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Fatar's CMS61

PC Notes
Published March 1994

Microsoft seem to have acquired the habit of giving their upcoming products silly names, such as Chicago, Cairo and Daytona. Apart from being the capital of Cook County, Illinois, Chicago is also the code name for Windows version 4, which is due out later this year. The new version will make Windows a full‑blown operating system and should improve its performance considerably. One of the criticisms of Windows has always been that it is not a 'real' operating system, since you must also have a version of MS‑DOS (or its functional equivalent) running in order to use the pretty windowing interface. Also, from a technical point of view, the schizophrenic nature of the DOS/Windows combination means that it cannot realise the full potential of the PC's architecture or the multi‑tasking nature of Windows itself. Windows 3.11 currently tries to improve the situation by implementing 32‑bit disk drivers but this is still a bit of a 'kludge' and can cause some compatibility problems.

Chicago will implement all the functions of DOS into the operating system, allowing you to dispense with MS‑DOS completely. The new Windows will also have improved multi‑tasking and should prove more reliable — hopefully, giving fewer of the dreaded 'General Protection Fault' type messages when an application misbehaves. The new version will also be able to run 32‑bit applications which should improve performance, allowing you to take advantage of the PC's 32‑bit hardware without the hassle of moving to Windows NT or OS/2. Although Chicago will not be a completely 32‑bit operating system, it will still run 32‑bit code, converting the 32‑bit calls into 16‑bit code where necessary. Other improvements will include enhanced support for remote machines, such as portable PCs, and for interconnecting systems.

Microsoft assure us that the upgrade from current versions will be "hassle‑free" and that it will be compatible with most applications and MS‑DOS drivers. However, they are hedging their bets by supplying a de‑install option in the event you don't like — or can't use — the new Windows operating system.

Arbiter Pro MIDI

The lads at Arbiter have returned from the NAMM Show in Los Angeles with armloads of new and updated products. First there's a new version of the Musicator scoring package which now lets you work with up to 32 staves, lets you sequence the fader movements on the GS/GM control panel, and implements timecode, all for £269. Next PG Music, who produce the popular Band‑In‑A‑Box and the Pianist 'edutainment' application, have augmented their product range with the Jazz Guitarist and Jazz Pianist. Like the classically‑based Pianist, the Jazz applications let you select from a list of MIDI files — which are actually MIDI recordings of live performances — showing relevant information and even trivia.

Big Noise software have also released a version of the sequencer from their Max Pak suite of programs in the form of Seq Max Presto (£129) for those that don't want or need the rest of the applications associated with Max Pak. There are also some new MIDI interfaces on the way from Key Electronics; the MP128‑N is a 1 In/4 Out while the MP128‑S has 2 Ins/8 Outs and a SMPTE interface. Both these interfaces connect to the PC's printer port, which means that they can also be used with portable PCs. On a whimsical note, Passport have also brought out a 'day‑glow' version of their MusicTime scoring package — for those with serious taste problems!

On a more serious note, another Arbiter line which should be of interest to the computer musician looking for a place to lay their mouse mat is the Fatar CMS61 PC MIDI keyboard. This is a 5‑octave MIDI controller keyboard; it has recesses in the top of its case to take your PC's QWERTY keyboard and a mouse mat. Since Fatar are busy acquiring a good reputation for their keyboards, it may be worth checking this out if you're in the market for a new master keyboard. If you prefer something more piano‑like, you could check out the new 900, an 88‑note controller with Fatar's patented hammer action. For more information on any of these products give Richard Fincher a call on 071 379 5607.

MPC Samplers?

A number of people have approached me over the last few months asking if they can use a Windows MPC sound card as a MIDI‑controlled sampler, say like an Akai S1000 or similar. And I can see why they think the PC could be used this way since, after all, a sampler is just a microcomputer with digital‑to‑analogue converters and lots of memory. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as this. A music sampler is optimised to read the sample memory and then play it back at differing pitches, for a varying number of 'voices', probably using a Digital Signal Processor (DSP) that has been specifically designed for the task. The processor in the PC is a more general purpose device which just doesn't have the 'horse power' to be able to read, pitch shift, and digitally mix multiple voices in real time. Using a normal MPC sound card under Windows, the best you can really expect is stereo replay — with the occasional bit of mixing, if you have a fast enough PC.

All is not lost though: the Gravis Ultrasound — which I talked about last month — and the new Turtle Beach Maui card have both been designed to side‑step the problem. Both these cards take a different approach to the normal MPC sound card, integrating a sample replayer — or a 'wavetable synthesizer', to give it another name — and place it and its sample RAM under the control of the PC. This means that you can use your PC's sound card (or someone else's!) to record the raw samples onto your hard disk, use your favourite .WAV file editor to clean up the data, and then download it to the sample RAM on the sample replay card. In the case of the Ultrasound, you have up to one megabyte of RAM available, while the Maui card gives you up to eight megabytes of sound data. Both Gravis and Turtle Beach provide the software to download and configure the replay of the samples, allowing you to set up such features as the loop points, key range, modulation etc. The Maui has the added advantage of being MPU‑401 compatible, allowing you to use it with a DOS sequencer if you wish.

Patch Maker Lite

If you have a Gravis Ultrasound and are having problems getting a copy of the Patch Maker Lite utility I mentioned last month, try giving Kim Boulton at Optech (0252 714340) a call; he may be able to help you out.