You are here

Electronic Cow's MIDI Arpeggiator; Sound Chip Synth

Atari Notes By Derek Johnson
Published March 1997

Derek Johnson keeps the Atari flag boldly flying with news of a new Atari‑based software‑only synth, and also checks out a new shareware sample conversion utility...

As promised in last month's Atari Notes, it's time to have a look at Richard Evans' shareware sample conversion and management utility, SampleC v1.04, which has been floating about as a beta version for a while. Basically, SampleC offers a tidy and well‑designed environment for converting between different sample formats, and sending (or receiving) them over MIDI to SDS‑compatible (Sample Dump Standard) samplers. In addition, hardcore samplists with hundreds of samples on their hard drive will be able to use SampleC to easily catalogue and keep track of their library. The list generated by the software will show file format, sample rate, size, resolution, sustain loop values and user‑definable descriptions. The software can then use the sample list to generate an ST Guide‑format hypertext document; you'll need a copy of Holger Weets' ST Guide in any case, to read the software's on‑line manual, which is in this format. File formats recognised by SampleC include AVR, AIFF, RIFF, WAV and CDP soundfiles from Composer's Desktop Project systems; 8‑ or 16‑bit and mono or stereo samples can be handled, at a variety of sampling rates. This is an excellent tool for Replay 16 users, or for the ST user who is nabbing Mac or PC samples from the Internet.

Theoretically, any flavour of Atari from ST to TT to Falcon should be suitable for running SampleC, but bear in mind that it was written with system enhancements such as NVDI, MagiC and Freedom in mind; if you also have these packages, you'll be 100% compatible. I've experienced no problems so far, except for a few with ST Guide, not SampleC itself. Availability is still a bit vague; we'll pass on details when we have them.

Have A Cow, Man

MIDI Arpeggiator and Sound Chip Synth are two nifty and cheap little programs from the eccentrically‑named Electronic Cow. MIDI Arpeggiator, in spite of its name, is more of a two‑channel 16‑step sequencer, with a few extra bits to keep things interesting. The screen pretty well shows you everything you need to know: sequences can be up to 16 steps long, you can set a MIDI channel and program change for each channel, level and pan controls are available for each channel, and tempo is variable between 30 and 300bpm. In addition, each channel has two 'auxiliaries' which can be customised to transmit any MIDI data. Notes are displayed as MIDI note numbers, with 60 being middle C; the use of note names (or the ability to toggle between note names and numbers, perhaps) would have been slightly more intuitive. Notes are input from a MIDI keyboard, or from the on‑screen virtual keyboard. A confusingly‑named duophonic function adds a third part, based on the material already playing, which can be effective. Most interestingly, MIDI Arpeggiator can be sync'ed externally. Data can be saved in native or MIDI File format, and performances can be streamed to disk as a MIDI file of up to 60k. MIDI Arpeggiator is huge fun, and can be a useful creative tool. Be warned, though, that unexpanded STs may show the occasional operational oddity — moving the mouse while the software is playing can cause the tempo to slow down. If you're running a Falcon or an accelerated ST (with NVDI or something similar), this problem doesn't arise.

Sound Chip Set

Sound Chip Synth v2.2 is a sound generation program designed to take advantage of the ST's on‑board FM sound chip. Although this may seem like a strange thing to do — the ST's sound chip is not the most hi‑tech of devices — the software is capable of squeezing some quite useable results out of the device. Once again, the screen pretty well shows it all: each of three channels has access to a variety of wave shapes and a noise source, as well as level and fine‑tuning controls, and a sound length fader (0‑8 seconds). There are two depth faders for wave and noise period; these affect the length of time it takes for a waveform to complete its cycle, and alter the coarseness or pitch of the noise generator; as with all Sound Chip Synth controls, experimentation is the rule. Most interestingly, there's an 8‑stage envelope generator, with separate time and level controls for each stage. There are actually five EGs on board: three for the sound channels, and one each for controlling the wave and noise depth. Keyboard shortcuts, incidentally, are available for all major functions.

Auditioning a sound, via the on‑screen keyboard (or an attached external one) can be strange, since the software reacts slowly; this may simply be a problem with an un‑souped up ST. Once you've created a sound you like, it can be saved in 8‑ or 16‑bit AVR format, as used by various Microdeal ST sampling hardware/software packages. Load the file into your editor (or SampleC — see above!), and your unique sound can be beamed, via MIDI Sample Dump Standard, to an external sampler.

Within the limitations of the ST's sound chip, Sound Chip Synth is capable of some pretty useful results, although the best sounds will be the ones you've worked hardest at; not surprisingly, sounds with a digital edge are easiest to produce. When you do get a good result, it's a very satisfying feeling.

Both packages cost £10 each (plus £1.50 p&p), both are being supported enthusiastically by their author, and both have manuals that utilise the included ST Guide. Contact Electronic Cow for more details at 350 Broadwater Crescent, Stevenage, Herts SG2 8EZ (or alternatively, email Web access is available at