You are here

PC Retrospective

PC Notes
Published May 1995

Brian Heywood brings you the latest PC News, and looks back on three years of PC Notes...

This issue of Sound On Sound marks the third anniversary of the PC Notes column. Looking back, I can see certain similarities between the situation that existed three years ago and that of today. Then, as now, we were waiting for a new version of Windows which would revolutionise the way we used the PC.

The main thrust of Windows95 is to be the integration of the operating environment (Windows) with the operating system (DOS), thereby removing the current duplication of functions, and generally improving the reliability of Windows. How deep the integration goes is uncertain at present, as Windows95 is required to be capable of running all current DOS applications.

Another prerequisite is that the new operating system should be able to run on a PC fitted with 4Mb of RAM. From what I've heard, this goal has not only been hit, but you actually get improved performance over the same system running Windows 3.1 or 3.11. Of course, nobody can be really sure just yet...


Of course, three years ago, Windows was an unknown quantity in terms of its suitability as a music platform. Today ,Windows has the biggest user base in terms of music software, due to a combination of the built‑in software support in Windows and the widespread availability (and low cost) of PC hardware. At present, the only real competition to the Windows platform is the Apple Macintosh and PowerMac, especially if Insignia can get their SoftWindows product to fulfil its potential.

Despite the fact that Microsoft perceive the music world as a niche market, there are some improvements in the way that Windows95 handles MIDI and sound. The performance of existing music applications will improve as new software versions start to use the more advanced features provided by the 32‑bit core of Windows95. Have no doubt that you'll hear more on these subjects in future columns; stay tuned.


A new version of the ReSample digital audio conversion utility (formerly called WaveTo) will be available by the time you read this. ReSample is one of the few audio applications that ties together the multimedia audio and pro music/MIDI worlds. Using ReSample, PC soundcard users can access the large amount of high‑quality sample sounds that have been created for use by instruments such as the Akai S1000. As well as being able to convert between sample formats, ReSample can talk directly to samplers using the MIDI Sample Dump Standard (SDS). The software is especially useful if you have one of the growing number of MPC sound cards that store their sample data in RAM, like the Gravis UltraSound and the Creative Labs AWE32 cards. ReSample should allow developers with samplers to perform the sound design on their PC, and then download the edited sample, either via MIDI or using ReSample's ability to write Akai‑format disks. Features such as automatic loop finding, crossfade loop generation and the ability to crossfade different samples, coupled with the large display area available on the PC screen, should speed up sample editing considerably. One neat feature is the 'loop finder general' function, which will scan a sample and give you a list of possibilities for matching loop start and end points, graded by how close the sections of the waveform match. Through the use of the Universal Sample File Reader, ReSample can interpret audio files produced by practically any method (other than proprietary and unrecognised companding techniques), including Amiga MOD files (11 different types), and Unix AU format (of interest to Cybersurfers). ReSample costs £99, includes a CD of sampled sounds, and is available from Et Cetera Distribution (01706 228039).

Book Corner

I was sent two useful books by PC Publishing recently. The third edition of the Practical MIDI Handbook by R A Penfold is a completely revised version of this popular book. It explains the basics of MIDI technology and, although the book was originally aimed at introducing the concepts to musicians, it should be invaluable to any computer user trying to get to grips with the technology. The book covers such topics as General MIDI, MIDI sound modules, and the relationship between computers and MIDI, plus a useful glossary of terms. It's well worth looking at if you are just starting to explore the world of MIDI music.

For the more advanced computer musician, Sequencer Secrets by Ian Waugh features over 150 practical tips for getting the best out of your computer‑based sequencer software, gathered together over Ian's years writing for various music technology magazines. Although the book is fairly slim at 100 pages, it's packed with helpful hints and practical projects. Both books are available direct from PC Publishing via a credit card hot‑line on 01732 770893 (or fax 770268). The Practical MIDI Handbook costs £8.95, and Sequencing Secrets is a mere £6.95 (plus £1.50 p&p per order).

Hard Disk News

Digidesign have just announced a PCI‑based version of their Audiomedia II sound card and Session software for Windows. The soundcard features high quality A/D and D/A converters, separate effects sends and returns and digital I/O switchable between S/PDIF and AES/EBU standards. When used in conjunction with the Audiomedia card, Session will let you use your PC as a two In, four Out hard disk recording system, with parametric EQ, on‑screen mixing, digital bouncing and user‑definable crossfades. Note that you will probably need a Pentium‑based PC to get the best out of this system, which should be available in the UK sometime in July. The UK price hasn't been announced yet, but the international retail price has been set at US$1,489. However, prices will vary from country to country — to find out more, contact Digidesign, on 0181 875 9977.

Those hyperactive chaps at Soundscape Digital Technology have announced that they will be doing a roadshow around the UK to show off their SSHDR1 hard disk recorder for the PC. No doubt they will be demonstrating the latest version of their non‑linear editing software (v.1.17), which includes such goodies as editing without stopping playback, looping in play, a waveform display buffer, an Edit Decision List (EDL) and auto‑conforming and track scrubbing using an external MIDI control surface (like a JL Cooper CS10). Further down the line, Soundscape are planning to add real‑time reverb and lots more. For further details, contact Nick Owen at Soundscape on 01222 450120.

Tapeless Audio Directory

Since hard disk recording is still a hot topic, another new publication that may be of interest to the PC‑based musician is the latest version of the Tapeless Audio Directory from the Sypha audio consultancy. Now in its fourth edition, the directory covers over 200 professional digital audio workstations, ranging from high‑quality PC soundcard‑based systems to high‑end dedicated multitrack systems. Each entry of the directory gives the salient features of each system, as well as details of costs and suppliers where available. In addition to covering current systems, the directory also previews systems that are about to be launched, and describes those on which development has been halted. The book costs £15 in the UK, plus a postage and handling charge. To find out how to get a copy, call Sypha on 0181 761 1042 (or fax 0181 244 8758).

Cakewalk Express

Getting back to MIDI applications on the PC, Twelve Tone Systems have just released yet another variant of their popular Cakewalk music sequencer for Windows. Designed to appeal to someone just starting to explore the world of computer‑based music, Cakewalk Express can be used with any Windows‑compatible soundcard or MIDI interface. One innovation is the ability to 'play in' a performance using the PC's keyboard, thus doing away with the need for an external MIDI instrument. Called the 'Virtual Piano', this is actually a separate application that communicates with Cakewalk Express (or any Windows sequencer for that matter) using a pseudo‑device driver. In use, the 'Virtual Piano' assigns notes to the bottom two rows of keys on the PC's QWERTY keyboard, allowing the user to play along with a Cakewalk sequence, or even record a new track 'in sync' with playback. This feature could be highly useful if you use a notebook PC and want to do some sequencing on the move. Admittedly, the QWERTY keyboard is pretty basic in both performance and range, but it does act as a way of quickly entering notes without having to use the mouse to insert each note individually.

Like other Cakewalk programs, Express can play back digital audio files and control MCI devices, for instance firing off digital video files (AVIs) under the control of the sequencer. Other features include a multitrack staff (music notation) view, piano roll editor, a faders page and a track/measure view. The package comes complete with a SoundBlaster‑type adapter cable which incorporates MIDI interface circuitry, and connects to the games port on most SoundBlaster‑compatible soundcards (or the Gravis UltraSound) to give a single MIDI In and Out. The cable has two‑metre flying leads fitted with MIDI plugs and so provides a neat way of attaching an external keyboard and/or sound module to your PC. Cakewalk Express is available from Et Cetera (01706 228039) and costs around £80.

Helpful Hint

Finding the right keyboard for your PC can be quite a chore if you need something a little out of the ordinary. Most PC suppliers only stock one or two 'standard' keyboard types, which may not be ideal for use in a cramped studio or music workstation situation. One company I've come across that specialise in keyboards and monitors are the Keyboard Company in Stroud. The company's catalogue lists a wide range of keyboards and display devices, and even have a few second‑hand bargains. So, if you're looking for something special in the user interface department, give Debbie at the Keyboard Company a ring on 01453 885522.

Cyberspace Corner

One of the biggest problems for aspiring musicians today is how to get their music to a wider audience, and one novel way to achieve this is provided by the Internet Underground Music Archive (IUMA). Started in 1993 as the extracurricular project of two American college students, IUMA has grown to be a forum for unsigned artists, as well as independent and mainstream record labels such as Warner Brothers. IUMA has also linked up with Tower Records in the US to make the Tower inventory obtainable by Cybersurfers (well, those with credit cards, anyway) and IUMA demos available to customers in Tower Records retail outlets. IUMA insist that they are "leading the drive toward artist‑compensated, high‑fidelity, on‑line music distribution", but at the moment, they are more of an alternative publicity and distribution network.

To tap into the infobahn, you need to send recorded material, biographies and pictures to IUMA at PO Box 59, London N22 4NS (phone 0181 888 8949, fax 0181 889 6166, or email: The service costs £75 per year to the contributors, and nothing at all to any Cybersurfers who care to browse the material. Due to copyright laws, songs must be original, and each artist or band is legally required to sign a licence allowing IUMA to electronically distribute their music.