a much better proposition, especially since Blue Ribbon Soundworks' Bars & Pipes sequencer really is in a class of its own for multimedia applications. Another Blue Ribbon offering that has established itself as a winner is of course the auto‑arranger program, SuperJAM.

Troubled Waters

Amiga owners worldwide are understandably worried by Commodore's current financial standing, or rather the lack of it. As I write, there is still no further definite news, but a good 90% of the UK software houses that I've spoken to are still cautiously optimistic that the proposed management buy‑out will succeed. If it does, and if the Amiga market can resume a state of near‑normality by Christmas, then we'll all have good cause to celebrate. I for one believe that the Amiga is far too good a machine to bite the dust.

The long‑term worry remains, however, that the corporate hiccups of the last few months will unnerve committed Stateside Amiga developers. The SAS Institute have apparently already announced that further Amiga‑specific development of their SAS C compiler package is being suspended. Not good news, considering that their compiler is the cornerstone of a large amount of Amiga software development. It is in fact very rare for SAS to drop this sort of bombshell, because they have put a vast amount of effort into their Amiga products. It's possible that they are just reacting to the American side of the problem — after all, the Amiga has nowhere near as strong a foothold in Stateside markets as it has in the UK. My view is that they are playing safe — I suspect that SAS are almost certain to change their minds about continued development once it is certain that a new Commodore organisational structure is in place! There are, incidentally, no such ripples from music companies like Dr T and Blue Ribbon Soundworks, and that is decidedly good news. What the Amiga certainly does not need in the coming months are signs of lessening interest on the sequencer development front!

Talking Of Commodore

The new Workbench 3.1 plus Kickstart has now been released, with the usual Commodore lack of ceremony and razzmatazz. If you are thinking of upgrading, then take care — there are two versions of the kit, depending on whether you have an A3000/A4000 machine, or an A500/1500/2000. The documentation doesn't look much, but it is comprehensive, and the contents make up for the shortcomings in appearance. The upgrade involves fitting one or two new chips, but once you've read the instructions, it is actually simple enough to do, and safe (providing you take the normal anti‑static precautions).

What are the benefits of the upgrade? Well, disk and screen operations are faster, and Workbench 2 users get access to the additional datatypes of Workbench 3 and so on. But for owners of ECS machines like the A500+, and especially A4000 owners, it's doubtful whether the upgrade will make that much difference. Except, that is, to your wallet, because the price is £100. Users of lesser machines will of course see more benefit from the upgrade, and if you fall into that category, and want more details, call Blittersoft on 0908 220196.

Crossdos Capers

Amiga users nowadays are in the fortunate position of being able to read and write PC/Atari format disks, courtesy of the CrossDOS utility (supplied as part of the Amiga's system software). This gives Amiga users direct access to the large numbers of MIDI files available on MS‑DOS formatted disks. CrossDOS is actually very easy to use, but every now and then I hear stories like "I tried it and it didn't work — the files I tried to read weren't even recognised by my sequencer".

This particular difficulty is always due to the use of inappropriate CrossDOS filter settings. When you are copying text files, 'read me' files and so on, you need to have the text filtering (plus possibly the ASCII 7 text translation) checkbox of the CrossDOS control box ticked (ie active). The text filtering option filters carriage returns and end‑of‑file markers from MS‑DOS files, leaving just the linefeed characters required by the Amiga at the ends of text lines. When reading or writing so called binary (non‑text) files like MIDI files, however, it is absolutely essential to turn this text filtering option off. If you don't, the contents of the file will almost certainly be corrupted as the file is copied.

The choice of settings may seem simple, but most users trip up by auto‑running the CrossDOS utility on startup, hiding the utility's control window, and then forgetting that the settings need to be changed according to the types of files they are dealing with.

Aural Illusion

This is a potentially interesting music package that I've been playing around with during the last few months. It's a multi‑format sound sample editing tool that can be used for editing, enhancing and creating sound files. A whole range of file formats are supported, including 8‑bit IFF 8SVX files, 16‑bit AIFF, and Audio Visual Research's AVR format files. Raw data files can be handled, and a nice touch is a raw 16‑LSB (least significant bit) read/write facility, which switches the two byte positions of each word of a 16‑bit sample. This is needed for PC compatibility, because PCs store the bytes of each word of sample data in reverse byte order to the Amiga.

Aural Illusion provides the usual types of cut/copy, looping and scaling operations and a whole range of effects, including reverb, echo, delay, flange, and chorusing. The Amiga's in‑built audio hardware is only 8‑bit, so needless to say sounds are only played at that resolution (to hear your samples at 16‑bit quality you need additional hardware). Aural Illusion does store all data internally in 16‑bit format, however, and performs effects and manipulation calculations using 32 bits (allowing quality losses during waveform processing to be kept to a minimum).

The ideas behind Aural Illusion are very good, but the program is a young product, and it shows — the current version is not quite as easy to use as it should be. Nevertheless, it is a program well worth keeping an eye on.

Aural Illusion v 1.1 costs £40, and requires Kickstart/Workbench 2.04 or greater, and 1Mb of RAM, although more memory is recommended for serious use. For details contact Blatchford Technology, Glendale House, 77 Southwell Road, Bangor, Co. Down, Northern Ireland BT20 3AE. They can be contacted by phone on 0247 468613.

Goodbye Paul... Hello Paul!

No, we haven't spelt his name wrong this month — long‑time SOS Amiga Notes contributor Paul Austin is indeed handing over to newcomer Paul Overaa this month. Following his promotion to editor of Amiga Computing, Paul Austin has found that there are simply no longer enough hours in the day! We'd like to thank Paul for all his contributions over the years, and wish him well in his new editorial position. Meanwhile, welcome to the new Paul...

Amiga News In Brief

    A new release of Teijo Kinnunen's highly regarded OctaMED Pro tracker program is currently undergoing extensive Beta testing. There are no enhancement details or release dates yet, but keep watching this space!
    Sounds Terrific is a new double CD pack containing over 1.2Gb of music/sound data for the Amiga and PC platforms that has recently been released from Weird Science. Contents include song modules, Sonix scores, MIDI files, sound samples in raw, IFF, WAV and VOC formats, plus a variety of Amiga and PC utilities. The price is £19.95. You can get more info by telephoning Weird Science on 0533 340682.