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Performer 5.0; MIDI Machine; FreeMIDI

Apple Notes By Martin Russ
Published June 1994

In a packed column this month, Martin Russ looks at MIDI machine control, FreeMIDI, the Mac serial port, and even manages to mention the latest Apple news.

He kicks off with a look at Performer 5.0.The latest upgrade to Mark Of The Unicorn's Performer brings it to version 5.0. Performer has always featured a graphically sophisticated and impressive user interface, and this update adds 3D shading and full colour support, Groove Quantise, and 50 free DNA Grooves. It also has a unique graphic slider interface, to allow you to interact with the groove while it changes the timing, velocity and duration of the events — all as the sequence plays.

One notable feature of Performer 5.0 (and many other current sequencers) that you might overlook is the MIDI Machine Control (MMC) support. MMC provides a common way of interfacing to an ever‑increasing range of audio‑visual equipment, although the usual use is with tape machines. It brings together MIDI sequencing and syncing with Longitudinal Time Code (LTC), SMPTE, and MIDI Time Code (MTC) — so you can work on‑screen with the same sort of transport controls and timecode displays that you get on the front panels of tape machines. MMC‑compatible devices include the Alesis ADAT and BRC, the Tascam DA88, Akai DR4d and the Fostex RD8. Unlike the dedicated remote control interfaces that have been available in the past, MMC lets you work with a consistent set of commands, almost regardless of the actual hardware.


Amongst the extra goodies that you find in the Performer 5.0 package or upgrade (a drum pattern library, for example) is version 1.0 of the FreeMIDI system. This is the first release version of MOTU's alternative way of linking MIDI applications together in the Macintosh. MOTU are bundling FreeMIDI with Mosaic and Unisyn upgrades, too — so if you use any of these, you can expect to see it soon. Apple's MIDI Manager is the official, power‑hungry, and rather limited MIDI management software, but it has been overtaken by MOTU's FreeMIDI and Opcode's Open MIDI System v.2.0, the latter of which is due soon. MOTU and Opcode are both busily promoting their systems, with features like support for Bank Select messages, timing synchronisation between applications and on‑screen configuration of MIDI devices to match real studio hardware. I intend to take a good look at both systems as they develop. Expect a report when I have a full release copy of both! Sound Technology plc are the people to contact about MOTU, on 0462 480000.


Emagic's advertising for Notator Logic Audio attempts to suggest that there are some major differences between their top‑of‑the‑line sequencer and competing products — going so far as to tick areas where you might like to make specific comparisons. Given the way that the leading software packages tend to regularly leapfrog each other in terms of features, I am somewhat sceptical that any one company could pull ahead for any significant length of time. In any case, the features of a program are not the only thing to consider when committing yourself to a sequencer — you also need to think about ease of use and the software company's support and upgrade policy too.

What is very interesting about all the professional sequencers is how much they have converged. This year's buzz‑words have been 3D, greyscale and full colour support, Groove Quantise, '50 free DNA Grooves', MIDI Machine Control, phrase displays and notation edits. It is no accident that you keep reading the same words, because sequencers seem to be evolving to a common end‑point. Just as a coffee mug would probably still be recognisable even if it came from a planet on the other side of the galaxy, so there seems to be an 'ultimate' sequencer. So far we have gone some of the way towards it, but I am sure that there are lots of extra features yet to be added.

So why do manufacturers try to impress you with their product when you may be perfectly happy with your existing sequencer? The answer is two‑fold. Firstly, there are always people about to embark on learning a new sequencer, and these 'first‑time buyers' tend to look for value for money and lots of features — also, they are willing to shop around for a computer to run it on. Secondly, once you have learned to use a sequencer, the potential pain involved in changing to another is so frightening that reasonably sane people will usually only consider a new sequencer if they are changing their entire computer. The launch of PowerPC and Power Macintosh may appeal to people in both of these instances, since they offer speed, price and flexibility — a powerful combination. New computer, new software?

How It Works: The Mac Serial Port

The key to understanding how Macintosh MIDI Interfaces work is to know how the serial ports work. There are two of these on the Mac, both identical, and although they are called the Printer and Modem ports, you can actually connect any serial device to them. The Printer port usually has a printer connected to it, and so the Modem port is often used for connecting a simple MIDI interface.

A serial port provides a conversion between the parallel data bytes or words held inside the computer and the serial world outside. Internally, computers deal with information using wide 'motorways' which allow huge amounts of data to be moved around very quickly. In the world outside the computer, things are much more sedate, and single‑track 'country lanes' are used to carry the information. A special purpose chip performs the conversion between wide and narrow formats — it is called a UART (Universal Asynchronous/ Synchronous Receiver/Transmitter, which explains why people always use the acronym!). You can think of it as being rather like what happens when a motorway is restricted to one lane. Cars from each of the lanes jostle their way into the single lane, and in the process, the average speed of the traffic drops from 70 mph (or more) to 25 mph or less.

UARTs need a clock signal to set the rate at which the serial output produces data — rather like the electronic equivalent of the 50 mph sign in a single lane section of a motorway. For Macintosh MIDI Interfaces, this turns out to be either 500kHz, 1MHz, or sometimes 2MHz. So a MIDI Interface needs to supply one of these clock rates to the Macintosh, so that the Mac's UART can then output the MIDI data at the correct rate.

Current Macintosh mini‑DIN serial port sockets do not have the +5V or +12V pins that the older 9‑way D‑type sockets provided, and so powering a clock and data buffers requires some ingenuity, but it is possible; there are several 'standard' MIDI Interfaces for the Mac which do not require a power supply.

A 'standard' MIDI Interface (see Figure 1) uses just one of the two serial ports, and typically has one MIDI In and three MIDI Outs, a 1MHz clock speed, and is powered from the Mac. Multi‑port MIDI Interfaces tend to have their own power supplies, and usually provide at least two separate MIDI ports (2 X 16 = 32 channels), and possibly up to 15 (15 X 16 = 240 channels). Most also offer patching between channels and ports, and even MIDI data processing — mapping Controllers or scaling Velocity, etc. MOTU's MIDI Time Piece (MTP) has become almost an industry standard for an 8‑port interface, whilst Opcode's Studio 5LX offers the 'power‑user' 15 ports, with expansion to more if required. Most of the more sophisticated interfaces also emulate the 'standard' and MTP type of interface.

"A serial port provides a conversion between the parallel data bytes or words held inside the computer and the serial world outside."

Apple News In Brief

Perhaps inspired by the recent Winter Olympics, MetroWerks are about to release Code Warrior, a C/C++ development package which comes in Gold, Silver and Bronze versions. The Bronze version supports 680n0 Macs, and Silver the PowerPC (Gold supports both). The software tools contain both 680n0 and PowerPC code, so they will run in 'native' mode on a Mac or a Power Mac, which should interest Mac developers who are faced with recompiling their code for more than one platform.

Brøderbund, famous for leading software products like Myst, the Talking Books series and Prince of Persia, are to merge with Electronic Arts (EA). The resulting company will be the third biggest leisure software publisher in the world: the two leaders are Sega and Nintendo (not a surprise, really). Brøderbund get over £250 million in the deal and become a subsidiary of EA.

You just can't predict what people will do with technology. CD‑ROM was launched with a strong business slant, with reference books, clip‑art, typefaces, fonts, and even special versions of word processors and graphics programs. But the major area of sales growth is now in a completely different section of the market: the home. It appears that the availability of sophisticated adventure games like Myst and Seventh Guest is selling more CD‑ROMs and players than any of the business‑oriented serious titles. Apple sold over a million CD‑ROM players in 1993, and it is predicted that there will be almost 14 million CD‑ROMs installed in computers worldwide by the end of 1994. About eight million CD‑ROMs were sold in the States in 1993, according to the US Software Publishers Association. There is even a dedicated magazine in the UK, called (rather confusingly) 'CD‑ROM'!

After all the rumours about 'Star Trek', which was supposed to be the working title for a port of the Mac System 7 to the PC, and then the 80n86‑based Houdini plug‑in board for Centris and Quadra machines (wherever did it go?), the launch of PowerPC and Power Macintosh seemed like another step along the path of interaction between Macs and PCs. But the Macintosh Application Environment (MAE) is a different matter entirely. MAE is an emulation program (rather like the SoftWindows emulator that you can use to run Windows on a Power Macintosh) that allows you to operate Mac software in a window of a Sun or Hewlett‑Packard RISC workstation using a Unix desktop. Apple's own Unix product, A/UX, seems to be being phased out (have you heard anything about it over the last year or two?) and MAE offers a way to integrate Mac applications with Unix ones. Apple can be contacted on 0800 127753.

Some of the problems of Windows are about to make life much easier for Mac users. It seems that not only does Windows encourage users to buy more RAM and larger hard disks, but it also persuades them to buy larger colour monitors too. I have heard it alleged that you can see more of a Microsoft Word document on a 'classic' Mac 9‑inch screen than you can on a VGA screen, but regardless of the figures, what matters is that prices of large monitors are falling. Up until now, 17‑inch and 20‑inch monitors have always been priced at the level of the very serious professional, but it looks as if they will become cheaper as more computer users demand larger screens. For musical Mac users, this is especially timely, since the latest releases of software are starting to exploit colour and shading, and often require lots of screen space if they are to be used efficiently. For probably the first (and only) time, I now have a reason to praise Windows!